Company of Heroes Story
When we decided to do a Company of Heroes review I was quite pleased to cover this game. I purchased the original version from a store when it was released and thoroughly enjoyed playing the game through to its completion on the solo campaign. I then moved house and lost the game in the move so for some time I no longer had the chance to play the game. At Christmas in 2009 Steam had a sale on Company of Hero’s that incorporated all of the expansions as well, this was an opportunity that I felt I couldn’t pass up and started playing the game again this time however on the multiplayer side of things. Since my purchase I have managed to clock up 154 hours of game play and I still play the odd multiplayer game now.
So you’ve had my history with this game and after all this is the story section so I’ll move on. The story has been claimed to show a good accuracy of the American portrayal of events that took place in World War 2, which occurred from the day before D-Day and onwards. The solo campaign starts at codenamed Omaha beach where the American forces are met with fierce German dug in defences. You are greeted to the game with the sounds of gunfire and shells exploding all over the scene.
After you successfully take Omaha beach, the game breaks to a cut scene of an older gentleman’s voice with game cinematic. Normally I wouldn’t go into this aspect of the game so much, however this gives you a history lesson, but fits the game well and never feels like a history lesson. The voiceover in this cinematic gives you the feeling that you are sitting in front of your American grandfather or your great grandfather as he is telling you the events as he remembers it during the war. These cutscenes continue throughout the game and are definitely worth the watch. This transforms the RTS into the feeling that you are taking part in your grandparents recollections of those times.
The story line is good and easy to follow if you take the time to watch the cut scenes, I don’t feel that I could or should relay too much more of the story here as I don’t believe I would do it justice. The developers have done an excellent job in my opinion, and with so many games based around WWII it’s a challenge to find a game that gives, in my opinion, as good an interaction between game and story as what has been done with this one. You won’t be disappointed. The only issue I have is you do get the feeling from the solo campaign that as usual it was the Americans who won WWII, but as this is taken from an American perspective you do have to allow a grey area there. The fact that this was supposed to be taken as an accurate representation of events, the lack of interaction of other forces which contained many other nationalities, forces me to take this from a perfect 10 down to a 9
Company of Heroes Sound
The patriotic American music overlay shouldn’t be an unexpected sound in this game. Maybe I have watched too many war films in my past that are based around American perspectives, but the sound is no longer unusual to my ears. I feel in fact if this game didn’t have that trumpet slowly playing as if many have died, I think I would have been disappointed, I also feel it would have negated the atmosphere of the game somewhat.
As I have said in the story section the choice of the older gentleman’s voice is fitting and a sensitive placing for a story like this. The authoritarian voices of those in command in the scenes work well. The overall effort in sound on the cutscenes to be honest, is very good.
The sound effects in this game are excellent with shells exploding, guns firing. All of it has you convinced you are in command of a fighting force to be contended with. If you can get away with it, turn your volume up a bit at times and you could easily believe you have got hit in the chest by shell shock or you’re dodging gunfire, turn it up loud enough and you may even convince your neighbours WWIII has broken out in their garden.
They have thought it through well, if some form of fighting is occurring on the map that is in the vicinity of where you are currently looking, you get to hear what’s going on and this does seem to indicate distance well. The sound of a V1 screaming over head, or the sound of a plane cutting across the map all work extremely well. I cannot find fault in sound on this game to be honest, I rarely say perfect but I feel this game does deserve that statement.
Company of Heroes Graphics
Compared to today’s graphics this game is quite impressive as an RTS goes. Sure the cut scenes aren’t up to the standards we have now, but you can tell that great effort was put in to give a really good graphically enhanced feel. Relic spent some considerable time developing their new Essence Engine for this game and when you play the game you can understand why. You can mouse wheel in almost to a third person view and get up and close to your squads. Hold your mouse wheel button down and you get to move your map view to any way you wish to view the game; if you wish to view it as if your feet are on the ground you can, this gives you a totally new perspective and if you have time is something worth doing just to see the detail that was put into the buildings and streets etc.
Explosions will see buildings come tumbling down, however steel structures with no walls don’t seem to be effected by anything that hits them. You will see blast craters in the ground, guns firing, tank re-coil it’s all there for your viewing pleasure.
If you have a bunch of troops near an exploding tank shell prepare to see them launch into the air, that said there is a point where this doesn’t work well. When the explosion is so large the person near it should effectively disintegrate they don’t, they fly incredible distances which takes from the overall realistic feel .
You have to remember that this game was released in September 2006 and when you do, you will realise that the graphics in this game were constructed really well. In my mind if the game was released as is today it would score high anyway but could score higher, with modifications to the cinematics that are included and maybe an improvement on the rendering.
Company of Heroes Gameplay
There is a lot to talk about in this area so I will try and keep it brief. The AI was thought about really well, although a little broken. I’m unsure if its broken by a recent update or has been broken since launch. The first time I played this game troops that I was in command of naturally moved to the nearest cover (when I say cover, I mean an obstacle that makes it difficult for them to be shot by the opposing force), however I have found that whilst playing this time around they don’t appear to be as intuitive. This feature is a nice one when it works, it does mean you can leave your troops somewhat to their own devices if you’re just guarding an area.
You build your base by capturing points which have fuel or munitions. Once captured they provide an income to these areas, with the right amount of resources to hand you can add buildings that give you different units* that you can spawn. Also some of the buildings offer upgrades to the units you can create. There is another point that you can capture that benefits your manpower so you can build units, all captured points contribute to your overall population cap. All units cost a certain amount of manpower, and/or fuel or munitions depending on the unit. Your main base building which you get by default will supply you with units that can capture these points. The construction options vary on the multiplayer depending on which force you choose to play, if you purchase the Opposing fronts expansion pack you do get the addition of British forces and the German Panzer Elite
You control your units by either left clicking on one, or holding your mouse button down and dragging it over several units of your choice. Once selected you right click where you wish to move your units to or you can set a path for them to take if you wish to leave them moving of their own devices. This is done by holding down your ‘Shift’ key and clicking multiple locations. This shift key action can also be used for capturing points.
I mentioned cover earlier. Cover has different elements to it, it can be strong, medium, negative or no cover at all, all of which is symbolised by a shield icon that changes colour depending on the cover you are or aren’t currently in. Cover itself can be found in many different aspects from sand bags that a unit of yours can create, to buildings, rubble and trees etc.
The combat itself is explosive and depending on your level selection, or if you take the multiplayer route, will mean you will have to take the initiative of a general commanding forces with head on attacks and flanking manoeuvres. Positioning your forces in the right place to take the least amount of damage is crucial for success, reducing the amount of control points that the opponent has also affects the battle as they are linked to the same resource collection and pop cap as yourself which does add an element of “who controls the most land wins scenario”.
Multiplayer has many options you can play through multiple different maps and can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4, you can choose any of those to be a computer AI of 4 different levels of difficulty if you have problems making up team members(from my experience this hasn’t been difficult). You can choose how many resources you start with, an option of weather or time of day. You can opt in for private matches with friends by the use of a password. Multiplayer itself has to be thought through depending on the forces you are up against and which one of three command trees you take. It can be challenging to get right, and can take a bit of luck with the command tree routes, but once you do and/or your team mates do, a win maybe in sight. In game chat is available and I suggest you use it on the multiplayer route. Command tree selection can either weaken your combined forces or enhance it unless you know which tree your allies have taken. There are always balancing complaints about this game on the official forums which are at times conflicting. I would like to add that Relic do try to take these balancing issues into contention and have been actively patching this game since release. However balancing a game which is an RTS will always be a difficult one as skill also plays a part
I mentioned in the last paragraph about command trees, these are a really nice addition to the game, the command options are also available to you on the solo campaign. You get command points to spend in your command tree by building, killing enemy units, upgrading units or taking control points. Once you have your first command point you can then choose 1 of the 3 command trees or doctrine, once selected, for the rest of that battle it cannot be changed. Each doctrine offers a different type of benefit to your forces and different off map abilities that can be called upon with a timer. As you can see from this the overall ability of your effectiveness can be affected depending on the map your fighting on.
With all the options that are available to you in this game, and the way you can control your units, I can’t really find any faults within the gameplay. Everything seems to flow well and work well together. The placement for the construction of buildings has to be given a little thought on some maps as you may find that if too spread out you may not have room to put up your final building. If too close together you will be an easy target for artillery or off map weapons.
Company of Heroes Content
The gameplay section of my review has covered quite a bit of the content, however Relic have continued to provide excellent support for this game and not left it alone, you do get the feeling that they have considered this game to be a precious gem, to be maintained and they’ve tried to keep a watch on what their community desires from it. Since launch new maps have been added for free on the multiplayer side. New content has been added on the solo campaign side along with the previously mentioned British and Panzer forces. The initial release comprised of 16 maps to play through at 4 different levels of difficulty all with side missions that are your choice to complete or not, to be awarded a medal. Each map has a set of challenges other than just defeating the German forces which just adds to the overall player experience should you choose to do them.
Company of Heroes Overall
As stated in my introduction to this review I have played this game for a while then left it and come back to it with a vengeance and now play it every now and again for some fun with my friends. Both times I have played the solo campaign I have thoroughly enjoyed it, the multiplayer has had me landed me in the doghouse with my partner for the amount of time I have dedicated to it. Do you like RTS’s, if you do and haven’t bought this game why haven’t you? Get to your store and go pick up a copy, you won’t regret it. In my mind after the Age of Empires series this is probably the best RTS that we have had the pleasure to play.
The only thing that I felt this game could have benefited from would have been an expansion to include maybe the Russians possibly some others too the Italians maybe? Either way there should in my mind have been an inclusion of the Russian forces as they also did aide considerably to Hitler and his armies demise. The battle of D-Day and the other subsequent battles were made up of much more than American forces and this for me isn’t a game breaker, it would have just been a nice inclusion.
*unit- Is military personnel, be it troops, engineers, armoured vehicles or tanks etc.