Company of Heroes 2 is a game for the seasoned, hardcore real-time strategy gamer. Which is kind of apt, actually, given that the setting for this long-anticipated sequel happens to be one of the most gruelling and incredible conflicts during the Second World War: the Eastern Front.
Pitting the Soviet Unionís Red Army against Hitlerís invading Nazi forces, this is a tactical war game that seeks to lay bare the operationís sheer brutality and harsh conditions. And after playing a mission, set during one of the conflictís punishing winters, I realised that Iím probably not suited for military leadership. Or survival. Hell, Iím getting cold just looking at it. Get me a blanket.
The level in question had a simple objective - take control of the various capture points in the map, push out your enemies, and raze their base camp to the ground. I had a friendly CPU player aiding my plight against two more AI players, and even though they will have your back most of the time, itís all up to your own skill to claim victory. Mostly because your virtual buddy will be occupied with skirmishes of his own across the other side of the map.
In this early build, I found navigating the map - which was arranged almost like a spider diagram, with open roads connecting capture posts in environments that ranged from fields to bridges and tiny villages - to be a simple enough affair. Scrolling the mouse wheel zooms in and out, pointing the mouse to the edge of the screen (or using the keyboard arrow keys) scrolls and clicking a minimap in the corner of the HUD points you straight to that area.
But, as the battle gets more complicated and you have more soldiers dotted about the field, it starts to become a slight chore to remember who you have deployed and where theyíre placed. The minimap is helpful in some ways, and there are icons in the top right of the screen that show you the infantry currently alive and their conflict status, but itís not so easy to tell which icon belongs to what group.
You start the mission off with the ability to recruit two kinds of soldier - basic foot soldiers who like to run up to the front line and shoot at things, or engineers who will allow you to build new structures in your base camp. Doing so - at the expense of time and resources, naturally - will offer the ability to build and recruit more interesting units, such as miniguns, jeeps and snipers.
Engineers can also add fuel or ammo deposits at certain commandeered capture points, to give your vehicles and soldiers some backup if need be. Various obstacles can be built outside of the base camp area too, including walls that provide a life-saving moment of cover for troops out in the open.
But any and all progress can be snatched away very easily, if youíre not paying attention to the entirety of the map. Using sneaky and underhanded tactics is the way to achieve victory in Company of Heroes 2
, and yet there are risks and rewards for sending your troops off in any given direction.
Darting about in clear, open roads is an obvious invitation to a rocket in the face, but it can offer a direct route if youíre hurriedly trying to provide reinforcements. Similarly, slipping through woodlands and crawling past bushes in the snow is the best strategy for surprise attacks, but the cold conditions can negatively affect your soldiersí performance and your men will move much more slowly.
Improvements to the gameplay mechanics have made for a more dynamic system this time around too. AI will automatically think to track enemy vehicles that have left persistent marks in the show, while simultaneously being quite shifty about it so they can avoid getting spotted. Instead of a fog of war, weíre now treated to a line of sight feature - meaning that youíre now able to see as far as is realistically able by your soldiers on the map.
Company of Heroes 2
does not seem to be a slow-paced game, despite its cerebral approach to warfare. I got my butt handed to me fairly quickly - which occurred when taking my eye off the ball, getting flanked by the enemy as they approached my base camp via the crossing of a frozen lake and running my poor soldiers over with their tanks. And their bombs (and their bombs. And their guns).
If nothing else, my failure showed off how colourful and detailed the new Essense 3.0 engine is, as my operations base hopelessly went up in flames. It seems that Company of Heroes 2
is on track to being the faster-paced, historically-accurate sequel that RTS buffs have been looking for. I think Iím going to get some real practice in before next year, though...
Company of Heroes 2 is heading for a Windows release in early 2013.