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Company of Heroes 2 Review

Company Of Heroes 2 Review

Developer: Relic
Publisher: Sega
UK Price: £25
US Price: $43
Platform(s): PC

The original Company of Heroes rewrote the rulebook for RTS games, ditching the sprint for resources and formulaic base-building and replacing it with genuine tactical warfare. Fights were up close and personal, resources were limited and your attachment to your troops was palpable. It was this drastic change of style combined with a great single-player campaign story that made it so refreshing and so successful. Now, six years later, we finally have a sequel in the form of Company of Heroes 2, and although it still delivers this core gameplay fun, that same sense of something refreshing and interesting is sorely lacking.

Company of Heroes 2 Review Company of Heroes 2 Review - Introduction and Singleplayer
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For those unfamiliar, the Company of Heroes series puts the player in control of relatively small squads of soldiers and mobile armaments to create a focus on small-scale tactical warfare. You can build small bases but the cost of buildings and vehicles is high, with bigger units putting a large drain on your fuel, munitions and manpower – the three resources in Company of Heroes.

Resources are gained by controlling sectors on the map, which you have to claim by positioning troops at them for some time. The balance is always a delicate one between venturing out to capture resource points and defending what you’ve already got, and getting that balance right is what makes the core gameplay of the franchise so much fun.

This tight focus on small-scale battles hasn’t changed much in Company of Heroes 2 but several other things have. The new game is again set during World War II, but this time the conflict has moved from the Western to the Eastern front, where things are a little chillier. The result is that the chief new game mechanic is dealing with the cold. Soldiers freeze to death if away from fires or shelter for too long, they get bogged down in deep snow and rivers freeze over, providing the ability to send the enemy to a watery grave if you smash the ice while they’re crossing.

Company of Heroes 2 Review Company of Heroes 2 Review - Introduction and Singleplayer
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The other major change is that you now play as the Russians, and it’s here that the game hits its first stumbling block.

The story spans the commencement of Operation Barbarossa (the German advance into Russia) and concludes in the Battle of Berlin some 14 missions later. You play Lev Abramovich Isakovich, a disgraced Soviet Army lieutenant who from his prison cell introduces the story, and thus each mission, via his conversations with his commanding officer.

Company of Heroes 2 Review Company of Heroes 2 Review - Introduction and Singleplayer
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During these conversations it’s revealed just how barbarous and callous the Russians were to their troops, with soldiers shot for retreating (Order 227), new recruits treated like literal cannon fodder and whole units left behind to die. Isakovich is played as the innocent man, doing his duty and regretting it afterwards, while his commanding officer almost takes pleasure in recounting the stories. This depiction of the Russians as still being the bad guys even though they were helping the West out, while based on some degree of fact, is dealt with poorly and the moralising sits at total odds with the way the game actually feels to play. Not to mention, it doesn't half put a downer on things.

Add in that the voice acting and dialogue during the cutscenes are about as generic as a summer super hero movie and the animation, although a marked step up from the first game, looks thoroughly dated and you’ve got a fairly underwhelming experience with which to drive the story forward.

Company of Heroes 2 Review Company of Heroes 2 Review - Introduction and Singleplayer
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Worse is that the new game mechanics introduced to reflect these brutal tactics (the shooting of retreating troops and an endless supply of cannon fodder conscripts) are about as uninspiring as it comes. The latter in particular is tedious. You can call in fresh troops every few minutes, with them able to bolster existing experienced squads or just head out on their own. However, the frequency with which you are able to pull in fresh troops, and that they appear from off map even though you have a base, just breaks the sense that you’re micro-managing a small section of a larger battle.

This crude implementation also applies to the UI, which feels cluttered and confusing. The new map is more difficult to interpret and resource counters are more difficult to read. Even the main menu just feels depressing in its utility, with multiple multiplayer modes, the COH2 store and TwitchTV streaming channels all crammed in there – by all means it’s great to have access to these things but does it have to detract quite so much from the focus and sense of occasion when first playing the game and entering the campaign.

Company of Heroes 2 Review Company of Heroes 2 Review - Introduction and Singleplayer
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Perhaps the biggest thing of all though, is simply a sense when playing this game of it not feeling new. Sure the units look a little different and the graphics have improved a bit (more on which later) but if it has been a few years since you played the first game and you just fancy returning to that world, there’s a very real sense you could just replay the original game and get a more satisfying experience. The cold mechanic aside there are no single player tweaks that make the game anymore involving, such as retaining elite squads between missions, improving camera angle management, or really ramping up the tech tree for a grand finale.