War Never Changes, Comrade.
World War II may be passé on the first person shooter front, but it’s alive and well—and strategically just as appealing as ever—in the strategy genre of games. Enough time has passed that people are now feeling a sense of oversaturation from modern day combat, but along comes Relic (creators of the classic Homeworld series) to the rescue with Company of Heroes 2, and they were letting the press sit down with some nicely tuned PCs to get in some play time with their latest real-time strategy game.
This time out, players take control of the Soviet army as they fight off the German invasion of the motherland. Relic’s proprietary Essence 3.0 engine and TrueSight tech were in good show for this demo, which started with a small Russian unit first moving to take a base, then defend it from the retaliating German forces.
As to be expected from a shiny new PC game, the graphics—even from a god’s eye view—are quite impressive. The battle in the demo took place in a typically snowy landscape, but little details such as the structural materials of the buildings and the snow on the ground show up well. Physics and particle effects also show off nicely on the new engine with things like heavy artillery and mortar strikes throwing up snow and splintering wood in the air, while smoke billows from hit buildings. All in all it’s a real vote of confidence for Relic’s attention to detail on the environment and how battles impact it. The only real blemish in this presentation is the audio, specifically the voice acting. Typical American bravado doesn’t translate well into other accents, so the necessity of having voice actors mimic a Russian accent while trying to maintain the same “No guts no glory” approach that an American soldier would have rings false.
The cultural missteps aside, the actual game plays with the assurance of a work by a developer that knows what it’s doing. Company of Heroes is still one of the best games on the market for a specific kind of intelligent, squad based combat, and COH2 continues the legacy. The AI of the soldiers still follows a certain battle logic, so there’s no need to issue orders to hit the dirt when under the fire, the individual units are smart enough to do that themselves. Conversely, the AI is no slouch in the enemy department either, and if a unit of infantry is pinned down, then the opponents have no issue with sending a tank over to take unfair—but tactically sound—advantage of the situation.
Players can also take over enemy equipment, such as heavy gun emplacements which—if it is only the operators who are defeated—are free to use and divert right back against the enemy if they are correctly seized. Infantry are also much more effective, and better protected, when ordered to hunker down in a building. Players also have access to special abilities with set timers for a cool down period. During the course of the demo, these special abilities came in the form of calling in an air strike and asking for a heavy artillery bombardment.
The mission on display showed a lot of a variety. During the invasion phase, it was mostly down to Russian infantry versus German infantry, with a lot of maneuvering to find good firing angles that didn’t also leave the attackers too vulnerable. Once the base was seized, Russian armor showed up to help reinforce the area as German tanks of various classes arrived, calling for some considered use of infantry, tanks and what heavy artillery could be scrounged from the first attack and redirected at enemies. This was neither easy, nor was it slow, and when things started happening on the field of battle they unfolded fast. Company of Heroes 2 looks to bring the same frenetic RTS squad combat as its predecessor, and PC strategy fans have good reason to get excited about Sega as a publisher; they’re bringing the goods.