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Company of Heroes 2 Review

Company of Heroes 2 Review

Uncharted 3, Bioshock 2, Resident Evil 5; you may think these are strange titles to compare with a WW2 RTS like Company of Heroes 2, but actually, they all share one key similarity. Each of these titles had to follow up some of the best games in the history of the medium. The somewhat niche nature of the strategy genre means that Company of Heroes is often overlooked when it comes to compiling top games, but I’d argue that it still stands as one of the most gratifying, wonderfully complex and brilliantly fun experiences to be found in gaming. So much like the aforementioned games, Company of Heroes 2 has a huge weight on its shoulders. That weight is constantly present in this sequel, but this certainly doesn’t hold it back.

Moving away from the overused post-1943 Western Front, Company of Heroes 2 sets its sights on the less famous, but far more brutal, Eastern conflicts of the second World War. Which means Russia, or more accurately the USSR, is now the faction opposing the Nazi Wehrmacht. In many ways, Company of Heroes 2 actually does a far better job of reflecting the reality of warfare between these two powers. The numerical might of the Soviets brilliantly balances with the technological superiority of the Germans. This sort of asymmetrical gameplay can be found in many other games, but I’ve never seen it used so effectively.

Playing as the Russians, you can deploy a constant stream of troops (especially in the single-player campaign) who are good all rounders, perfect for picking up weapons dropped by the enemy. On the other hand, playing as the Nazi war machine grants you access to the near unstoppable weapons of war that they used during WW2, such as the Tiger tank and Nebelwerfer vehicles.

This core opposition of styles is what initially sets this sequel apart from the original game. The new units and commander abilities of the Russians are, of course, the other major addition. From this initial point, onwards, however, Company of Heroes 2 fails to truly revolutionise, but rather improves upon the already stellar set up.

The single-player campaign is where most players will start out, veterans and new players alike. Much like the first game, the story focuses on a single man and his exploits during the war, with a few branches off into other people’s tales. The cutscenes are relatively dull affairs and only serve to give a bit of perspective to the missions you’re about to attempt, so thankfully they’re very short.

Once you’re in-game the real quality of the presentation shines through. The interactive tactical map makes a return and is used in small cutscenes to demonstrate your orders/tasks. The UI is still a bit on the unnecessarily chunky side, but it’s functional and looks good. What Company of Heroes 2 does so well is make you truly feel like a WW2 commander; the presentation is just so beautifully realistic that it’s so easy to get lost in the world that the game creates.

Of course, this isn’t a fantasy land, this is war at its most honest, and therefore brutal, form. The special effects featured in-game are startlingly powerful; from dismembered soldiers to huge artillery explosions, the game doesn’t shy away from the horror of WW2. If anything, the Eastern front setting only furthers the level of viscera found in the original game, as you send hapless Soviet conscripts against the Wehrmacht.

The improved graphical quality also makes the death and destruction all the more shocking. Much like the gameplay, there’s nothing revolutionary in this aspect, but a great deal of polish has been added. With 7 years between the two games, you’d expect to see a huge change. Truth is, Company of Heroes was so ahead of its time in this respect, that it’s tricky to say that the graphics have improved much. Perhaps it’s better to say that they’ve remained excellent, and the extra detail brought about by that time gap only enhances the experience. Sound design is much the same; still fantastic, plus some great additions like the victory songs for each army following a successful battle.

These elements all come together in the story mode to create a fantastic experience; simply playing this game and watching it in action is a joy. I did have some some slight issues with the campaign, however. There’s a certain lack of variety to be found this time round; rather than the constantly evolving missions of Company of Heroes, this game contains a collection of about eight (out of thirteen) similar missions, interspersed with some more original level designs. Most of the time you’ll be sending infantry and artillery together through towns and cities, clearing out the Germans with a never-ending supply of conscripts. In reality, these missions are still great fun, and do have small differences, but when you compare them with the brilliant missions that break up the standard ones, it feels like a missed opportunity.

These more interesting levels come in various forms. Guiding a small cluster of infantry around a town in the hunt for a single Tiger tank, is a good example. So too is a neat level towards the end which tasks you with commanding a group of Polish snipers through a forest in order to take out a collection of officers. There are some others that I won’t go into detail on, but safe to say they’re all a pleasant change of pace and brilliantly designed stages in their own right. In fact, they closer resemble elements of Company of Heroes 2’s new game mode, Theatre of War.

Theatre of War has been often noted as a sort of bridge between the calm and controlled single-player and the intense multiplayer (which I’ll get to in a minute). While this is definitely true, I feel that this statement somewhat underplays just how good the new game mode is. The mode is essentially a collection of individual missions placed within three different categories. There’s solo challenges, co-op scenarios and AI battles, and they’re all great.

The solo challenges are brilliant diversions from the main campaign and offer more centralised missions focused on one key goal. One Russian mission (you can play as the Germans in this mode too) sees you digging in with a set of infantry and defending a tower for ten waves of Nazi attacks. It’s simple stuff, but when coupled with the dynamic Company of Heroes gameplay becomes a really fun and strategic level. There’s a bunch more of these solo challenges and most of them are excellent. The AI battles are less interesting, as they’re essentially multiplayer style matches against varying types of AI, but they’re still fun if a little on the easy side.

For me, however, the co-op scenarios in Theatre of War were the best surprises of the whole game. I’m an experienced Company of Heroes player, so I was largely looking forward to drugging up on the addictive multiplayer, but playing these scenarios with my friend proved to be a great way to spend my evenings. One level, titled Brody Tank War, hosted by far my favourite hour ever in a Company of Heroes game. We battled for four (virtual) days and nights against waves of Nazi troops and vehicles, finishing the game with a line of heavy tanks across our defensive lines. The whole level was exhilarating and I was left grinning like a madman by the end of it. A great personal moment that, and a testament to this new element of the game. The only downside is that there’s only four of these scenarios available in the full game; but you can guarantee there’ll be more added later with DLC.

So the campaign is good, but nothing we haven’t seen before, and the Theatre of War mode is a great excursion, but the multiplayer is the thumping heart of Company of Heroes 2. Despite this, it’s one of those multiplayer modes that seems to discourage new players; from the long (but gradual) learning curve to the poor matchmaking system, this is not a game for those lacking in patience. Play for a good while, however, and you’ll be sucked in. Cancel your plans for the next month. Let your family know where you are. There’s no going back.

The core gameplay is still the same, but there are some great changes that make it worth playing even for series veterans. The snow found throughout the game is felt most significantly in the multiplayer, where blizzards provide real game changers. I’ve seen a lot of heat (ha) directed towards the blizzard mechanic following the beta process, but I’ve found them to be a nice change in pace that set up for big attack/defence situations. The maps are all excellent and many come with two variants (one winter, one summer) where the territories are mixed up.

The one key difference, and improvement, that I found from the original Company of Heroes, was the great sense of balance between the Russian and German forces. That asymmetrical style I mentioned early comes into full force in the multiplayer segment. If you want to win as the Russians, you really need to use your multi talented conscripts to the full and take advantage of their ability to field medium tanks quickly. While German players should rely on stout infantry early on and superior armour later in the game. This balance makes for some really intriguing matches that’ll always test your established strategies. The only slight niggle I could see is that it’s very difficult for the Russian team to pull off a victory in the chaotic 4v4 matches, the Germans are a bit too powerful in numbers at this stage.

If nothing else, Company of Heroes 2 is great value. You get a lot of content in the base game; the campaign and Theatre of War mode will probably take around 10-15 hours each, then there’s the practically unlimited potential of the multiplayer. Add to this the inevitable release of DLC to extend the game’s life cycle (some of which is already available), and there’s a lot of good reasons to get stuck into this one.

Of course, the primary reason should be the simple fact that this is just a brilliant strategy game. There’s no denying that this is a very similar game to the original, although I’d argue that from the view of an experienced player, the small changes are actually quite significant. For this lack of development, I have to mark Company of Heroes 2 down, especially when considering the 7 year gap between the two games. By no means, however, does that mean you shouldn't play Company of Heroes 2.

The blend of visceral, FPS style, presentation and the deep strategic gameplay is simply brilliant. There are few games out there where your decisions have such a direct effect on the little men you’re in command of. When everything falls into place, there’s no better feeling and that feeling is what Company of Heroes 2 thrives on. If you want to feel like a real battlefield commander, there’s no better choice.

9.00/10 9

Company of Heroes 2 (Reviewed on Windows)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

The blend of visceral, FPS style, presentation and the deep strategic gameplay is simply brilliant. There are few games out there where your decisions have such a direct effect on the little men you’re in command of.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Ryan Davies

Ryan Davies

Junior Editor

Budding, growing and morphing games journalist from the South. Known nowhere around the world as infamous wrestler Ryan "The Lion" Davies.

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