|Dev: Relic Entertainment|
|Release: June 25, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence|
by Shelby Reiches
I’ve been playing a lot of strategy games lately, some turn-based and some real-time, which is very odd because I am the antithesis of a strategy gamer. I like to be able to jump in and just mindlessly enjoy myself for thirty minutes or maybe a few hours. RPGs have traditionally been my one exception, but strategy has never grabbed me the same way. There’s just so much going on at once, and my brain isn’t wired to keep track of all that, especially not with the pressure of a de facto time limit bearing down on me.
As such, I’m apprehensive as to my capacity to do Company of Heroes 2 justice with my review. My understanding of the genre is incomplete and, though I enjoyed what I played both at a press preview event around six months ago and more recently in a closed press preview of the single-player campaign, I was still uncertain as to my capacity to evaluate the title.
We can all agree on one thing out of the gate, though: Company of Heroes 2 is a gorgeous game. Vehicles are rendered lovingly in accurate, high-definition, while soldiers move about and take cover, vault sandbags, and setup their mortars and anti-tank cannons with realistic and frenetic energy. The maps are at once stunning in their detail and bleak in their tone, and the snow effects, should your system be powerful enough to take advantage of them, are certainly notable. And, while Company of Heroes 2 is a very demanding game, it seems to run respectably on my low-to-mid-range system on medium spec, and it still looks very pleasing to the eye.
The sound design, too, is stellar. Gunfire, explosions, the dialogue of soldiers, and even the hum of vehicles’ engines do much to immerse you in the battlefield. From the perspective of presentation, Company of Heroes 2 is almost a home run. The one blemish on the game’s otherwise terrific presentation are the cutscenes, which use awkward character models and animations that appear as though they were pulled from a title ten years this one’s junior. They don’t do a ton to tell a compelling story, tending to fall on the preachy side of moral debate, but they do give a bit of extra flavor to the proceedings, increasing one’s immersion.
Its single greatest source of immersion, though, is in the way it plays with pace. This is particularly true in the single-player missions and the Theater of War mode, but it also translates over to the multiplayer.
Much like its predecessor, Company of Heroes 2 is a game designed around the premise that units shouldn’t have to be micromanaged. They will behave fairly intelligently on their own, never straying far from where they’ve been stationed, and they reposition within cover to optimize their angle of attack, spreading out when a vehicle tries to roll over them. While they won’t reprioritize targets on their own, at least not when one has been directly assigned by the player, and those with a firing arc will typically maintain that until ordered to move, there is still an overall sense that the armies in the game have something resembling a sense of self-preservation.
This becomes important with regard to the pacing, since this is a hectic and chaotic game. Missions are designed to pressure you, typically from the get-go. If you’re lucky, maybe one mission will give you a bit of downtime to fortify yourself, but as early as the second mission of the campaign, Company of Heroes 2 is throwing you into hopeless situations. In the second mission, you are ordered to defend command points in a small town, but the Germans will quickly overrun your Russian troops, and you will be forced to pull back. Upon doing so, returning to the tracks you’re guarding, there is an all¬-too-short pause before the onslaught begins anew. You will inevitably succumb to this onslaught, and it takes the arrival of Soviet armor to help rout the German forces.
That frenetic action translates over to the new Theater of War mode, which features missions designed around real battles from World War II’s Eastern Front, both for the Germans and the Russians. In addition to those available in solo play, and a selection of skirmishes against foes with special behavioral patterns, there are co-op missions on offer. These can take the form of anything from a typical skirmish to a tower defense-esque trial of fortification.