It's been awhile since the first Company of Heroes game was released and although there have been two standalone games since then, they were merely expansions to the original. Now that Company of Heroes 2 is here, fans will be looking for improvements in many aspects and it's not like Relic Entertainment haven't had more than enough time to try and deliver upon this, so let's see how they've done.
The focus of the game is still around World War II, though this time it looks at the war from a different perspective. This time events are specific to the Eastern Front, and Russia's Red Army as it attempt to take Berlin before the Allied forces from the Germans. It's known that this conflict was quite a brutal affair, with extreme casualties, mostly due to the Russians placing little value on the lives of their soldiers. And this aspect has been captured very well within the game. Specifically the campaign story which is formed from the recollections of a Russian Lieutenant Lev Abramovich Isakovich, who has been imprisoned facing charges of treason for attempting to bring to light the horrors he had witnessed on the battlefield.
For the most part the game does a fantastic job at portraying these moments, and relays a strong message that Russia's focus was purely on the task at hand. However, while the game is extremely reminiscent of the previous installments and also the Warhammer 40k : Dawn of War franchise, the story is a little bit hampered in the gameplay department.
That's not to say it's bad, but it's much more linear in its design. Each mission brings its own objectives to the table, with some involving capturing areas in succession, and others revolving around holding key positions, escorting or preventing enemies from fleeing.
Despite what seems like a lot of different objectives, there isn't that much variation. Most missions just result in progressing through the map until you get to the end. This is something that on a gameplay level feels a little bit reduced, as the enemy more or less never leave their defensive positions, leaving you to consistently move up, take an area, evaluate the next decision, scout and move up again. As long as you aren't reckless, you won't really struggle to beat each map, and for those that don't have more difficult objectives, there really isn't any way to lose anything other than time.
This makes the campaign feel a little stale, as it unfortunately feels a bit repetitive. Once you form a decent army composition, not much can stand in the way. It does however, provide some rather epic effects and sense of gratification with the environmental destruction and larger scale conflicts.
Outside of the story there's also a mode called Theatre of War. It's here that you can take control of either the Soviets or the Axis forces and play through either some single player challenge maps, which have a specific focus, or attempt co-op maps with a friend to gain control of the map. This is pretty much how the multiplayer of the game works. Both teams fight for control points, either those that give resources to improve their army or those that affect the score of the 'match'. Things are much more hectic as defending and advancing becomes extremely complicated and chaotic. In the AI battles, players get an AI partner to help them, and in the co-op they are allowed one friend/stranger.The multiplayer is pretty much identical in this respect, though an alternative to capturing areas is presented through annihilation mode. Here, it's down to the wire, rather than a resource counter deciding the victor. However, up to 8 players can play simultaneously on some maps on teams of two, which creates some interesting conflicts and it's possible to replace any number of these players with AI instead.
There are some new additions to the gameplay though, namely in the form of weather or rather winter. Snow affects many aspects. Some examples are movement restriction and the health of your units dropping through prolonged exposure to the elements. This is only amplified by blizzards, as well as the general sight range, and ability to use aircraft.
Players need to build campfires, or move from building to building in order to advance, or risk losing their soldiers to 'General Winter'. Interestingly this actually features in a single map in the story campaign, which was a little surprising, though it does make the process of advancing much more time consuming. Aside from this rivers/lakes can be destroyed by explosive barrages or sustained fire allowing a different type of ambush tactic.
Graphically the game is more pronounced, particularly in the effects and physics departments, where large scale conflicts are much more dramatic. In particular the katyusha rocket barrages are terrifyingly devastating, and the sound department clearly shines with the noise they make, as well as the overall emersion for players in the game.
It could be said that game feels a bit lacking in the single player department, as things aren't quite as dynamic on the enemy AI side. They seem to send themselves an early death sentence at times and while it's a bit funny, it takes away from the realism. You'll see tanks fire carelessly at a group of infantry who are too prideful to fall back despite being unable to do any damage, but you'll also see enemies sometimes just running right past forces. The AI in the battles in the theatre of war and skirmish also seems a bit scatterbrained, as they often roam around the map quite randomly at times.
The ability to play with other people competitively and cooperatively is a definite plus, and there's a fair bit of customisation to earn in regards to that with different commanders yielding different abilities/units. Additional camouflage to unlock for vehicles, and a progressive upgrade system based on pseudo achievements for each unit to bolster their potential albeit slightly.
Company of Heroes 2 is a good addition to the franchise, but it doesn't ever feel like it's anything more than an upgraded expansion. That's not to say it's bad, because Company of Heroes set the bar rather high. However, although the single player brings some fantastic historical interpretation, it isn't half as challenging. Still, its atmospherically and visually gorgeous and very much enforces the harshness of war. The multiplayer and AI skirmish sides are what players used to the series would come to expect, and are plenty of fun to play regardless of the single player component.
|Portrays the realities of the times very well.|
|Physics are very satisfying.|
|Theatre of War and Multiplayer.|
|Single player campaign isn't that challenging and feels too linear.|
|The ice/snow mechanics aren't utilised enough.|
|AI sometimes feels confused and a bit stubborn.|