Company of Heroes 2 Review: Relic Wins a Land War in Asia
Other subjects are approached with less elan. On the one hand, Relic approaches the aforementioned Soviet brutalities with a trite, tendentious attempt at a “War is Hell” morality play, which sucks energy out of the story. It’s a constant trope in violent games; one suspects that the people who make titles like COH2 feel a little guilty about making war look so freakin’ cool. On the other hand, the developers build various horrors — like Red Army commissars mowing down their own retreating troops — right into the gameplay, an effort that feels uncomfortably abstract.
Even the Gulag feels strangely bowdlerized. Isakovich’s icy (but bloodless) interrogation is all fully rendered cutscenes, which are serviceable but not particularly attractive. Same goes for the in-engine sequences that begin and sometimes end the missions: not as stilted as the original Company of Heroes, but certainly not anything to write home about. Wooden dialogue and overwrought voice acting don’t help.
The quality of the mission design is also decidedly mixed. Heavy scripting is a constant problem; early missions introduce basic mechanics but also spawn in waves and waves of German infantry that players can’t defeat because they’re not intended to. Set-piece battles are appropriately bombastic, but also feel a little perfunctory: as the German army falls back towards Berlin, winning is a matter of patience and overwhelming numbers, not skill. You’ll often find yourself battling the game’s strange mission-specific mechanics and arbitrary population caps as much as you will the Germans. The best missions are more intimate: stalking a powerful Ostheer tank through a bombed-out town offers a nerve-wracking contrast to other, less-inspired fare.
The campaign would be a more glaring problem if not for the game’s inspired “Theater of War” mode, which provides a wealth of content for both the German and Russian factions. Theater of War is divided into “Co-op Challenges,” “Solo Challenges,” and “AI Battles.” Co-op challenges are two-player campaign missions, shorn of cutscenes, but still carefully rooted in the real history of Eastern Front. Solo challenges require players to master particular unit types or tactics, or else provide fun adaptations of popular mechanics like Horde Mode. AI Battles tweak AI behavior, making computer opponents unusually aggressive, defensive, or reliant on a particular stratagem.
Theater of War is further divided chronologically, providing a different slate of missions for each year of the war, with corresponding unit variants and special commanders. All in all, it’s roughly 40 missions, and it’s an opportunity for Relic’s level and mission designers to flex their creative muscle; players will appreciate the wide variety of different maps and challenges on offer. More so than the campaign, Theater of War is a great opportunity to learn the game’s intricacies and learn skills that can be later applied in multiplayer.
It’s also a great source of XP. COH2, like most modern titles, features a dizzyingly complicated metagame. Through campaign missions, Theater of War challenges, and multiplayer matches (win or lose), players will level up their personal profiles. Some rewards, like unit skins, are purely cosmetic. Others, like unit bulletins, provide such incremental buffs (to specific unit types) that they might as well be cosmetic also. Most important are the commander unlocks, mentioned above. It’ll take a fair amount of grinding to unlock all the available commanders, and some are only available to customers who shelled out extra money for the game’s special edition. As you might predict, more commanders will eventually be available as DLC.
Given the hell that Relic went through to bring its title to market (original publisher THQ went bankrupt in December 2012), the trendy metagame and DLC system seems a small price to pay. This is especially true considering that other au courant touches, like the game’s smooth integration of Twitch TV, add plenty of value. In the end, COH2 is a simple, familiar, but one that’s becoming increasingly rare: fans wanted a sequel that preserved the strengths of the original game, smoothed out flaws, and added new content. That’s exactly what they got. Company of Heroes 2 doesn’t reinvent the RTS, but it doesn’t have to. It’s got physics.
- Unmatched RTS gameplay teeming with strategic and tactical possibility
- High-end game design technology with a purpose: destructible environments, units freezing and burning, charging through smoke, and obliterated by airstrikes
- Immersive atmosphere established by level design, unit barks, score, and sound design
- Theater of War mode offers a ton of extra content.
- Full of subtle changes that fans of the original game will appreciate
- Lackluster campaign
- Aggressive DLC and metagame strategy an unfortunate sign of the times
- Some negligible inefficiencies in the UI design
Final Score: 85/100
Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.