Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Review: Company of Heroes 2 (PC)

Company of Heroes 2 had a huge hurdle to clear: the original Company of Heroes.

Developer Relic Entertainment would have to leap out of the long shadow cast by the critically acclaimed original released back in 2006. As far as problems go, it's actually a good one to have. Players of the original (and the expansions) that have been playing the title since its release were geared up for the sequel. That's good! The other side of the coin, of course, is the danger of wiping out that enthusiasm and anticipation and replacing it with regret and bitterness because there's an expectation that the game will rock the core of the series with a dramatic overhaul of unit and resource management and wrap the whole package in a shiny wrapper.

Enough time has passed between the last time I played Company of Heroes and the present that my memory is fogged and maybe that's why I never had the feeling that second Company of Heroes was
merely a big update with a new campaign attached to the original as some critics have described it. It's instantly recognizable as a Company of Heroes game the same way a player can sit down and instantly know one is playing a Command & Conquer game.

The single-player campaign does a good job incrementally providing hands-on experience with the units, the basic flow of battles, reinforcing squads, general tactics, essentially, the basics of what a player will need as the campaign pushes forward. It's in sharp contrast to a game like Wargame: AirLand Battle, which drops a player into a river, with hands tied behind his back and enveloped in a burlap sac.

The game didn't try to shake me from learning the different unit types and the abilities available to them. Instead, at a steady pace, the game teaches all these things and by the time the player is asked to manage larger battles, the fighting splintered among different flashpoints, it's a matter of staying on top of things and slightly ahead of the opponent rather than trying to remember which units are most effective at the defensive positions available while a trio of tanks bursts through the fog of war.

Managing infantry units on snow maps present a slightly greater challenge simply because there's some micromanagement involved. This micromanagement is important since it's very easy to lose many infantry units if left exposed to the elements. Garrisoning a building or standing around a bonfire ward off the cold and restore "heat levels" -- couldn't stop drawing a comparison with Lost Planet -- but there were numerous times where infantry squads went missing because a) I forget about them inside a building or b) they froze to death because I lost track of them. And many times, the ability to break an enemy position or enact a proper defense falls to proper use of infantry so when multiple squads are suddenly missing, it can be a major setback.

This is actually one of the only times I can remember heading to Metacritic to take a look at the user reviews before writing my own review.

The reviews by the professionals were predictable, but I'd heard about a backlash against the historical accuracy of the events of the game from some players, especially those in Eastern Europe.

It's quick and easy for me to think the user reviews are far more reactionary and inflammatory than they need to be, but I lack the socio-political and historical context of a player living in Russia. However, describing the game as "worse than Goebbels or coldwar propaganda," or a "dreadful lie and falsification of historical facts," or an "[awful] rape of real history," seems a tad overboard, especially in light of the fact that it's a game. My takeaway from the campaign is that war is horrible, whatever side you might land on and that whatever lens you view it, war is rarely of any use except to sever limbs, create scars, and tear countries and families apart. In that way, with the user comments and the content of the game, Company of Heroes 2 made me think about some broader issues, which is not something my games of late have spurred me to do.

Company of Heroes 2 multiplayer is a different beast compared to the single-player campaign. Where the campaign largely takes out management of control points, it's a major component of the multiplayer. I haven't sunk too many hours into the online modes, mostly because I get completely steam-rolled any time I step into onto the battlefield, but if I ever have the desire to step up my game and really learn the intricacies, there's always Twitch TV to watch. Co-op fares better, at least in my book because the other human didn't want to
grind me into the dirt.

Relic Entertainment cleared the hurdle the original game set as far as I'm concerned. Tweaking, remoulding and teasing out the underlying systems of the original, and then layering things like cold weather, may not set the world on fire like the original Company of Heroes did but it's still a solid strategy game and with the right support and continued release of content I can see it living on for quite some time.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Looks great
- Cold effects and destructible environments
- Does a good job integrating the basics with the early missions
- Multiplayer options and Twitch TV
- Some really exciting battles during the campaign

The Bad:
- Cleared the hurdle that Company of Heroes set but not by much
- Leaping around a splintered battle field can be frustrating without some practice

Score: 8.0 / 10