Company of Heroes 2 Review: Relic Wins a Land War in Asia
Ask a Company of Heroes fan what makes the game so special, and you’ll get many different answers. Some geek out on the World War II history, the way the vehicles and equipment are obsessively researched and reproduced. Some love the deliberate pace of the gameplay, less focused on meticulous build orders and inhuman reflexes than other RTS competitors. Others love the intensity of the experience, the huge explosions, and the incredible sound design. Me? I love the physics. The way a tank lumbers as it tries to turn to face its target, before a shell hits and sends the coaxial gunner pinwheeling through the air. Call in an artillery strike on a machine gun team holed up in a church, and each stray shell kicks up its own spray of dirt. Each hit tears its own hole in a structure, shattering the building in a completely unique way, every time.
Company of Heroes 2
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Released: June 25, 2013
Relic scored a direct hit when the original game came out in 2006, and with Company of Heroes 2 (COH2), its mandate was simple: deliver more of what made the original game so good. More of that gratifying realism: infantry units in the form of six-man squads, diving for cover; tanks in the proper scale; no swarming clouds of identical units trading die-roll salvos with other swarming clouds of identical units. More intuitive strategic gameplay, which uses military common sense to teach players how machine guns suppress charging infantry, until the intervention of a sniper bullet or mortar round from outside the machine gun’s range. More ingenious RPG mechanics, which allow long-lived squads to accrue experience and equipment, becoming more efficient killers. More fascinating, exotic military hardware.
COH2 provides all this and more. On the most basic level, seven years of graphical improvement have resulted in a prettier game, with more detail, sharper textures, and better physics modelling. That said, technology is just a tool; Relic’s success lies in the way the studio applies it. A new line of sight system in COH2 means that players can only see the parts of the battlefield that their units can see. By itself, this is impressive. But when you add recon planes, smoke grenades that obscure line of sight, and the fact you can actually listen for approaching tanks, you’ll start to appreciate just what the developers are capable of.
Some new tech is directly tied to COH2′s setting on World War II’s Eastern Front, where soldiers of the Third Reich and the Soviet Union fought and died in staggering numbers. A new Cold-Tech system will require players to keep their soldiers warm on winter maps. If infantry can’t find a fire, a building, a vehicle, or, in a pinch, a piece of cover, they will quickly freeze to death. Units crossing frozen rivers must beware of well-placed explosives that could send them to a watery grave, entombed by the ice quickly reforming above them.
Company of Heroes has never been short on atmosphere, and Relic nails the grim vastness of the conflict right from the loading screen, with an inspired title theme that blends plaintive Russian folk music, thundering percussion, and an ominous Soviet men’s choir. Though the game casts you as a kind of general, the series’ sympathy lies with the grunts on the ground. COH2 unit barks are well-written and well-acted, a perfect mix of bravado, humor, and terror. They always seem to shout the right thing at the right time, and the effect is intensified by the way the score will suddenly increase in volume as the carnage ramps up on-screen. Nothing is more important to the setting, of course, than the maps, and Relic’s designers do themselves proud, crafting frozen, decrepit villages, bombed-out cityscapes, and swampy, humid-looking steppes.