Company of Heroes

Review

posted 10/23/2006 by John Yan
other articles by John Yan
One Page Platforms: PC
Relic Entertainment's a veteran of RTS games. With such hits as Homeworld and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War under their belt, they have the experience to deliver a winner. Their latest one is another feather in their cap of RTS games. While there's a crowded market of WWII games, you should check out Company of Heroes even if it's a familiar theme. The game's just spectacular and a very welcome addition to the RTS line.

Company of Heroes is an incredible looking RTS with some great features. There are two sides in this game: Axis and Allies. Each side does has some differences such as the building tree, vehicles, and soldier types. As with most games, you'll probably gravitate towards one side more than another when playing multiplayer games. In the single player game, you'll be commanding troops in Fox Company and Able Company. Intermixed into the missions will be cut scenes that tell the story of the two as you progress through the game. The cut scenes are done very well and will sometimes transition right into the game's traditional overhead view.

You command squads instead of individuals in this game. When you select one person, you're really selecting an entire squad of soldiers so you don't micromanage your troops as much in this game. Troops can gain experience if you keep them alive long enough and as time goes by, they will become more effective. Should troops perish in the squad, you can replenish them provided that you have enough resources. You can also upgrade some of the troops abilities and weapons. The AI in the game is well done so you won't have troops that just sit out on the open field. They'll run and take cover as well as return fire when need be. I've played plenty of games where I had to babysit a squad but I didn't need to do it as much in this game as they do well to take care of themselves. There are times where you'll need to tell them to retreat but for the most part the squad AI on both sides work out pretty well.

Cover is an important aspect in Company of Heroes if you want to stay alive. As you move your squads around, you'll see colored dots indicting where the soldier is going to station himself as well as how well they will be covered. Yellow dots are light cover while green dots are heavy cover. Different objects in the world offer different amounts of cover. When a red shield appears above them that means they are pinned down and under heavy fire. You can pretty much count them out at this point and don't expect them to return much fire. When you see this, you should probably tell them to retreat and watch them run back to the base and hope there aren't more casualties as they are retreating.

Relic has done a good job at balancing out the different types of units. Even tanks aren't going to have a cake walk over infantry as updated infantry can take them out as well. If you position them right such as the sides or rear of the tank, they'll be able to do heavy damage quickly. The way the machine gun squads work is pretty cool. These guys, when setup, have an arc that they can fire. Of course, they can't fire behind them but you can change that by holding down the right mouse button on them and dragging them to the direction you want them to face. You'll see an overlay of where the machine gun squad will cover so you can easily determine what area your guys will open fire on. This takes time so in the amount of time the squad dismantles and setup up again your enemy might be quick enough to flank you thereby rendering your new position useless.. Snipers can devastate ground troops if they're well covered but can do little against armored vehicles and aren't good at close combat. Each unit has their strengths and weaknesses and it's this combination of tactics and unit abilities that really make Company of Heroes a fun strategic game.

Besides soldiers, the game features a few vehicles as mentioned earlier. The Allies have a jeep, halftrack, armored car, a few tanks, and a calliope which is a rocket enabled tank. Tanks, like troops, can also be upgraded. For example, one of the tanks can be outfitted with a bulldozer to take out the dragon teeth that prevent them from advancing. There's also an upgrade to remove landmines. The Axis also have the same vehicle variety except that the jeep is replaced by a motorcycle. There aren't any air vehicles but the Allies can call in a P47 to bombard an area. The way you are facing with tanks is very important as your front armor on your tanks is the heaviest so you always want to face that forward towards enemy fire. If the enemy flanks around you, you can easily change the direction you are facing by using the same technique as changing the direction the machine gunners face. One of the strategies in the game is to fire upon enemy vehicles in the rear where the armor is weakest. By maneuvering around the enemy and changing direction, you can position yourself better in taking them out.

There are fifteen missions overall and they do take a bit of time to complete. With each mission are various sub-missions that once completed will move you onto the next. There are also some side missions that aren't vital to finishing the game but will help aide you. It's a gamble to see if you want to try and complete them and minimize the resources lost since they aren't required. The variety in the main missions are there including defending points, capturing areas, and annihilation of the enemy line. The missions can take a lot of time but and the break between sub-missions is nice to settle yourself down. There are plenty of times where things can get really hectic for long stretches and the difficulty does ramp up quickly. This game doesn't give you many breaks and so be prepared to be challenged even at the normal difficulty level.

Resources are a staple of all RTS games and Company of Heroes features three. First of all, there's manpower which lets you create more troops. The munitions resource determines whether you can do such things as throw grenades as well as upgrades. Finally, fuel is used to generate vehicles. All three regenerate over time and you can see the rate of regeneration based on certain factors in the game. Different aspects of the game generate different resources as well. Capturing ammunition points will bring you a steady supply of munitions. You can increase the amount of munitions that are given to you over time as well by building outposts. A very cool part of the game is that even if you do capture a resource point, you won't actually receive resources unless the region it is in is connected to your base. You must have a line of regions connected to the resource to receive the benefits, sort of like a supply line. One of the strategies, of course, is to cut off the supply line and you can be sure the enemy will find weak spots to exploit and diminish your returns.
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