There was a point, maybe three missions into Company of Heroes 2, that I realised I’m not very good at strategy games. I enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but I like to Zerg rush rather than plan a deep strategy. Cover? No need, just create all the units possible, move as a single, giant unit and hope I kill everything before they kill me. And in doing that, Company of Heroes 2 tipped me on to what exactly is fun about it: it lets you have fun.
The sequel to the 2006 title from Relic Entertainment is a flawed game in many respects, but the fun factor is in abundance and it helps to make up for some of the game’s deficiencies; the singles player campaign is a perfect example of that. Company of Heroes 2’s single player campaign has a total of 14 missions, spread across multiple seasons. It begins in 1942 in Stalingrad, and takes you on a journey from the point of view of a Russian Lieutenant as you command the Soviet troops.
“For Company of Heroes fans, there’s no reason to hold off. It’s more of the same, and that’s all you probably want. If you don’t like Company of Heroes, however, I can’t see this one changing your mind.”
What the single player does well is how its structures its missions; for a real-time strategy game, the mission variety is incredible, and it’s fun to boot. The campaigns of many like-minded titles are simply a side-show, a box-ticker to go along with the real meat of the game – the multiplayer. Company of Heroes 2’s single player story doesn’t feel like that, there’s some real imagination put into the situational aspect of it.
This is not a “build your base and then take all the objectives” type of game. It puts you in scenarios, many of them dire, that the Russians had to fight through against Nazi Germany to protect their homeland. It’s difficult, but it’s always possible to pull through. It provides great incentives for you to slog through the hard parts, though. Take one of the earlier missions, where you’re required to dig in, spread your limited resources and protect three areas at once. If you do indeed pull through, you’re rewarded with mass amounts of tanks as you bulldoze through the remaining enemy forces.
There are problems, though. The game does its utmost to ensure you don’t lose, and it’s extremely jarring. It throws all these difficult scenarios at you, and you lose all your troops… except that one last unit, that becomes somehow almost invincible. There were multiple missions where I was down to my last heavy gun unit, against six enemy troop units and the odd tank, with only a sliver of health, only to kill them all. If I make a mistake, I want to see the consequences of it. I don’t want to win a skirmish if I don’t deserve it.
The story content also leaves a lot to be desired. For starters character models look awkward, with goofy animations. It’s clear these models were created to be seen from an isometric perspective in-game, then just shoehorned into cut scenes. Soldiers clip through the environment and hop awkwardly over obstacles, like they’ve got multiple broken bones in their body but have the athleticism of an Olympic gymnast.
Elsewhere, the visuals are satisfactory; there’s a decent level of detail in the environments and despite the odd muddy texture, the overall image quality is nice. The ice, in particular, is extremely impressive, and explosions and fires are of a high quality. I was a bit disappointed in the snow effects though, despite having everything at the highest settings – it looked like yoghurt being spread from right to left with some window wipers, but that’s just nit-picking.
More problematic however is the optimisation and performance issues I came across. The visual fidelity of the game at its highest settings should not be troubling my PC. On a 4.5 GHz overclocked i5 3570k, a GTX 670 and 16 GB of RAM the game was struggling to hit 40 frames per second consistently. Add a decent number of units, and the game can slow down to an absolute crawl. It’s possible that NVidia needs to release a driver update, but at the moment it has some nasty optimisation issues.
This was the most apparent in the game’s Theatre of War mode. This is a co-op focused mode that puts you in specific scenarios as either the Russian army or the Germans. It serves as a bridge between the game’s single player content and the multiplayer mode Company of Heroes is famous for. These generally focus on you and your team mates, with a maximum of four people per team, partaking in the traditional base-building and objective-conquering tug of war that is Company of Heroes multiplayer. It gives you more flexibility in the units you can create and I found the scenarios were very enjoyable. It’s a very difficult mode though, with normal even being a struggle unless you have a couple of people or more. Of course, you can play these missions solo if you want a challenge, but the maps are designed to be played with multiple people due to their large size.
Finally, we have Company of Heroes 2 multiplayer. I realised very quickly that I’m bad at the game, but I got a good gist of what it’s all about. Essentially, it’s the Company of Heroes multiplayer people know and love, but with the improvements that single player brings. Aspects like snow and unit temperature can rear their head in it, should you choose to enable it; and the ice levels add new tactical options to surprise your enemy. A helpful tip: if you’re going to cross a lake, send an expendable unit over the ice first… unless you want to lose three tanks at once of course!
All-in-all though, “the Company of Heroes you know and love, but with some extra bells and whistles” is a perfect description for Company of Heroes 2. I went back and played some Company of Heroes during the period I was reviewing its sequel for comparison’s sake and I realised just how similar this game is. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and there are some definite improvements, but it’s a very familiar feeling game. For Company of Heroes fans, there’s no reason to hold off. It’s more of the same and that’s all you probably want. If you don’t like Company of Heroes, however, I can’t see this one changing your mind.