Trapped in a blizzard, waiting for the inevitable, we dug in. Faint silhouettes could be distinguished through the pounding of a snow storm. It grew clearer and clearer, they were coming. “Ura!!” they shouted, masses of soldiers approaching our shredded lines. The Reds were coming..
Company of Heroes 2 is a real-time strategy game currently being developed by Relic and published by Sega. Taking the award winning recipe presented in the first part of the series, Company of Heroes, we take a look at whether the sequel can live up to its name. Based on events that occurred during World War 2, Company of Heroes 2 sets out to present the gruesome chapter of the Eastern Front, events that surrounded the advance on Moscow and the fight for Russia.
The Open Beta is strictly set on Multiplayer, allowing players to test out both the competitive and cooperative aspects. Ranked matches can be set up against other players or cooperatively to take on the AI. A Custom Match option is also available, allowing players to invite friends and play on their own terms. The default match style requires a constant struggle for 3 key Victory Points. It resembles a King of The Hill style game, but with 3 metaphorical hills to hold. The match starts at 500 and the first faction to bleed the enemy to 0 wins. Also available (in Custom Match) is the Annihilate setting which implies all-out war, the winner being the last man or team standing.
There are a total of 5 maps open to be played, each varying in size and season. Three of these maps present with an element of surprise – the cold and harsh conditions of a Russian winter. Company of Heroes 2 introduces a new element that dictates the pace of the battle – blizzards. During a match, on Pripyat for example, at certain intervals a timer will announce that an extreme blizzard is approaching. All players must secure their infantry units near a heat source or they will freeze to death. As the blizzard hits, everything grinds to a near halt. Silence sets in with only vague whispers of diesel powered engines being heard in the distance. Visibility drops with your troops barely able to move around the battlefield. The general idea being to dig in and wait; hoping that the enemy isn’t crazy enough to surround your units in a full blown blizzard. As if a strong snow-storm isn't enough, units can still freeze to death if not constantly moving, even while the weather is calmer. They will complain about the cold, reminding the player to move them, throw them into battle or find some kind of shelter.
Resources are gained through controlling territory. The more territory you own, the higher your income. Three types of resources are present and essential: manpower, munitions and fuel. Manpower is a player’s upkeep, the rate being controlled by the amount of units currently on the battlefield. The more units you have – the less Manpower is available. Munitions and fuel are essential to the war effort. Seizing a control point for a sector will allow the player to construct caches for both resources, increasing the income further.
To increase the effectiveness of an army in battle, players can choose one commander that employs different tactics and doctrines. During a battle, players will earn Command Points by eliminating enemy forces and seizing territory. After a commander is chosen that fits a certain play style, 5 passive and active perks become available. For example: an armor-heavy orientated commander will allow the player to call in a Command tank that improves nearby armored forces. An infantry commander can call in special units like Shock Troops for close quarter engagements. Different commanders will unlock through the progression system, allowing for more powerful units and better troop composition.
Each commander also has a loadout available in the Customize menu. As you progress, certain units will receive health increases, enhanced damage, lesser build times and will benefit from these upgrades massively. Careful balance is required as there are 3 slots available for unit upgrades that can be taken into battle. A little increase in a Soviet Conscript’s damage may make a huge difference in an early fire-fight.
Battles fought in Company of Heroes 2 are visually and audibly stunning and immersive. The mighty roar of a Panther engine will strike fear into the front lines of an enemy. The strong screech of a Stuka bomber dropping a 50 kilo high explosive charge is terrifying. The woosh from a rocket leaving the rack of a Katyusha rocket launcher will evoke a state of panic as it pounds infantry and armor to a crisp.
Historical fidelity, like the first Company of Heroes, is spot on. The visual representation of elements used in the Second World War is fantastic. Players can command a greatly detailed Soviet T34 Medium battle tank or a Heavy IS2. Tank destroyers, artillery, specialized infantry, mines – you name them, they have them.
The realism is astonishing, units presenting life-like animations. Mortar rounds dropping on units will send them sky-high in bits and chunks of what used to be a soldier. Squads that are pinned down will dive belly first and take cover in any fraction of cover they can find while animating distress. From an over-the-top view of the battleground, watching a full on battle between two to eight armed forces, fighting over territory and essential tactical points is incredibly well executed.
The Open Beta is just a small taste of what’s to come. And that small taste is a lot to keep you occupied until the full release on the 25th of June. It is open to all and is building enough Steam to easily become a solid RTS game, following in the huge boots Company of Heroes left for it.