Review: More fun than you can throw a sticky bomb at.
World War II is one of the defining moments in World History. From the diabolical actions of the Nazis to the heroics of our Allies, every day was filled with defining moments for the brave soldiers who fought to free Europe from the Nazi regime. Although there have been hundreds of video games that have been based off of fictional American companies (in this case ?Abel'), very few of them could be hailed as a true masterpiece of gaming. Until now.
Channeling the spirit of epic war films such as Steven Spielberg's ?Saving Private Ryan' and Tom Hanks' ?Band of Brothers', ?Company of Heroes' takes the player to the front lines and into the bloodiest battles of World War II. What makes the game so great? Simply, it's atmosphere.
As the player, you'll experience the urgency and intensive fights that occurred during the war. Ranging from simple, destroy the Axis HQ missions to the more complex, hold down a hill for half an hour, each of the missions provides the player with a challenging game in which they'll need to think about which units to build, what they need, and how they can improve their situation.
Unlike other RTS games, resource gathering in Company of Heroes doesn't rely on sending units back and forth from headquarters to resources. Instead, the game uses an interesting point feature that can either decrease or increase. Similar to a capture-the-flag style of gameplay, each point can be either controlled by the Allies or the Axis. Every minute, there's a set amount of points you get for work, ammo, and fuel, which is dependent on the resource centers you control. Thankfully, there's an abundance of them on-stage. Additionally, the game uses an XP system (command points) in order to bring the player along a tech tree, which typically consists of either defensive or offensive bonuses for the player.
XP in the game is gained through conquering strategic points, building and destroying the Axis units. These points are crucial to the victory of a player as it allows for different boosts such as reinforcing your army with Rangers, bombing runs, field repairs, etc. You'll definitely want to spend your points depending on the type of army your typically trying to run.
While the units, buildings, and commands revolve around your stereotypical RTS-style features, the originality of the game comes through the amount of micromanagement in the game. While most RTS require spending time building anything in order to increase their population size, the game population is set permanently at seventy-five. This means that the player will be spending less time on building and more time on conquering, lending to the fast-pace atmosphere of the game. Additionally, each and every unit available in the game can be upgraded into offensive units. Even the builder ones.
Although most RTS games requires the player to make their units run for cover, the A.I. in the game is incredible. Even without orders, your units will make a run for cover if they know they're outnumbered, which adds a defensive bonus to them. Using cover is crucial in the game, unless of course you have enough offense to power your way through all of the enemy's units.
While the game's single-player campaign in itself is worth the purchase, the multiplayer adds an additional dimension to the game. Whereas most other RTS consists of only destroying the other faction during multiplayer mode, Company of Heroes has two different styles of multiplayer gameplay. In ?Victory Point Control', players have to take control of the opponent's statues. As one side gains more victory points, the other side loses tickets, which ultimately causes them to lose. Then there's the other mode entitled ?Annihilation' which doesn't really need any explanation.
Complementing the gameplay is the use of some of the best graphics found in the real-time strategy genre. Thanks to Relic's next-gen graphics engine, ?the Essence Engine,' you can easily expect to see every high-end next-gen graphic effect in use. From HDR lighting to the game's shading effects, CoH is flat-out gorgeous; meaning you'll need a killer graphics card to get the full experience of the game. Period. With anything below a 256 MB video card you'll have no need to apply.
With the ability to zoom down all the way onto the battlefield, players can become easily distracted by staring at the game's fine use of high quality textures and shadows. Every upgrade that you add to a unit will change their appearance, whether its weapons or armor. Additionally, every unit has multiple animations in which they interact with the game's fully-destructible environment. You'll see your units crowd behind a blown up tank, shooting through a car door, and being blown to smithereens by enemy rockets. It's this painstaking attention to detail, that makes Company of Heroes stand out graphic-wise from the rest of the crowd.
While most of the time is spent looking at real-time graphics, the cinematics in the game are excellent. Rivaling some of the best high-quality CG found on console gaming, the characters live and breathe in the environment, which helps add a touch of emotion to the game.
Furthermore, every cutscene benfits from the use of sound. Replicating authentic World War II machines and sound effects, the game is lifted to an entirely other level. If your blessed enough to have surround sound, you'll easily hear bullets flying through your room. With such high-quality sound effects, don't be shocked if your neighbors begin to think that there's an actually war going on in your neighborhood.
Sound effects aside, the voice acting in the game is superb. The ?creative liberties' that the developers used in the game really adds to the game's ambiance. Not only do the units have their own set of voices, but its easily the most cussing I've ever heard in a game, Grand Theft Auto aside. This use fuels up the game's intensive nature, as it almost seems as if you can hear the fear from units when they're in trouble, or even when they're annoyed or tired.
Few games can revolutionize an entire genre of gaming, but ?Company of Heroes' is one of them. From the high-quality next-gen graphics to the unique style of RTS gameplay, Company of Heroes should be hailed as the definitive RTS game.