Another of the titles rescued from the infamous THQ fallout, Company of Heroes 2 is being brought to market by SEGA. Quickly becoming the publisher to turn to for big budget real-time strategy (RTS) titles, SEGA have promised that the transition between financiers wouldn’t affect the quality of Company of Heroes 2. Whether that assurance held true or not may never be known, but given the final product that had been delivered few will have room to argue.
Company of Heroes 2 is a traditional RTS experience at its core. Experimentation has been left to smaller names and smaller teams: Relic Entertainment is here to provide a taste of the future of RTS gaming, refining all that has become standardised in the genre and giving it a fresh lease of life with the clout of modern visual fidelity. In this, Company of Heroes 2 has accomplished all that it set out to achieve: the videogame looks simply fantastic. The amount of detail in the tank units is second to none, with densely populated environments immediate in their apparent affect on different types of vehicle and troops.
Even on a mid-spec machine with all of the visual settings set to a relatively low standard, Company of Heroes 2 looks every bit the modern RTS experience it should. However, it would be advisable not to lessen the visual quality in favour of a system upgrade, as once you start suffering from drops in the framerate you’ll also find it difficult to compete on an equal footing against either AI or human opposition.
Once you’ve established the quality of experience you can achieve with your current system (or after a small investment in upgrading it, if you wish to benefit from the experience Relic Entertainment had intended) you’re confronted with three gameplay options: Campaign, Skirmish and Theater of War. The Campaign is arguably the weakest part of the videogame, a dozen-or-so hours that try and pry the player away from the tried-and-tested formula of amassing power while keeping the enemy at bay. It does well for the first few missions, with the player so constantly on the backfoot that they rarely have time to establish anything but the bare essentials, but soon enough you’ll fall into a groove that sees progress with minimal causalities.
Company of Heroes 2 makes a concerted effort to ensure that the player is aware of the horrors of real world conflict, throwing reams of text, maps and quotes into the pool of information prior to each mission. Sadly, it’s unlikely that much of this will be taken as anything more than optional fluff next to the big explosions and thrill of marching a fleet of highly trained, heavily equipped troops on an unaware enemy.
Once having made some progression through the Campaign the player will reach the point at which they become familiar with Company of Heroes 2’s economy-versus-military might tug-of-war, but it’s in the Skirmish mode that the lessons learned can be truly exploited and personalised tactical choices developed and distilled. As is the case with most strategy videogames for PC, Company of Heroes 2 finds itself at it’s most engrossing when the challenge begins with a level pegging and its true skill, experience and the employment of adaptable tactics that win the war.
Which brings us nicely to Theater of War: a new gameplay mode that pushes the player away from lengthy campaign missions and production management, and instead presents one-shot objectives that can often last less than an hour. This variation on the ruleset brings Company of Heroes 2 closer than ever to the ethos of Command & Conquer, with the fact that it’s presented as an optional extra rather than a fundamental component obviously based on the feedback that some players don’t actually enjoy this aspect of Westwood Studios and subsequently EA Los Angeles’ design template.
While not redefining the RTS experience, Company of Heroes 2 has quickly and self-assuredly become one of the top flight titles in the genre. It compiles all that fans have become familiar with over the years and offers a few new ideas of its own, resulting in a surprisingly accessible yet confidently deep strategy simulation. Company of Heroes 2 is made of lengthy battles and challenging strategies that work best against human opposition, and given the customisability of it’s online warfare few would argue that it doesn’t deliver on those aspects that will effectively maximise it’s longevity.