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SummaryDeep and engaging, but not flawless
The GoodIn case you haven't heard, Company of Heroes (here on out referred to as CoH), is a real-time strategy game of the WW2 flavor. Having played every major release RTS game from Warcraft to Rise of Nations and beyond, and also having experience with WW2 games like Call of Duty, Metal of Honor, and countless others, I figured I had seen it all. Wow was I mistaken!
Starting off with the tutorial because I refuse to even look at a manual, I was very well pleased with how straightforward the game controls are. Moving units around, having them take cover, perform special attacks, garrison buildings, and do everything else they are capable of is surprisingly easy and simple. Units confirm when they are selected, and confirm the orders you give them. Learning the game controls is as easy as RTS gaming gets, but using your units effectively and efficiently is another matter.
I noticed that the graphics even at middle of the road settings looks beautiful, and the game runs very nice for a modest system. Zooming in on your units reveals an unprecedented level of detail. Before I knew anything about the game and just looked at some random screenshots, I thought that this was a first person shooter (if that's any indication to the level of detail present).
Realism seems spot on. Physics are amazingly genuine, and the environment is almost entirely destructible. Blow up a big building with some artillery and watch as the structure falls apart like a real building would, all the while garrisoned troops go tumbling out of the windows. This level of realism puts you right into the battle. I even found myself feeling bad for a rifleman squad that got cut off and fell to German tanks because I couldn't back them up.
The sound is amazing and if you have a good speaker system, crank up the noise and make the neighborhood think that WW3 is upon us.
Your units have real personality and tell you what's going on when they're fighting. Infantry units can get pinned down and when they are, they'll usually say so and then be unable to fight. The option here is to have your men retreat back to base. I especially like some of the sayings your men voice, such as, "let them f****** krauts eat a god**** grenade", or "eat s*** you 'mf'" You get the idea. Quite profane at times but it only adds to the realism. I'm surprised that there was no language warning on the box, but not in any way disappointed at its presence. It is rated M+ if that's of any clue.
While there is not a gigantic variety of units to the game, there is a wide range of unit uses. Most units can be upgraded and may perform several functions. For example, engineers can be used to build structures, use flamethrowers on infantry, destroy buildings and bridges, salvage wrecked vehicles, deploy antitank guns, cut through barbed wire, the list goes on. For every type of unit there are several functions the unit may be capable of. Infantry can use grenades, sticky bombs, satchel charges, machine guns, upgraded weapons, the works. Furthermore, if a mortar or machine gun team is killed, the opponent can pick up and use the weapons left behind. VERY detailed.
When fighting, there are many factors that can determine whether or not an assault is successful. Outnumbering an enemy with superior weapons doesn't guarantee victory as is the case with almost every other RTS game out there. Let's say you attacked with 2 squads of infantry against 1 squad (you control squads, not individual soldiers) and lost. You must then examine contributing factors such as types of weapons used, veteran status (surviving many fights has units promoted making them more effective), cover (with there being 3 types, no cover, semi-cover, and cover), position, the works. It's not enough to just throw troops or tanks against an enemy with the odds in your favor and expect to win by brute strength, rather you must micromanage all of these things mentioned in order to provide for the most effective attack. In other words, you don't just order units, you control the very minute details of HOW they fight. Truly remarkable design.
Improving and acquiring new units is based upon resource acquisition. There are three types which are manpower, munitions, and fuel. Manpower is the most basic and abundance resource which is needed to make a new unit. You start with a good supply of manpower. Munitions are used to create some units but also to upgrade others or perform special actions. Want your infantry unit to grenade a building? It costs munitions. No munitions no special attacks, grenades, satchel charges and the like. Finally, fuel is used mostly for armored vehicles and tends to be the least available. This is balanced by the fact that armored vehicles can be very difficult to dispose of.
Vehicles are very detailed and interesting. Shooting a tank in the back is much more effective than in the front. Furthermore, certain parts of a tank can be damaged or destroyed. If the engine is damaged the tank moves slowly, if it's destroyed it's a sitting duck. Of course engineers can repair it over time, but this is provided that the tank survives the attack that damaged it to begin with. The vehicle's gun can be damaged, or if moving at high speed and running over a mine the tank can be out of control for a few seconds.
Early in the campaign I was directed to set up an ambush for an incoming German convoy. I set up some mines in the road, strategically positioned some machine gunners on the side of the road in bunkers, and then watched as the convoy came through, running into mines, spinning out of control, while the drivers and passengers bailed out only to be subject to unforgiving machine gun fire. Awesome!
The AI is excellent. The computer opponents do not mindlessly attack you, and instead makes what seem to be coordinated and intelligent moves against you. I deployed some engineers to repair a building that was being attacked by two tanks, and the computer responded by diverting one tank's fire to the engineers while the other continued to attack the building. The game responds intelligently to what you do, and is good at making common sense decisions along with attacking you in your weak spots. Countless other RTS games seem to just build massive armies and then try to overrun you. CoH expects you to play a smart game, and it's nice that in return it provides you with one.
Multiplayer is a load of fun, and the games can go on for a very long period of time. It takes awhile to be able to mount a strong enough attack to overrun your enemy, but usually the road to victory is traveled by those that mount multiple, simultaneous attacks at various areas. Players vie for control of various strategic and resource points to gather more munitions and fuel. Much of the game is spent fighting at various hot spots around the map, not laying siege to your opponents HQ. The game requires a high level of attentiveness over a long period of time during multiplayer. My first multiplayer game ever was against a guy that had played over 50 games and even though he destroyed me it took him a good two hours to do so. Time well spent though.
Multiplayer is done via an in game program that will allow you to connect and play without much effort at all. Ranked games exist and a record of your victories and losses are present for others to see. Good stuff.
The BadI wasn't looking to find the bad in this game, but I didn't need to. Although I have not read another review of this game, I did notice that many game sites gave it a perfect score. I find it hard to believe that there are those that found this game to be perfect.
If I had to rate on how exciting and good the gameplay is alone, of course I would give it the maximum rating possible, however in reviewing the whole package, there are a few things that strike a nerve with me.
For one there is no way to remap controls. Not a big deal until you find that the default (and mandatory) control setup is totally backwards. The game is best experienced with multiple camera angles, but to change the camera angle you must hold down Alt while you move the mouse around. To make matters worse, resetting the camera involves hitting backspace twice. While you're doing all of this it is near impossible to control your troops or progress the gameplay, so I've found that many have resigned trying to use the various camera angles because of the awkward, unalterable controls.
There are not enough options, of any kind. There is an awful lot of horizontal tearing, but no option in the game to sync the frames. Reviewing the readme file explains that you must use third party software to force a vsync, but the problem with doing that in such a manner is that it tends to be cpu intensive, thereby reducing the speed of gameplay. Either bog down or deal with the tearing, it's up to you.
There aren't enough game options. You can win by annihilation (destroying all of your enemy) or points acquired by holding strategic positions. That's it. Furthermore, the skirmish mode is lacking in that you cannot have woefully uneven teams. Not a big deal, but there are also only two teams. A four man free for all? Forget it. You are either Axis or Allies and there is only ever one side fighting the other. This was a disappointment for me.
The system requirements are very high, which means that the majority of gamers will not be able to experience the very high detail graphics at speed which is playable. Even still the requirements are high enough that other groups of gamers may not be able to play the game at all, while others will be so bogged down that they may choose not to play.
Press any key? After a scenario is loaded you get this message. You can't just hit the mouse, you must actually press a key on the keyboard or click directly on the message. Is this DOS or something?
Upgrades and special actions require too many resources. On smaller maps and especially in single player mode, even controlling half or better of the map has you starving for resources. I had to back off of a building and wait almost a full two minutes until I had enough munitions to throw in a grenade, all the while not making any new units. You do get upgrades to your command giving you further special abilities as we've seen in C&C Generals, but often times they require so many resources that you can find yourself earning rank only to gain special abilities that you can't afford to use.
In very long multiplayer games, this is not as big of an issue. But in skirmish games with small or medium maps it is a constant pain in the ass.
It's rarely possible to come back from a heavy defeat. Once you've had a decisive battle mid-game and lost a resource point or two, it's extremely difficult to recover. You are starved for resources while your opponent gets wealthy. The alternative you have is to generate more units rather than spending on unit upgrades or special moves, but the problem this generates is that your opponent will gain more and more veteran units while you're throwing fresh meat at him. There is too much of a snowball effect once you've taken a big lump. As a result, it is often clearly visible who the winner is going to be, even hours before the game can be ended. That's a real drag.
UPDATE! There has been some patching going on and the dynamics of the game have seriously changed. Most notably, online game matching is more buggy than ever. It often takes a very long time to have a ranked game begin, even with several people in queue, all waiting. Furthermore, the statistics system is not working properly. Some people aren't having any of their wins counted, others aren't having their losses counted. This results in the rank which is displayed being completely inaccurate. You might go up against a rank 1 player that is a professional CoH player, or you might go against a rank 6 player that can't play worth squat. Furthermore, most of the match making is based on rank, which means that if your losses aren't being counted, you will consistently be paired with high ranking players (which may, or may not have earned it).
I personally have 63 wins that haven't been counted, so my official record is 21-20 for 2v2 games, when it should be 84-20. Huge difference. This was brought up on the official forums, and the response from the public relations people was, "the ranking system is far from flawless, don't expect there to be a fix anytime soon."
For others, the ranking system means nothing. However, in the latest patch they made the allies so strong that the game is horribly unbalanced. It takes an exceptional axis player to beat a humble, casual allied player now. Whereas the axis had their strength in armor previously, with allies having powerful infantry squadrons, the allied tanks are now superior, leaving axis players at a disadvantage on all fronts. Couple this with the ranking issues and poor speed with game match making, and CoH's multiplayer online option has become an almost complete disaster. I must change the rating for the game in light of this.