The Shortest War
In 2006, the original Company of Heroes game gave military RTS fans and avid PC gamers something to truly get excited about. The game’s thrilling WWII tactical gameplay coupled masterfully with its adrenaline-fueled presentation and deep strategic battles, garnering critical acclaim and giving the genre a much-needed kick in the grits. A year later, Relic dished out another mighty helping of military might with the CoH: Opposing Fronts expansion. A little more time has passed, and the latest standalone expansion, CoH: Tales of Valor, still packs a similarly action-soaked punch but in meager portions.
Like many expansive RTS games geared towards hardcore audiences, CoH’s complexities can be seriously intimidating to newcomers. The recent trend in streamlining and scaling back newer titles in the genre to make them more digestible to a broader range of players has seeped into Tales of Valor. This time around, the lines between casual and hardcore can be easily drawn right between the single and multiplayer modes. Walking the middle road may not entirely satisfy gamers who fall on opposite ends of the spectrum, but it does make the experience more accessible. With a little more meat on its bones, we’d be less concerned about what this expansion represents for the possible future of the series.
Based on historic stories of World War II heroics, Tales of Valor’s campaigns feature captivating storytelling and dramatic nuances that really immerse you into the multitude of roles you’ll take on as both the American and the German forces. Tiger Ace puts you in command of a German Tiger I tank crew attempting to stop the British army from flanking the main German force in a French village. In Causeway, you’ll man a small group of U.S. paratroopers struggling to capture and defend a crucial bridge against the brunt of the oncoming German assault. Falaise Pocket has you playing as German forces attempting to mount a frantic defense and survive a massive attack from allied forces pouring in from all sides.
Each tale highlights some intriguing encounters and people affected by the hardship and sacrifices of the war. The hand-painted cutscenes are beautifully done and have an interesting cutout animation applied to them. Excellent use of thematic music, sound effects, and troop dialog makes the story delivery all the more effective and satisfying. Toggled up to their max settings, the graphics are quite good, even though PC gamers with higher powered rigs will notice a difference in visual quality compared to some of the more recently released titles.
As a solo experience, Tales of Valor is intense, moving, entertaining, yet ultimately a bit of a letdown. The game’s three campaigns are misleading at first glance. Each story-driven vignette plays out on its own single map across three distinct chapters, making for a total of nine missions (three in each campaign). In terms of what you might typically expect in a campaign, it’s quite short. Each is enjoyable in its own way, but those who prefer to play alone will either be left wanting more or feeling ripped off for shelling out for such a skimpy single-player offering.
The underlying gameplay in the campaign mode is scaled back in complexity, severely limiting any real use of resources or unit creation until you’re two-thirds of the way through the story portion of the expansion. The first two mini-campaigns have you controlling a relatively small number of units at one time. This does let you focus more on upgrading the key personnel you’re given and making good use of the unique abilities of each unit, which is admittedly an enjoyable way to approach RTS gameplay in contrast to simply amassing a huge number of troops and unceremoniously launching them from one end of the map to the other. The third campaign falls slightly on the more traditional side, since you can manage a larger force, create units on your own, and begin exploring some of the game’s territory capturing and resource flow mechanics.
A few new handy functions are also worked into the expansion. Chief among them, a new direct fire mode, accessible when controlling most tanks and some other troop types, lets you manually take over firing the cannons by manually clicking where and when you want a round to fire. This is a cool arcade-like feature, even if it’s not particularly useful.
A more helpful ability, Field Dressing, crops up when a member of your soldier units goes down. This lets you send your soldiers charging to the aid of a fallen comrade and patch up some of their wounds amidst the chaos of flying bullets and explosions. You’ll use this frequently to try to preserve the limited units you’re given in each scenario. Additionally, new units are unlocked for use in the multiplayer modes as you complete the main campaigns.
In contrast, the online multiplayer component of Tales of Valor is more robust. While you can always jump into a classic mode or pick from tons of skirmish maps (the latter of which can be played against computer A.I.), three new modes round out the multiplayer offerings. Perhaps a nod to the Atari classic Combat, Panzerkreig gives each player a single, unique tank that can be upgraded with various perks and sends them onto the battlefield to grind one another into dust. In Assault, both sides start out with a pre-deployed base. You’re given direct control of a hero unit and tasked with fighting alongside A.I.-controlled comrades against other players, providing assistance to win the tide of battle. Stonewall is a new co-operative mode where you and other players are holed up in a fortified base and must manage resources and defend against increasingly tougher A.I. forces thrown at you.
There’s a significant different between the feel and gameplay of the single and multiplayer aspects of the expansion. While the solo campaign eases newer players into the fold and prepares them for the more management-intensive multiplayer games, not everyone is going to necessarily partake of both equally. Even when combined as a whole, Tales of Valor falls short in terms of the volume of new content most players will expect in a standalone expansion priced at $30. What’s there is great, but it’s just not enough.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
A tad dated but a lot of pretty things to look at… and blow up. 4.0 Control
Fluid mouse controls don’t require keyboard hunting and pecking but allow it. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Excellently thematic music, gruff soldier dialog, and killer sound effects. 3.0 Play Value
The solo campaigns are just too short, even if they’re quite good. The multiplayer component is robust and enjoyable, if you’re into online matches. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.