Company of Heroes was one of those RTS games with passion and soul. It depicted a realistic representation of warfare in the conflict that ended so many lives. Most of those lives were of innocent people caught up in a genocide that one man with too much power began. There were heroes and villains, though the boundaries of each occasionally blurred as the conflict entered its final hours. It could have so easily gone the other way, with all of Europe under the rule of a dictator the likes of which we will probably never see again. A good thing too.
But while the first game touched on the much told stories of the Allied forces of England, America and the Commonwealth; the second jumps over to the Eastern Front, a conflict where very little was known until recent times. The atrocities and conditions were pretty appalling, as our recent interview with Quinn Duffy has uncovered. As a game, Company of Heroes was a trend setter in its tactical combat, featuring asymmetric units per armies that complemented each other as well as conflicted with each other. Company of Heroes 2 is looking to improve on these features in every way.
The frozen landscape alone is enough to set the scene as the Nazi occupation of Soviet territories is all too apparent. Standing on the outskirts of the town are Soviet conscripts, awaiting the order to attack the Nazi fortifications in a small village. By painting a picture of a desolate landscape where only the deserted village stands out, there is a huge sense of doom and gloom. As this was single player, the mission was to rout the AI controlled Nazis from this small outpost.
Your squadron has a mixture of abilities, with some carrying flamethrowers and heavy machine guns that they need to set up beforehand, and others wielding grenades to flush out the enemy. By using cover of varying quality, they can protect themselves from enemy fire, while shooting out of corners/over the top in return. The enemy initially assesses how you’re playing, whether it is to sit out the gunfight or use grenades to flush them out. After a short time however the AI got clever.
My initial tactic was to try to flank them using covering fire from the heavy machine gun to assist the flanking forces. This worked on the first few units, right up until I had to defend against waves of foes. When I saw enemy forces breaking away to combat my flanking units, there was a sign I was going to be in trouble. Luckily the demo replenished any units that died fully, meaning that I never truly lost out, but I got the feeling that there would only be so many of them. Apparently playing using different tactics wielded different results in terms of how the AI reacted. Given that there is a still load of time left to develop the AI, this is a hugely promising start.
After a lot of grenade throws to counter the flanking forces and the Nazis were driven into retreat, I got a new mission to recover an abandoned T34 tank from another small homestead. Gathering my forces into one collective unit, I decided the best route was to cross the frozen river. I was half expecting the ice to give way, but I somehow managed to space my troops in such a way that the ice never broke. Arriving at the village I quickly dispatched the surrounding forces with intense heat from both the guns and flamethrower, before allowing some units to board the tank. No sooner had this happened when the Panzer division arrived to spoil the party. This was a more straightforward conflict, where the tanks fought one on one as the rest of my army opened fire on the tank and surrounding troops.
This was to be the last conflict as the demo ended shortly afterwards. While it gives us no idea about the army design other than a couple of core units, no idea about base structure and a lot less than I thought about the historical content; I feel they were saving all of this for the final thing. As a first look, I was hugely impressed and every other journalist (including our very own David Howard) who played it told tales of how they attempted to rout the Nazi army and what happened when they boarded the tank. Every battle tells a story in Company of Heroes 2, whether it is the real life stories of the soldiers on the battlefield or the reports of the players’ tactics as commander on the battlefield. Hugely promising and definitely one to watch when it releases on PC next year.