Company of Heroes Review
developer: Relic Entertainment
PIV 1500, 512MB RAM, 3GB HDD, 64MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Sep 14, 06
|» All About Company of Heroes on ActionTrip|
When I hear about a company making a World War II RTS, there are only two things that spring to mind: either they are brilliant, or they are goddamn blind and living under a rock. Thankfully for fans of good video games worldwide, the boys and gals at Relic Entertainment are neither blind, nor living under a rock. The simple fact is that Relic has proven one universal truth: no matter how saturated the market may appear at any given time, there is *always* room for improvement. All you need is skill and a clear vision, arguably the most elusive combination of qualities in the industry today.
You pull this leaver here...
Let's get one thing out of the way right now. Any true fan of strategy games should go out *this second* (no, you don't have to read the rest of this review); go out right now, and get himself a copy of Company of Heroes. There are very few titles in any given year that are groundbreaking and Company of Heroes happens to be one of them.
In many ways, CoH (Company of Heroes) represents the true evolution of strategy games. It takes the concept of controlling a large number of units from an isometric perspective to a whole new level. Usually, the way that RTS games would play is that you'd have mindless drones on the battlefield that would ideally be able to navigate obstacles and actually get their tiny behinds from one location to another. The very best RTS games would also allow the player tight control over these mindless drones by actually making them responsive enough to commands. When you click on the "Attack" button, they actually do attack. Granted, the overwhelming feeling of controlling remote-controlled bots would linger no matter how good the story or the mission design was.
Not once in Company of Heroes did I feel like controlling little led soldiers on the field of battle. CoH is both visually and in terms of the AI a cross between games like Call of Duty and Brothers in Arms and classic RTS titles. Only, because of the nature of the genre itself, it's far less scripted.
Forget about worrying that your soldiers can simply navigate around objects in the terrain. Not only are they extremely efficient in doing that, they will employ standard military tactics while moving, protecting their flanks and making sure they are effectively using cover at all times. Just marveling at the way that the AI works should be good enough for any true gaming fan.
Granted, no AI is perfect, and neither is this one (with some minor issues with stray members of the squad and some weird decisions by squads with deployable heavy weapons) - but as far as strategy games go (and any video games for that matter), Relic has done a stellar job. They have allowed the player to focus on the actual tactics of leading the troops, rather than worrying whether one of your drones will do something... mindless. For the first time in any strategy game I was confident enough with letting my soldiers handle the most basic actions, just as long as I didn't make totally ridiculous demands from them (which they'll follow, of course, if you so desire). Likewise, the enemy AI would do a good job of assessing the situation on the battlefield, retreating when the situation gets dire and utilizing the cover and any sort of heavy weapons laying about to the best of their abilities.
All this is extremely important for the game, as it opens up a whole new plane of tactical possibilities. Company of Heroes takes tactical RTS gameplay to a whole new level.
Relic has designed Company of Heroes in such a way that the campaign appears extremely dynamic. Orders are given in real time as several phases of the operation are carried out. The campaign starts with the D-day landing, though your job will take you deeper into mainland France. Your squads will be tasked with securing the roads and preventing the German counterattack once the invasion has actually begun.
With CoH, Relic has shown that they can renew the genre on multiple levels. I remember what they said a while back about the Warhammer 40,000 games - how they'd like the player to feel like he's controlling "live soldiers" and to have him focus on the tactics and the action, rather than on resource gathering and base building. In addition to refining this design philosophy, they have successfully incorporated excellently done cinematic interludes into the campaign, thus injecting emotion into a seamless gameplay experience.
This was once a peaceful little French town.
Ze tank is on fire! Ze tank is on fire!
Complementing the excellent gameplay design are the amazing graphics and sound effects. The level of detail on the characters and in the terrain is simply unprecedented for an RTS. The same could be said about the roaring sounds of the fierce battles. I swear the sound of incoming artillery was so powerful and ominous I might have instinctively forgotten I was playing a game for a second. Truly an incredible experience on 7.1 surround speakers.
Performance-wise, the game ran beautifully on both our high-end and mid-range systems. Granted, the retail version does have some performance issues with the SLI rigs (fixed in this patch), but otherwise, I could run CoH fairly smoothly and with most of the details set on high with an AMD 3200+/1GB RAM/6800GT set up. Given the game's visual quality, I was certainly impressed with how scalable and well optimized the engine is.
In all, while no game is perfect, Company of Heroes should be praised if only for doing the unthinkable - by innovating the WWII RTS sub-genre. Of course, its effects go well beyond the sub-genre and advance the genre as a whole, which in itself has become a remarkably rare quality in our industry. Hats off to the Relic boys. I may not be the biggest fan of WWII strategy games, but this one just goes way beyond anyone's affinities towards a certain historical period. As a gaming fan, I can only applaud them on a job excellently done.
Groundbreaking strategy game;
Very minor AI issues, lags on SLI rigs.
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