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a brief review of the WWII RTS game

by Frankie Li


The ‘Real-Time Strategy’ Genre have come a long way since Westwood Studio’s Command and Conquer first made it’s way into any self-respecting wargamer’s computer in 1995. Company of Heroes by Relic (The makers of ‘Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War’) have given new life to the new generation of RTS games with a title that is more than just eye-candy.


And there is plenty of eye-candy! With beautifully rendered and fully destructible and interactive environments. And it is the destructible environment of Northern France that brings more complex and inventive gameplay than your average RTS fare.


Houses, hedgerows and low walls provide strongpoints for your advancing/ defending infantry, but will delay any advancing armour that would be useful against the MG pit that is pinning down your infantry platoon. Decisions made can cause problems later, bulldozing through that village for the sake of Blitzkrieg leaves your infantry dangerously exposed for the counterattack.


And while it is amazing to think that in the 11 years since Command and Conquer, we have not been treated to any WW2 themed RTS games, it is even more amazing to think, we have not  seen any RTS games that provide a strong balance between Infantry, Armour and Artillery to force the player into using combined-arms tactics.


The game follows two fictional American Companies from D-Day to the capture of Cherbourg, a side-story involving paratroopers of the 101st Airborne division dropped on D minus 1 and the main story around Able Company. The typical match in Company of Heroes isn't all about simply blowing up the enemy's base, though "annihilation" victory conditions; instead the game’s resource system comes from the capture of certain victory and resource points, marked by flags and zones of control and supply on your map. Zones captured must find a line of supply to bring resources back to HQ if you are to collect the resources needed to win the game. As with the destructible environment and flexible victory conditions, the limited amount of resources on each level and an experience system that increases the effectiveness of your troops as they fight in more battles, makes the decision of what to build a little more difficult, players will on most occasions find they will win and fight the battle with the available forces they had begun with, with resources used for reinforcing exhausted veteran platoons or building much needed support units to clear up obstacles such as MG nests.


Players will find themselves in small bouts of tug-of-war over contested resource and victory points as both sides will push each other back to capture and hold sets of victory points or resource points to replenish their exhausted units.


The single player levels offer a rich variety of levels, the game is a great cinematic experience, with players following through the company’s advance into Europe. From the expected landing on the beaches to the paratroopers attacking Carentan and defence from the German counterattack. On top of the single-player experience, Company of Heroes offers a lot on multiplayer to keep us all ticking over until the inevitable release of an expansion pack. Third-party sites are also offering some fantastically designed maps which can be played online or offline against bots, the most recently released depicting the last moments of Berlin before the fall of the Reich.


All of this comes at a price, you will have to run the game on a top of the line machine for just average performance, and even the best machines will bog down on certain points if too much happens on the screen at the same time. Map and mission loading takes just a little too long, although you will probably get an hour’s worth of gameplay once each level is loaded.


The game ships with certain bugs and a rather large (200-300 MB) set of patches will need to be downloaded by the user.


Also, as I had pointed out earlier, the single player game offers a rich cinematic experience, unfortunately we are also treated to a Hollywood scripted version of World War Two history as part of this cinematic experience, but with the quality of the gameplay, it can be forgiven.


But all in all, the game is technically remarkable and features some very novel ideas that make it unique from other real-time strategy games. It's an easy to dive straight into, but, forgive the cliché, difficult to master. The game does such a good job of depicting the chaos of WW2, but at a cost of requiring quite serious computing power to run. In spite of these technical requirements and the liberties taken with history, Company of Heroes still offers a great experience over the other WW2 and Real-time strategy games available.

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