Company Of Heroes Review
Company of Heroes, the long anticipated RTS (Real Time Strategy) game, winner of Game Spy’s 2006 PC Game of the year award, has earned its rank as one of the best PC games to date.
This intense RTS is set in World War 2, the campaign beginning with a memorable cut-scene set at the Normandy beachheads. Those of you familiar with the beginning battle scenes of Saving Private Ryan will recognise exactly what’s going on. Bullets flying, 88’s pummelling the beachheads with shells, limbs flying everywhere, COH throws you right into the midst of it, as cut scene becomes game play, and itâ€™s up to you to conquer these beaches.
Your first objective is to get 25 men to the beachhead, using the shingles as cover so they can lay down some suppressing fire on the heavily entrenched MG42’s. Next, you must get a squad of engineers to blow the shingle with an explosives charge and create an entry point into the cliffs. This all may sound a little difficult for the beginning mission, but it’s not that bad. Luckily, a sniper also made it to the shingle, and he manages to pick off a few Axis infantry making it a lot easier to advance to the rear of the bunkers.
Once this is done, you’ll be given the task of destroying the bunkers, and by using your engineerâ€™s satchel charges, a lot of trench fighting ensues, until eventually the Axis forces fall back. After this, the campaign has a twist. Straight after you complete the D-Day beachhead mission, you are taken back to the night before, where Fox company (Airborne Paratroopers) are given the task of making a jump behind enemy lines, with the sole purpose of cutting off enemy supply lines and securing key roads so that reinforcements cannot arrive at the beachheads.
As the campaign states: â€œThe success of D-Day depended entirely on these men.â€ … (no pressure or anything). After yet another extraordinary cut scene in real-time, making full use of the games excellent graphics engine, you take control of a small scattered amount of paratroopers who form two small squads, and seeing as this is in the midst of fog and darkness, they adapt to their situation. Unlike the unit responses during the beachhead scenario, your units whisper to one another, and sneak around quietly.
However, when they do eventually come into contact with the enemy, everything changes, your men start to shout instructions to one another, â€œTake cover!â€ â€œWatch those firing arcs!â€ and they adapt yet again to the situation, both in their movement and in the way they communicate.
Now we’ve seen how the campaign begins, let’s start looking at the key elements of the game.
Graphically, well.. where to begin, the textures are rich and highly detailed, shadows copy their objects in every movement respectively and even the water reflections are very realistic. You really do get the feeling sometimes that this game isn’t even an RTS, it matches the graphics of games like Call of Duty 2, and for an RTS.. that’s a remarkable achievement. However, as we all know, graphics and pretty things don’t make a game good, so let’s take a look at some of the more important aspects.
AI (Artificial Intelligence) plays a huge part in COH, you can give a squad of men a command such as to move to a certain location, and then carry on with your other duties or continue to monitor their progress. In the event of hostiles engaging your squad, they will adapt accordingly, every solid object can be used as cover, anything from walls, hedges, fences to dead cows can provide adequate cover for your troops, and they will seek cover automatically.
There are 3 types of cover, any of which will be displayed above the squad depending on their situation, which are red, orange and green. Units with a red marker above them are in an open, flat part of land with no cover, this makes them a lot more susceptible to being hit and/or suppressed by enemy fire. If an MG is firing at them, or any kind of heavy, high rate of fire weaponry, the squad will soon become pinned and if not relocated quickly, taken out completely.
An orange marker indicates the squad is behind medium cover, making them less susceptible to being suppressed and fewer projectiles will hit them. This usually accounts for cover such as wooden fences, hedgerows, wooden boxes, etc.
Finally, a green marker indicates the squad is behind heavy cover, squads behind heavy cover are much harder to hit or suppress, even from heavy machine gun fire. Heavy cover can be obtained behind objects such as sandbags, concrete walls, destroyed vehicles.. and even dead cows!
If a squad has no marker above them this indicates they are in terrain that will neither benefit them nor put them to a disadvantage. Now to cover suppressed and pinned squads. A squad will become suppressed if they are exposed to large amounts of fire while not in cover, such as that from an MG nest or overwhelming amounts of small arms fire.
Once suppressed, the squad will quite literally hit the dirt, crushing their manoeuvrability seeing as they are now crawling on the floor in order to take as little fire as possible. While suppressed, squads will have their movement speeds heavily reduced, but they can still return fire. If a squad is suppressed and continues to take heavy fire, they will soon become pinned. A pinned squad is useless in combat, they cannot return fire, and without relief they will surely be wiped out.
There is a way of escaping this however, a simple hit of the T key will force the selected squad(s) to get up, and fall back to the nearest HQ. As useful as this command is, it can also lead to your demise. Retreat a squad of men during a large fight and you may see the rest of your troops become outnumbered, meaning you have to pull them back too. If this is the case, you will lose that territory and give the enemy the opportunity to secure that area or even advance further in, making it harder for you to make your next aggressive move.
Now for the economic side of COH, there are 3 main resources to ‘gather’ in COH. However, it is done very differently in comparison to the majority of resource gathering elements implemented into most RTS titles, I’ll explain that right after we learn a little more about what resources there are exactly.
First and foremost, your primary resource is Manpower, you gain a huge majority of manpower from your HQ, which gives you a constant supply (so long as your HQ is still standing). Manpower is required for almost everything in COH, including all infantry, buildings and certain upgrades amongst many other things. Manpower is definitely your most important resource.
There are two other resources in COH: Munitions and Fuel. Munitions are vital because in order for your infantry to do things such as throw grenades or satchel charges, there is a small munitions charge per usage. Munitions also allow you to upgrade your infantry or vehicles with heavier weapons, e.g. a grenadier squad (Axis) can be upgraded with a panzerschrek for 75 munitions, replacing one of the squadâ€™s rifles with a short-mid range anti vehicle weapon capable of penetrating even heavy armour.
Fuel is mainly the decider of what’s going to happen in the later stages of a game, if either side have a large fuel supply then they both have a wide array uses for it. Ultimately, the axis can make better use of a large fuel supply, due to their formidable arsenal of armour they are capable of unleashing if given the time and resources.
Now on how gathering resources in COH works exactly, on every map.. be it a campaign level or a skirmish, there are many sectors spread out each with their own point. Each point can represent one of either 3 things, fuel, munitions or manpower, the amount of manpower earned is determined by the amount of territory sectors you control overall.
Above, we can see both the mini map, displaying all of the territory sectors and the 3 types of resources, the + < #> indicating how much of that resource is earned per minute. This can be increased by capturing more strategic points.
Manpower, Munitions and Fuel
These points are all blue, a blue point indicates it is under your control. You can secure points under your control by building an outpost on a specific point, this will mean that the enemy first has to destroy the outpost before taking the point, and also increases the production rate of that point significantly, excluding manpower points.
A white point indicates it is neutral (nobody owns it) and a red point indicates that the enemy has control of it. This is the key to making Company of Heroes such a fast paced and aggressive game, if you wish to ‘turtle’ in your base, massing defences and waiting for the enemy to come to you, you won’t stand a chance. COH is purely built around fast and aggressive economic expansion, meaning even in the earliest stages of the game combat will erupt over critical starter-points and continue to do so throughout the game, as the later stages of the game usually see the most powerful units for both sides unleashed.
Now let’s take a look at the commander menu. For both the axis and allies you have a choice of 3 doctrines or companies. For the axis, it is the defensive doctrine, blitzkrieg doctrine, and the terror doctrine. Each unique in its own way. Each has their own description beneath the title of the doctrine.
Defensive Doctrine: â€œFocuses on enforcing a stranglehold on territory and favours defensive players. Fortify your front line and bombard enemy positions with artillery strikes.â€
Blitzkrieg Doctrine: â€œCarry out fast assault ops by deploying overwhelming force. Strong assault reinforcements and production bonuses help promote a strategy of aggressive expansionâ€
Terror Doctrine: â€œPropaganda inspires courage in your troops as well as inspiring fear in your enemies, and if that is not sufficient to overcome them, the Tiger Ace and V1 rockets can be very convincing.â€
After you choose the commander doctrine that suits you, you won’t straight away be able to select what abilities you want to use, or deploy special units onto the field. First, you must earn the points in order to do so, these points are earned through XP. After you gain a certain amount of XP you will receive a command point of which you can use to unlock new features in your command tree. Some features require only one command point, whereas other, much more powerful abilities will cost you up to 5 command points. You can gain the XP required for these command points in a variety of ways, such as killing enemy units, finishing the construction of a building and securing points with outposts.
Now for the allied command companies.
Infantry Company: â€œThe backbone of the allied army. Focuses on defences, off-map artillery and heavy infantry ranger. A well-rounded tree ideally suited to defensive players.â€
Airborne Company: â€œDrop things from the sky â€“ Paratroopers, supplies, and hellfire from P-47 bombing runs. Ideal for recon and raiding operations against the enemy.â€
Armour Company: â€œSlow to build up strength, the armour commander is rewarded for their patience with the most powerful allied tanks in the game.â€
Both the allied and axis command trees are realistic in the aspect of tactics used in WW2, taking advantage of both sides strengths and weaknesses. I have played many games of COH of which my choice of command has either left me with a huge advantage or lead me to a crippling loss. It all adds to the originality of strategies, and not to mention every single game plays out differently, not so much in the campaign, but certainly in skirmishes.
Physics play a large part in this variation of outcomes, seeing as pretty much any object can be used as cover, the physics engine in COH works very well. Bullets shred through wooden boxes, sending splinters of wood flying, tanks roll over fences and concrete walls, crushing them and tossing solid objects in all directions along with one of the most impressive features â€“ infantry shot out of buildings or hit by grenades will fall down or get sent flying away from a blast with full ragdoll mechanics.
It’s pretty awesome to throw a satchel charge into a garrisoned building and after detonation watching limbs flying out of windows. If part of the roof is missing you will even see troops get blown 50 feet into the air falling and landing realistically thanks to the complex physics and ragdolls engine. But nothing quite beats the ping sound of a helmet getting pierced from a sniper bullet, spraying blood out of the opposite side of the targets head and sending the helmet dropping to the ground, along with the unfortunate target.
These are the sort of scenes you can expect to see in the later stages of the campaign, as you move up from mostly infantry orientated combat to using a variety of light or heavy tanks in order to attain victory.
Here we see an axis MG nest ambushing an allied rifleman squad.
As for the multiplayer side of COH, well, once you’ve completed the campaign, played a few skirmishes against AI, there’s always the option to take it online — to the next level. Relic’s online system, though experiencing a few problems, is certainly capable of servicing the needs of COH’s online gaming community. Once online you can play a basic match with friends or random people, or go into the ranked side of things via the ‘Play Now!’ feature. This will match you against an opponent of roughly the same skill dependant on stats and rank. You can play anything from 1v1 to 4v4, with a nice variety of maps.
Online games through the ranked system are won dependant on who can hold the most victory points for the longest amount of time, each player or side will start with 500 victory tickets. On each map there are victory points located usually to the centre and far left and right sides of the map, holding the majority of these points will drain your opponents victory tickets, the first person or team to run out of tickets will lose. Alternatively, you can win by completely annihilating your opponent(s) altogether, however in most cases victory points determine the outcome of a game. Victory points do not affect territory or resources, only the amount of tickets you or your opponent has. This is an excellent feature, especially in the multiplayer side of things, it keeps the game fast-paced and there is always the opportunity for a comeback.
Also, had one hell of a game? Want to show all your friends a pwnage victory or just claim boasting rights on a forum? Well, as with most RTS titles, COH has a built in replay feature, which gives you the option to save a replay of the game you have just played. Playback also features a nice ‘cinematic mode’ of which the camera will automatically pan around to the rear of soldiers in battle, and often get some nice movie-like scenes in large or small concentrated battles making watching replays a very enjoyable experience.
As for system requirements, well.. you’re going to need a pretty beefy gaming rig in order to enjoy COH to the full of its graphical capability. However, even running the game on minimum specifications the game still looks nice, and the in game physics don’t take too much CPU usage.
For minimum requirements you’re looking at 512MB RAM, 2.0GHz Intel or AMD equivalent processor and 64MB of graphics memory.
To get the best of COH’s graphics you will need around 1GB of RAM, 3.0GHz Intel or AMD equivalent processor and 256MB of graphics memory, and on that kind of hardware you can expect to get the best from COH visually.
Don’t worry though, if your PC doesn’t match these kind of specifications COH is still a thoroughly enjoyable game, and one of which I recommend a must have for any RTS fan or even if you’re new to the genre or PC gaming in general.
In conclusion, my overall time playing company of heroes (around 4 months) has lead me to the verdict that it is one of the best PC games available and one of the best RTS games at that. Graphically stunning, immersive in both gameplay and setting, Relic and THQ have put together a title very worthy of its many awards, positive reviews and good feedback from the community. Good luck on the front lines commander!