Company of Heroes review
Company of Heroes, described as an “action strategy game”, gives you command of the Allied forces as they take on the Third Reich. Yes, once again we find ourselves in the Europe of WWII, but thankfully that’s the only major downside.
In the same vein as Relic’s Dawn of War, this is a base-building RTS with great graphics: instead of having resource-gathering units, troops must capture and hold strategic points, which provide manpower, munitions or fuel. This not only encourages you to get out into the map quickly, but it offers more tactical options when securing objectives. Strike for the main target quickly and you may win in minutes but risk being outnumbered, as you won’t have the resources to build a large force. Similarly, spending time capturing far-flung resource-rich strategic points to build up a large force risks giving the Nazis time to organise troops against you.
Relic has simulated the concept of having a supply line with these strategic resource points. Each governs a territory of the map, and only territories linked with your starting territory will yield its resource. This might make it sound as though you need large strings of forces along your supply lines, but we found the Nazis disappointingly reluctant to steal back unguarded resource points.
Starting with the D-Day landings, Company of Heroes follows the Allies as they invade mainland Europe. The first mission has you landing on Omaha beach, and echoes of Saving Private Ryan abound. Spoken phrases and location names will also be all too familiar with anyone who’s seen Band of Brothers. We can only hope that less mainstream theatres like Montgomery’s operations in North Africa or the Russian front will be added in an expansion pack – selecting the Normandy campaign is teasingly housed in a superfluous drop-down menu.
Thankfully, Relic does a great job of bringing the war to life. Explosions – which throw up great clouds of dust – also crater the ground, providing soft cover for troops. The buildings can be garrisoned by soldiers for sniping at opposing troops, or destroyed by artillery shells. And don’t expect a rifleman to be able to destroy a Panzer either, despite his sticky-bombs. Even artillery and Sherman tanks have trouble, unless you flank the German tanks and score critical hits on the weaker side or rear armour.
However, manoeuvring a group of tanks reveals some stupid AI with Shermans driving into one another, blocking paths and usually getting themselves blown up by the Panzer you’re trying to outflank. The German AI is generally good at keeping you on your toes, though. Attacks and defensive moves need to be planned properly, with a balanced force to cope with the always troublesome Nazis.
During missions, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your troops. In the most part, infantry will find good cover and return fire, but it’s very easy for them to get pinned down if left alone. Similarly, tanks will stop moving as soon as they find a target, leaving themselves open to mortar fire and outflanking by anti-tank infantry and German tanks. Still, no-one said war would be easy, and the constant manoeuvring adds to the frenetic, adrenaline-fuelled enjoyment.
You can also call in air-support, artillery and troops with special abilities bought by Command Points gained by killing enemy troops. Exactly what these abilities are depend on what sort of company you chose to be. The slow, methodical player will want to be an Infantry Company with its defensive bonuses; aerial bombardments and the like come to an Airbourne Company; and tank lovers will want to be an Armoured Company.