|Dev: Relic Entertainment|
|Release: September 12, 2006|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
by Josh Engen
Games that are set in the World Wars are overly numerous. In fact, it's probably safe to say that World War II is the most overused setting in all of gaming. And if this is true, it begs a very important question; why are there so few high-quality real-time strategy games set in a World War? Well, it would probably be more accurate to ask "why do most of the RTS games set in a World War suck so bad?"
Actually, the only World War-based RTS game that's even worth mentioning is Company of Heroes. But, if we're being honest, CoH is the only World War RTS that any of us actually need. Even if there were more options, we probably wouldn't want to play them anyway.
In 2006, Relic had just finished developing Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, so it wasn't all that surprising that they would take on an RTS that was a bit more down to earth. In fact, the gameplay between Dawn of War and Company of Heroes is so similar that many gamers have suggested that Relic was just using the Warhammer franchise to work out the kinks in their own RTS game. Whatever the case, Company of Heroes creeped onto the RTS scene as an oddly mature and balanced franchise for its age.
Company of Heroes is often touted as "the highest-rated real-time strategy title of all time," and much of that has to do with its intricate single-player campaign. Like many WW2 games, Company of Heroes placed players on Omaha beach during the Battle of Normandy on D-Day. Players were immediately introduced to two of the main characters, Captain MacKay and Sergeant Conti, and tasked with taking out four flak guns. Once you got past the initial stages, the battle moved inland and you commanded your troops through a series of real-life battles like the Battle of Carentan, Cherbourg, Operation Cobra, and the Battle of Falaise Pocket. Each of these battles, while not entirely accurate, represented an important stop in the historical advancement of troops during the final days of WW2.
Players new to the RTS franchise would quickly discover the depth that Company of Heroes brought to the table. CoH required gamers to master an ongoing balancing act to between finances, military power, and tactics. Players genuinely had to become part master economist, part surgical tactician, and part city planner. Each decision meant that you were placing some kind of importance on one of these elements, and devaluing another, which made the decision-making process incredibly difficult.
Even though the game required an intricate juggling act during later stages, it was relatively easy to pick up and start playing without putting a lot of thought into it. Actually, when you think about it, this fact should be enough to guarantee CoH has a spot on any best World War games list. Creating a game that allows players to become masters over a long period of time while simultaneously allowing rookies to enjoy themselves is incredibly difficult, and Relic did a bang-up job.
One of the elements that allowed Company of Heroes to carve a notch in gaming history was the implementation of Relic's Essence Engine, which was programmed from the ground up specifically for Company of Heroes. It allowed the developer to make use of high dynamic range lighting and advanced shader techniques (that were unheard of at the time). Relic also coupled this with the use of the Havok Physics Engine, which gave CoH a realistic physics system that easily bested every other RTS of its day.
But while many developers were getting lost in technological advancement, Relic understood that gameplay should be at the center of every great game. The developer buckled down to create a single-player experience that would attract even the most seasoned of RTS fans with its intricacy and expanded the draw of its multiplayer clientele via customization and scale.
Company of Heroes made quite a splash onto the RTS scene, but, as we've learned, high-quality WW2 RTS games are a little hard to come by. However, CoH has managed to set the bar extraordinarily high for future RTS games, no matter what setting they find themselves in.
CCC Contributing Writer