E3 2012: Company of Heroes 2 — WINNER Machinima Best PC Game
Developer: Relic / Publisher: THQ / Platform: PC / TBA 2013
ENEMY AT THE GATES
In general, over-the-shoulder military action games of any description do a serviceable job of making you feel like a badass striding through the peripheral chaos, and first-person shooters naturally up the adrenaline-levels simply by dint of their forced perspective. But for the most perfectly balanced sensation of being an armchair commander flexing his unflappable muscles in the midst of a situation that in military parlance is ‘fluid’ (read: ‘rapidly turning to liquid shit’), the tactical real-time strategy game is still the undisputed king. If you can hold up under the pressures of quickly ordering/clicking your by-definition limited (and in some cases, far-flung) forces about in a hectic battle and still maintain some semblance of the overall strategic situation straight in your mind, you’re effectively recreating in your gamer-brain what real military tacticians do every day (albeit on a much smaller scale, yet with a greater quotient of Doritos).
The original Company of Heroes covered about four months of the Second World War, focusing on the Battle of Normandy and the Allied Liberation of France; this time around, Relic Entertainment’s forthcoming Company of Heroes 2 introduces the playable Red Army faction and sets its sequel-sights on an all-new theater of the European conflict, the dreaded-by-both-sides Eastern Front, encompassing Hitler’s disastrously ill-considered Operation Barbarossa, through to the culminating Battle of Berlin.
Game Director Quinn Duffy claims that, with COH2, they “didn’t want to do Different”–they wanted to do More. Relic’s new Essence 3 game engine allows a level of visual fidelity that surpasses the original; among other features, it boasts the effects of cumulative snow, making for visible troop-movement tracks and hindering movement of machine and man alike (a huge part of the whole let’s-invade-Russia thing that would-be invaders throughout history just never seem to keep fixed in the forefront of their minds), as well as the new ‘TrueSight’ scheme, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: It essentially means that you see what your units see—no more, no less. Not merely a traditional ‘fog of war’, then, but an improved, comprehensive line-of-sight approach that ensures that notable visual obstructions on the battlefield—trees, hills, structures such as farmhouses—actually block what friendly forces can see, the way they’re supposed to (unless, of course, somebody decides to burn said trees and farmhouse right down to the ground, which is certainly one valid method of hacking through that Gordian Knot). While such obstructions are still intact, however, it means that both sides can sneak—and ambush—all the more effectively (because being a Red Army soldier at the frictiony-bits where Mother Russia proper met the ever-expanding frontier of the Third Reich just didn’t suck quite enough to begin with).
Speaking of history that nobody recalls fondly: There was this Soviet spot of bother known at the time as Order 227, enacted by Stalin—namely, a standing martial order for troops in the rear to shoot to kill any Red Army front-liners who might have suddenly taken it into their minds that retreating might be a viable option; one cinematic makes clear the fate of such would-be deserters, showing a Russian gunner ordered to mow down those comrades of his who would attempt to retreat…and then order the men of yet another platoon to advance (who have presumably just learned firsthand a vivid and valuable lesson). So, like, yeah.
Additional improvements to the original COH experience include the dynamic/directional cover scheme. In words of one syllable, this means ‘Stay On The Right Side Of The Thing’– but also remember that a tank can annihilate that adorable bit of ‘cover’ you’re currently putting so much faith in at any time. Also, it’s refreshing that, this time around, battle-hardened troops have developed the combat-savvy necessary to actually vault over walls and other obstructions should the need arise to flank an enemy, or at least to simply get out of the way of the Nazi juggernaut at those points of the battle that aren’t going so well.
Most importantly and obviously—but obvious things need to be said, too—the game focuses on the importance of flexibility and tactical thinking; the game is ultimately about troops and rewarding smart commanders for their ingenuity and effective use of resources. For example, the game does have an ‘abandon vehicle’ option, which means that somebody’s eventually probably going to use it…but if the subsequent going gets tough, a strapped commander late in a particular battle may find himself needing to recapture that same tank. If it benefits you at some point, it could potentially benefit your German adversary—and while you arguably likely have more guys than he does (damned good thing too, or the Krauts would have rolled over you all the way to Moscow before winter set in), his are better equipped and supplied all around…at least, in the general scheme of things. It’s considerations just like this that likely roiled around in the mind of every Red Army commander over the course of the Eastern Front campaign; that, and the bit about getting shot by your own guys if you turned and ran.
Company of Heroes 2 will be available in 2013.