The greatest ever RTS returns!
The traditional big-budget RTS has gone the way of the dodo over the past few years. EA’s big revival of Command & Conquer: Generals has gone free-to-play, likewise Petrogylph’s online strategy End of Nations, so we thank all that is holy in the world for the ambition of THQ and Relic Entertainment, as they’re throwing their collective weight behind a full blooded genre revival in the guise of Company of Heroes 2.
We’ve already told you that World War II’s Eastern Front is the theatre of choice for the sequel, and how Relic are going for a more story-based framework for the game’s campaign, following the exploits of a war correspondent documenting the conflict between Russia and Germany, but what we haven’t told you is what it’s actually like to play and at gamescom we relished our chance to investigate.
After hearing about the innovations of Truesight, a system which shows unit sight-lines realistically with obstacles blocking vision cones, and the added realism of the shiny new Essence 3 engine, we were literally batting folks out of the way to seize our chance to get onto a demo PC and the pre-alpha code certainly didn’t disappoint.
Two missions were available to sample, the first was an introductory level involving regularly reinforced infantry squads trying to retake a village from the clutches of Nazi forces and the second was a regular two versus two skirmish match on a monstrous map set in and around Rzhev which included more traditional RTS challenges like base building and resource harvesting.
What was clear to us from the first moment we saw the game in action is that the cinematic feel and grandeur of Company of Heroes has been dialled up for the sequel. The sounds of weapons mixed a trumpet-laden soundtrack gives the action a gravitas that most WWII games don’t really get right; a reverence and respect to battles fought past. The visuals too have taken a big step up with unit animations now much more believable, be it soldiers plodding their feet through deep snow or huddling around fires to stay warm in the cold. The first mission notably lacked Company of Heroes 2′s hypothermia scale, which sees unit ability and strength drop before eventually capitulating when exposed to blizzards without any cover or warmth, but it still boasted a challenge.
With a mixture of engineer units boasting flamethrowers and regular infantry armed with rifles and anti-infantry grenades, we retook the village using flanking manoeuvres and precise baiting techniques to snare in enemy forces, before hitting them from the side or behind. Watching our men literally chargrilling enemies to death by setting fire to their garrisoned buildings was both harrowing and empowering. The unit animations really help to dial up the drama, with soldiers sometimes wriggling to a slow death on the floor or getting propelled high into the air when they’re victims of a well-placed grenade.
Even though the visuals were Direct X 9-only (the final build will support Direct X11), the overall quality of the assets still shone through, as did the game’s inherent destructibility as housing exteriors were chipped away under weapons fire, before eventually collapsing. Tanks too can cause major damage not only with their cannons, but also their treads as we saw one careless driver clip a wall and take a considerable chunk out of a corner piller.
Altogether the battlefield feels much more reactive this time around, like it’s ready to play a key role in the interplay between forces facing off, rather than simply functioning as a stage. That particular revelation became even more apparent in the second mission, as we got our asses handed to us not once, but twice!
Tags: Company of Heroes 2
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