I'm not sure how much I can say about Company of Heroes that hasn't been said emphatically already by numerous organizations. As I write this, the game has already been named Game of the Year by both Gamespy and IGN. It's also among the top rated games on sites like MetaCritic. I'm going to take my own crack at reviewing it from two points of view: an overall review of the game and its features, and a look at how this game fits in at TG.
I should also mention that I am not a traditional RTS guy. That shouldn't be too hard to tell by looking at my Xfire stats. I typically grow either bored of frustrated with RTS games, but CoH has struck me as different, and I've chosen to put some siginificant time into it. This review will reflect that.
The invasion that turned the tide of the war in Europe, D-Day. Possibly one of the most reproduced events in history in movies and video games. At this point, you're probably thinking "CLICHÉ!!". Please don't tune out! As clichéd as the WWII theme is in video games, there are so many things Company of Heroes does right it's impossible to write off for the setting alone.
Company of Heroes puts you, the Allied commander, in control of one of the most famous military engagements in history from the first mission of the game, and takes you through 15 intense missions to secure the Normandy beachhead. The single player campaign never takes you out of France, so if you're looking for a wide variety of theaters, you've picked the wrong game. What CoH does beautifully though is recreate the French countryside right down to fields and haystacks, dead cows, and quaint farmhouses. Cities are equally detailed. Most are incredibly war torn, like the city of St. Lo. The city that looks like a ghost town of bombed out buildings, abandoned factories, and smashed infrastructure. The campaign strives for historical accuracy, although there are a few errors. Their easily overlooked though. The story is told in cutscenes with a combination of rendered animations and in-game scripted sequences. Objectives range from killing officers, capturing facilities, securing a road, defending a town, and a number of other goals. All missions include a primary objective and at least one other secondary goal. There are also side-missions that reward the player with a medal if accomplished. Most of these are quite hard to achieve the first time around though, but make a second playthrough of the campaign more worthwhile.
The game is graphically amazing, even if you must run it on medium and low settings (like me). Make sure your computer is up to par by trying out the demo first.
As pretty as the graphics are, it's destroying the lush countryside that will really make your jaw drop. This is where CoH really stands out - the game's destructible environments model allows the player (and their opponent) to destroy every aspect of terrain. The damage model on structures is astounding. According to developer Relic, the average building is made up of 60 destructible parts, each of which can be visually destroyed seven different ways. What that means is you probably will never see the same building blown apart the same way twice. Tank shells scorch the earth and leave craters which infantry can use to seek cover. Engineers can destroy bridges, tanks can smash through walls and hedgerows, garrisoned buildings can be burned to the ground. There are limitless ways to use the environment to your advantage.
Destructable environments are great, but what is that without gameplay? To clarify, Company of Heroes is a real time strategy game, putting you in control of numerous units in order to win a battle. Your macro-management of building the correct units at the right time coupled with micro-managing those units on the battlefield are necessary to win the battle. In Company of Heroes, you will be spending much more time managing your units on the battlefield than you will in your base managing unit and structure building. You'll control squads of infantry instead of individual units (with a few exceptions such as snipers and officers) while most vehicles are controlled independent of one another. There is a great built in tutorial system that does a fine job of walking new players through all the details of producing and using units.
On the battlefield, CoH offers a unique system of cover to help keep your units alive. Place your squad in the middle of a field and the enemy will easily lay waste to them. Send them behind a stone wall, and they'll survive much longer and probably win the engagement. Cover is indicated by a green, yellow, or red indicator that appears over your troops and on the ground where you want to move them. Green cover indicates your soldiers have hard cover. This includes things like stone walls, tombstones, fallen trees, and for some reason, haystacks! Yellow cover means units are partially exposed. Things like craters, wooden fences, hedges and bushes, and gullys provide yellow cover. Then there's the dreaded red indicator, which means your troops are fully exposed to enemy fire. This can be avoided by intentionally moving troops close to yellow cover on their way to an objective, an good tactical choice that can mean the difference in an ambush.
Vehicles play a key role in Company of Heroes, but are not the end-all-be-all to a battle. Since many infantry units are equipped with an anti-armor weapons along with their rifles and SMG's, tanks cannot charge into battle without anti-infantry support. Of course, tanks like the allied Sherman or German Panzer IV must worry about the big guns on their opponents armor as well. Tactically, tank battles require just as much, if not more management on the battlefield to ensure a successful outcome. The front armor on vehicles is much thicker than it is on the sides or rear, so you'll always want to make sure you're making an approach on enemy forces with your thickest skin up front. It makes flanking manuvers with armors or anti-tank guns extremely effective, and rewards players for tactical planning rather than charging in head first. It makes recon units like jeeps and snipers equally useful as armored cars and heavy tanks. In Company of Heroes, combined forces are the key to victory, and tactical planning trumps brute force in all cases.
There isn't an abunance of different units you can build in CoH, and only 5 or 6 base structures available to each faction. Each unit has an upgrade or three though, allowing each to gain effectiveness in different areas of combat. For example, the quad-.50 cal upgrade on the half track converts it from a troop transport/field reinforcement unit into a mobile heavy machine gun capable of decimating enemy infantry. Allied Riflemen can be upgraded with grenades to flush MG's out of buildings, or sticky bombs to immoblize vehicles.
A low unit population cap and high price for things like tanks and specialized infantry mean knowing when to run is just as important as knowing when to fight. Each unit and structure serves a very clear-cut and specific role, and in a mis-match the retreat buttion comes in very handy. If a rifleman squad is overmatched by a squad of Volksgrenadiers equipped with deadly MP-40's, press "T" or find the retreat icon and your men will flee the battle with a defense and speed bonus. They'll go directly to your HQ, where they can be reinforced individually, instead of building a whole new squad at the barracks. Keeping squads alive preserves any veterancy bonuses earned through fighting and saves the manpower resources required to build a new riflemen squad. It's a great function that will severly cut down on the frustration level of losing units who suddenly become outmatched.
Just as in most RTS games, you'll need to gather resources to afford to build units and structures. CoH uses a great model of having resource points scattered across the map representing two of the game's basic resources - munitions and fuel. You'll have to capture these flags to both take map control and capture strategic point flags to link supply sectors to your base. If your opponent breaks your supply lines, you'll lose the stream of resources your resource sectors are generating. Keep the supply lines intact, and your'll be able to build and upgrade your forces.
Both campaign missions and multiplayer games are won and lost based on resource control. Some multiplayer games end without a single victory point being captured or enemy base destroyed. Resource points are measured in small, medium, or high resource flow. Capturing and defending a high fuel point early in a game will help you start cranking out vehicles long before your opponent. Likewise, getting ahold of a high munitions point will assure you'll be able to afford upgrades for your units like Browning Automatic Rifles and grenades for your infantrymen or a heavy machine gun for your M8 Greyhound armored car. If you give up resources, your production capability will be greatly reduced and your population cap will fall.
Determining the best part of a map to attack is often the difference between winning and losing. Pitting your valueable tanks against a layered defense of anti-tank cannons and Panzerfaust rockets will probably not result in a pretty outcome. Swinging around the other side of the map to capture more lightly-defended map sectors will force your enemy on the offensive, and could turn the tide for you.
The way all of this plays out in-game is nearly perfect. The concept of map control for resources makes for all sorts of tactical fun.
"Rifle squad, on point!"
The thing that always turned me off from RTS games was immersiveness. I always felt like I was just going through the motions, controlling units. One factor that adds a large amount of immersiveness to Company of Heroes is the game sounds. Not only does gunfire resonate with a wonderful pop and artillery strikes explode with a flourishing "BOOM", the soldiers respond to each event in the game with gritty and convincing one-liners. If one of your tanks advances too quickly into enemy territory, you'll probably hear "Sherman taking fire!!". If your infantrymen stumble across an enemy machine gun, you'll probably hear someone say, "It'd sure be nice if we had some f***ing grenades right about now!" By the way, this game isn't for the faint of heart. There's plenty of cursing, including F-bombs, S-bombs, and everything else. If that's not your cup of tea, fine. But I think it's great, and it actually makes you care a little bit more about your units. Bottom line: all the sounds in CoH are high quality and immersive.
After playing through the entire campaign and a few skirmishes versus the CPU, I ventured online to try my hand against real people. Lets keep in mind here that every other RTS game I've tried online has almost always resulted in me losing the game, and eventually losing my patience. Company of Heroes could have a similar result if you don't come in with some patience and some practice in skirmish mode. But once you feel comfortable, you will find online play to be extremely balanced and enjoyable. The online play is much faster and frenzied than the single player campaign, but adapting to the pace seems almost natural. Building up base defenses and turtling as it's called will guarantee you a loss. You need to be able to think on your feet and be agressive to win online.
Most of the maps are well designed and extremely well balanced. There are some exceptions, like the 1 vs. 1 map Sturzdorf which places a crucial Axis fuel point in a difficult to defend area much farther from their base then the Allies fuel point. There aren't very many of these sorts of imbalances though, and multiplayer is usually well-matched and fun. Players have the choice of playing 1-on-1 match ups all the way up through 4-on-4 rumbles. The game comes with 15 maps, although some very nice player-made maps are starting to appear.
Relic Online provides a built-in ranked ladder system for stat hounds. By clicking the Play Now button on the multiplayer screen, the game will match you up with opponents ranked similarly to you. It's usually a pretty failsafe way to find a match with someone whose skills mirror your own. There have been a few problems though with ranked games mis-reporting wins and losses.
There's also an online lobby where you can create unranked games or join games looking for players. With Relic Online's chat lobby, it's usually pretty easy to set up games. A convienent tabbed menu system allows you to switch back and forth from the pre-game menu and the chat room to find players. Unfortunately, you cannot coordinate who you play with or against in ranked team games. I've never played a ranked team game for that reason - this is the sort of game you want to jump online with a friend or two in Teamspeak and plan your strategies as the match unfolds.
It's also worth mentioning that the CoH community is relatively mature when compared with other games, and it's rare to find people flaming in matches.
Almost a Perfect Game
There are so many things that Company of Heroes does great that the things it does wrong just seem so small in comparison. But there are some things that stand out to me about this game that bother me. My biggest gripe is the field of view. While the camera controls are very intuitive on the battlefield, it always seems like I can't zoom out quite far enough. This forces you to pan the camera down closer to the battlefield to see what's ahead of you sometimes, then reset the view back to normal. With all the micromanagement of units, those extra steps can really get in the way sometimes.
As with all RTS games, pathfinding and unit AI can sometimes be questionable. Tanks often take much more micromanagement than is enjoyable (there should be a 'Reverse' button for vehicles - backing them up out of battle can be a tedious affair). Infantry squad members occaisionally and inexplicably leave their green cover to lay down in the middle of a field. This usually results in a quick death if you're trying to put fire on a MG emplacement or vehicle. Overall though, the squad AI is quite smart and my complaint is hardly a gamebreaker. Typically, the AI will seek cover on its own if it encounters an enemy out in the open, and your soldiers will usually work to get their sights on the enemy even if there is an obstruction.
Company of Heroes does a hell of a lot of things right, and even if you're not a fan of RTS games you should at the very least give the demo a try. If you're a WWII buff and are comfortable with the RTS genre, this is a must-have. It has a lot of potential here at TG to develop into a great tactics-based team game that goes off the beaten path of first person shooters.
Yes, there are some cons. I didn't really mention it in the review, but if you're the sort of person who's easily frustrated this might not be the best game since the online games have such a steep learning curve. It wasn't such a big con for me, but I could imagine if someone had a short fuse this game could send them through the roof. I know most TG'ers aren't the instant gratification sorts, but this isn't the type of game you can pick up and just start fragging people left and right online. I lost my first 5 or so online games, but all of a sudden something clicked and now I'm competitive in just about every game I play now, and even if I lose I still really enjoy the match. Hell, hybridninja and I got our butts kicked yesterday and I still had a blast playing.
I guess I would just say even if you are easily frustrated by losing, keep at it with this game.
"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.
He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."
- Attributed to General George Patton, Jr.
My biggest problem with Company of Heroes is the destroyable buildings. Most of them just have a health bar that you deplete by firing tank rounds or artillery at it. Soldiers: Heroes of World War 2 and Faces of War both had buildings that you could take out just by blowing out a wall or a support beam. The whole "every house has a magical bar that shows you how stable it is" was kind of annoying. That and they never explain what veteran status gives your units.
Then again, those are pretty much my only complaints. CoH is basically the perfect low-level RTS. If you like Warcraft III over Total Annihilation, for instance, CoH is where it's at.
My biggest problem with CoH was the introduction of troop moral without making any mention of it in either the tutorial or a way to gague it quickly.
I tend to play a line and flank game where I set up defenses on key routes then take a few squads around the back roads to cut off supply lines. With snipers to take out infantry and anti-tank guns and anti-tank guns to to take out vehicles you can make a pretty tough nut to crack in a skirmish. Doing swift captures and constantly building observation posts also cuts heavily into your man power. At times I'd forget to build field barracks along the way and find myself with 3-4 fully upgraded squads of rangers/riflemen taking a point deep on the other side of the map. Then a single squad of enemy engineers comes by and after the first bullet salvo my troops bugger out of green cover and automatically retreat to HQ instead of the nearest field barracks.
Either its the worst bug I've ever seen (since you have to then hoof your ground units back to the front line from the very rear and meanwhile that single squad of engineers are retaking points) or something that forces you to constantly micromanagement of front line building.
My sanity is not in question...
It was a confirmed casualty some time ago.
Light, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to hide the bodies of the people I had to kill because they ticked me off.
-- Suits are what you wear when doing things you shouldn’t want to do anyway.
FROM THE TACTICAL GAMER PRIMER.
3) Support game play in a near-simulation environment. Where the focus of play would not be solely on doing what it takes to win, but doing so utilizing real-world combat strategy and tactics rather than leveraging exploits provided to players by the design of the game engine.
Welcome to TG Rick...I like COH alot too. Didn't play any MP at all and I kind of missed out I think. Not very active at TG anymore but I still fire it up in singler player every now and then. Join us on some of our more active titles like BF3 or its nearly opposite cousin ARMA 2. TG ARMA 2 has seen a nice resurgence in the last few months.
next to arma, CoH with Blitzkrieg mod is my favorite game.
Blitzkrieg is a lot like Project Reality (for ArmA). Both take a good game and make it amazing. I still love a good comp stomp in Blitzkrieg. Maybe someday our wishes for a Company of Heroes 2 will be answered...
there's actually still a few of us that play CoH with blitz semi-regularly.
Hop on TS and look down to the in-house squad channels; mostly 6th Devils, 10th Tactical Guard and 31st Lightning Recon. There might be a few guys playing or willing to play, just come down and say hi!
Anyone tried out modern combat (mod) for CoH that just got released
|TG-31st|AnimalMother "Is it the 31st policy to have hott women as their avatars? Because if so that's a pretty baddass policy." - Pvt. brokeback
Speaking of which, I for one think COH2 could be done well. It only has 2 factions, which was fine in the first game. Then the expansion came out adding British and Panzer armies and it just became a battle of the blobs.
COH is probably my best ever game to date, loved when it came out, I'm hoping COH2 will do the same.