The battlefield contains the usual obstacles such as foliage, fences, and buildings. The buildings aren't worthless though and like in the Command & Conquer: Generals, you can garrison some buildings giving your troops better cover. Garrisoned buildings can really provide some great defenses and be equally deadly to foot soldiers. The engine does a nice job at showing soldiers opening windows and opening fire on the troops below from garrisoned buildings. You can setup sandbags and land mines to fortify your positions but expect the enemy to take them down. The dynamically changing battlefield helps give some variety in the missions if you replay over them and it does a good job in changing the way the game plays each time even if it's very little. What you see on the field though can instantly be gone as the war progresses. You can literally level everything to the ground once it's all said and done.
Since this is an RTS, things can get hectic and this is where the left side of the screen comes in handy. When events such as one of your squads taking fire happen, it appears on the left side and events can queue up there if they happen within a quick time frame of each other. You can easily get to the action by clicking on the icon associated with said event. Trust me, you'll want to keep an eye on the left side when you hear the audible cues so that you can help take care of business.
If you're a veteran of RTS games, you'll easily become accustomed to the controls. I haven't really been into RTS games in quite some time, since Command & Conquer: Generals to be exact. It's nice to be able to dive into the game and have familiar control schemes such as setting squads to be a certain number key and using the keyboard to navigate the build menus. It's this familiarity that enabled me to jump into the game quickly and be comfortable controlling it. Mastering the build keys is a must as with most RTS games, you have to be efficient and quick to achieve success.
The game does feature a very nice tutorial spread out in four subjects that gets you up to speed in the nuances of Company of Heroes. You'll learn various basic commands from controlling your squad to building various structures and commanding vehicles. The instructions were presented in a very easy to follow fashion and fun as well. If you aren't that familiar with RTS games or want to play without reading the manual, the tutorial does a great job getting you up to speed.
The graphics in Company of Heroes are top notch for an RTS game. The level of detail in the characters, vehicles, and environment really breath life into the game. Watching the soldiers run, dive, and open fire is a visual treat. The models are equally as impressive as the animation and the textures are of high quality. The war torn field can change as well with destructible environments and deformable terrain. The changing of the terrain can add some variety to replayed missions as the battlefield will most likely not be the same if you replay the mission a few times. Explosions finish with a nice cloud of dust. Watch as buildings come crumbling down as you put a few shells into it. Since it's a 3D engine, you'll get the great visuals as you pan the camera around. The designs and architecture throughout the game look very authentic. The amount of detail in Company of Heroes really catches your eye and it does provide some of the most impressive visuals for an RTS game out there currently.
Physics are in play and you'll see it a lot throughout the game. One of the great moments I had was shooting a mortar shell into a building and seeing a Nazi soldier slide out of the window and fall down the side of the building. Soldiers will flip in the air from large artillery striking them. Vehicles will slide out of control and crash with great veracity flinging soldiers out the sides. Combined with the impressive graphics, you get some great eye candy for Company of Heroes.
Sound for Company of Heroes are really well done. Gunfire, explosions, and vehicle movement contain the "punch" that's needed to enhance what's on screen. When things heat up, you'll feel like you're right in the middle of the fight with all the great sounds coming from your speakers. Those with 5.1 surround sound are in for a treat. The voice acting isn't too bad as well with the soldiers shouting at each other with what's going on. One nice little touch is when troops are sneaking around, they'll acknowledge you with a whisper. This is one game you want to crank your speakers up to experience the high quality sound.
There are aspects of the game that I do find annoying. For starters the vehicle pathfinding needs some work. I've had a few instances where one of my squadmates was standing in front of the tank and the tank just sat there even though I was giving them a move order. A move of the squad a little bit freed up the tank. When commanding a few vehicles at a time, this can get rather frustrating. Now imagine you're in a middle of a firefight and need to quickly position your vehicles only to see them stand still blocking each others path. That's when you really see the problem and in RTS games, you can't spend time micro-managing vehicles and look to win. Hopefully a patch can be issued soon to upgrade the vehicle AI.
If you want to play online with your friends, make sure you guys aren't using a router. Each person will need their own IP address as the way the multiplayer component is designed in Company of Heroes doesn't support multiplayer gaming via NAT. Given today's networking environment, I found this decision to be pretty poor. If you got a few roommates with the game and they want to play online together, you're going to be sorely disappointed. I certainly hope that a patch comes out so that NAT users are able to enjoy the game online as a group. Until then you're pretty much stuck at LAN as the only option to play with your buddies.
You'll need a beefy machine to run this game though and even the most powerful machines can slow down with all the graphics turned on high. On my AMD64 4000+ with 2 gig of ram and a WinFast PX7900 GS card, the game ran very well with moderate to high settings. The minimum requirements dictate a 2GHz CPU so that in turn should tell you you'll need something with some horsepower if the minimum, not recommended, is 2GHz. If you do have the machine to run the game with a lot of settings, you'll be treated to some great graphics.
I'll admit, I was surprised at how great a game Company of Heroes is. Having not been to a few trade shows and only really reading about the game a few weeks prior to launch, I was delighted at how much fun I had with the game. Besides the incredible looking engine, the gameplay offers some great control over your squads and the action is fast and furious. Company of Heroes is a great pickup and if they can get the NAT issue fixed as well as the vehicle path finding issues, you got an almost instant classic in the RTS line here. I'm really psyched to see if they continue expanding the series in adding sea and air vehicles to control so let's hope this game does well and we see more Company of Heroes in the future.
More On:Company of Heroes
Simply an awesome game that really takes the WWII RTS to a new standard. Just make sure you have a nice machine to run the game.
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