SummaryNot so realistic as it claims, but brilliant fun nevertheless!
The GoodIt's not every day that we come across a good real time strategy game nowadays. That being because the game concepts and scenarios are well explored and implemented into games that have been already released. And WWII is a setting which has been well explored in most of it's many theaters. The last good releases which I can think of are the Blitzkrieg series and the superb Panzers: Phase One. Looking at Company of Heroes Screenshots prior to buying the game, it wasn't promising anything but good graphics. I kinda like the odd strategy game from time to time, especially when large tanks and other humongous destruction machinery is involved, so I decided to give this title a try. Being stuck on it for most of my weekend I can say that I haven't played such a good WWII real time strategy game since the days of Panzers: Phase One.
Company of Heroes really takes over where the first Panzers left in terms of gameplay, since you are now able to build a base camp (and as many small operation fronts as you wish / are able), seek and conquer resources for building your army, buildings and vehicles. Much like most other strategy games the same concept applies here as well: build a base with what you have, explore the surrounding areas for resources and then build your assault force to clear the area. In comparison to the scenario of the game which is based on true historical facts this is highly unrealistic but nevertheless it offers an enjoying strategy gaming experience.
Talking of the scenario on which Company Of Heroes was based upon, it is about the D-Day invasion of Normandy in northern France. The game will have you fighting to conquer real cities (at least their names are real) based on authentic historical events. The player commands a number of different squads in order to complete missions, not only personnel squads but armored divisions as well. Basically you have 3 types of war dogs: Infantry squads, Airborne units and Armored units. Each of these have their own special abilities and upgrades, for example the airborne units can be equipped with bazookas, the tanks can have mine destroying chains etc. Also all units begin as a base rank unit and progress in ranks according to their battling experience, a task which is not that difficult since the enemy comes in plenty. Finally when a squad has lost some of it's members in action, you can reinforce the squad back to full strength instead of waiting for them to perish. Of course there's a limit of personnel and vehicles the player can deploy, so tactical thinking is needed.
The game field is divided into sectors, so victory comes when the player has conquered all the sectors of the field. Usually one resource point takes up a sector. In order to conquer the sector you have to raise your flag on the resource point's pole, which basically means that you will have to fight for it first. Even after securing a resource point, the Germans can come and invade it again for their benefit. There are three types of resources: Manpower which is constantly generated by your HQ and barracks, Fuel and Munitions. Fuel is the most scarce and the most needed if you're into tank building. So good things come hard in this game and if you want some armor you better get fighting smart. Mind you there are a lot of sectors to conquer on each mission field and the Germans are not known to be easy going chaps! Especially when they wear the iron cross emblem on their suit :)
One of the highlights of the game are the field combat tactics; In order not to send your squad to suicide, you have to use cover from enemy fire by hiding behind walls, rocks, trees, car wrecks etc. That way you stand a fair chance of surviving even when being slightly outgunned. Also the option to retreat is vital, as when retreating the squad sprints back to the HQ, where you can reinforce the lost members and send them back to battle. This is also good for armored units as they can race back to the HQ for repairs, although this is not necessary as engineer teams can be deployed and repair vehicles anywhere on the field, this will prove useful if you are just one step from exploding to metal parts. Also, heavy machine guns come in two flavors, either as a manned mobile squad or as stationary and more robust bunker.
The graphics are superb! If you found Panzers: Phase one to be a graphical masterpiece, then wait to see this one. The buildings, soldiers, vehicles and surroundings all modeled masterfully giving wonderful visuals. The special effects and explosions are simply unbelievable! You should watch the mayhem from artillery cannons strike which combined with the excellent sounds will have you stunned at first and then when the smoke clears leaving only rampaged debris, it only makes you think of the devastation of a true war. Shocking really, but I guess some lessons are best to be learned from games rather than reality. The view camera can be adjusted to any angle that you desire; you can even lower it and have your squad in about 4 meters in front of you. However that is largely impractical in combat, but it is a rather nice gimmick when you have cleared the enemy and only a few routine tasks are left for you to complete the mission. You can actually watch the action very closely. Finally the cut scenes are a real beauty! Not all of them very detailed, as they are being rendered in real time using the game's 3D engine, but they fit very well within the graphic pace of the game.
The BadTalking about the superb graphics and detailed modeling of this game reminds me of the old saying "you can't have everything without a cost". And that cost is going to be paid by your graphics card, as this game drains a hell of a lot resources from your system. I'm playing Company Of Heroes on a Core Duo 6600 at 2.4, with 2GB RAM and a Geforce 7950 GX2 and it still gives me average frame rates, which is especially annoying when you try to scroll your view field from one hotspot to another in order to have things under control. There are a lot of options for cycling through your squads, but in the heat of the battle it's really confusing to seek the right button to reach the right squad and you're going the old way 'click on the map to get there', or by scrolling which proves a hard task for your machine with all this 3D detailed population in the game's terrain.
Maybe it is my idea, but I really think that the developers are trying to take the mickey out of the (then) Germans. First of all, the word Germans is never heard in the game, nor the word Americans. Instead of Germans, they are being called "Axxis Forces" on the formal cut scenes (as they were mostly called in WWI) and in game they are being called 'Jerrys' or 'Krauts'. Is this some kind of a joke or another American propaganda? Most serious strategists know a basic rule in war and that is never underestimate your enemy. And hell, Germans were definitely not to be underestimated back then, as they gave the world a real hard time, whether you like it or not. So what is this Kraut and Jerry rubbish for?
Talking about the game's Germans, I'd rather be playing on their side, as they have the coolest looking panzers and base buildings. But the game offers no option to play the campaign on the German side of things. At least so far it doesn't, I haven't completed the game yet.
The Bottom LineOverall this is a superb real time strategy game. Although it offers an authentic sequence of historical facts, the game mechanics core is like any other 'build your army and conquer' game you've played, with some more neatly thought about combat tactics, which can work at your benefit after all.
Graphically exceptional you should invest on this game only if you've got enough firepower on your machine, otherwise I suspect that it would be a rather annoying gaming experience.
Judging from the length of the first 4 missions which I have completed during the weekend, taking me about 3-4 hours on average to complete each mission, and considering the skirmish scenarios, it surely promises to be a long lasting venture on my HDD.