Developer: Relic Entertainment
Review Platform: PC
Review Copy Provided By: SEGA
Release Date: June 25, 2013
Joel’s note: Unfortunately, we were provided with the Press version of the game. While we appreciate every copy of titles we get for review, the multiplayer portion of Company of Heroes 2 was completely locked off from the public main game. It seems this version was handed out beforehand and we missed the opportunity to get some time in with the particular times set up by the developers. With that said, the following review will only cover and score based on the merits of the campaign alone.
Relic Entertainment bring back their famed Company of Heroes game with a sequel revolving around the Russians and Red Army. Though I never really played the original, Company of Heroes 2 presents an interesting campaign and game design choices in the RTS genre, that make the whole experience somewhat different.
As with most modern games now, a story has been interlaced with the missions and tasks you’ll undertake within the game, but the melodramatic story of a locked up member of the Russian army recounting his time in the war, just doesn’t work all that well. While it does a fantastic job at giving us a history lesson of how the Russians would destroy their foes through suicidal plans and en mass platoons of untrained soldiers (there’s a great moment in one of the introduction cutscenes where a soldier cries out to his general about having no weapon, only to be told go find one on the battlefield), but everything else? No good. Hammy voice acting and ridiculous Russian accents are sprinkled throughout the voice overs, making me wish there was some option to have straight up Russian being barked at me, rather than what was given.
After each little story tidbit, you’re thrusted into a scenario in which most cases, the Russians are about to be wiped out and it’ll be their last stand. I actually really enjoy this aspect of World War 2 games, being the underdog and having to fight back the crushing forces of the Nazis and boy, does Company of Heroes 2 make sure it hits that beat every single time. Some objectives will even tell you that an option is to just ‘die fighting’ and for some really odd reason, that made me really giddy inside. “Losing is an option?!”
While most missions won’t actually give you a ‘game over’ screen, opting to either move on with the mission or let you rebuild your forces, I just found this a really nice change of pace from the whole black and white view of video games. It actually reminded me of Black Ops 2 in some respects, where if you screw up, so what? It’s war, we’ll just recuperate and change our tactics.
Though, while the game will tell you to change your tactics should the objective not be fulfilled like it should, I found myself usually going for the same tactic over and over: steamroll the enemy with as many units as possible. See, as with Dawn of War 2, you’re never given the option to ‘base build’, you’re constantly moving throughout the rather largish maps to different areas and some missions have various layers of things to shake up the standard experience. So if your base was all the way across the level and it was currently the thick of winter, your soldiers would die of freezing before they could even reach their destination. To combat this lack of base building, there’s a great big button that will deploy basic troops to your specified location and with each kill that squad gets, they’ll earn XP, which in turn, leads to them getting access to more guns that you can upgrade them with and also reaching higher ranks, making them more proficient in battle.
Now, the game will explain to you in explicit detail, all the obvious stuff, but this levelling up thing? Not mentioned at all until about five or six missions in. The HUD doesn’t even give you a big flashy indicator saying, “HEY NEW GUNS THAT WILL NOT GET THESE GUYS KILLED!”, it just quite subtly, in its own time, tells you, “Oh, if you’d like to stand a chance against the onslaught of tanks and Germans heading your way, you might want to get these guns now.” But teaching you about the cold mechanic? Heck, you’ll never not hear about it. That being said, the game does do a good job of getting you straight into the thick of things, with those helpful indicators of where to position troops early on.
The first mission with the cold introduced really stood out to me though, having you demonstrate your skills with only one squad of regular soldiers and a couple sets of snipers. CoH2 suddenly became this weird, intense puzzle game, where positioning your troops were the jigsaw pieces. It’s times like this, that Company of Heroes 2 really changes things up to such a degree, that you start to forget that you’re still playing what is a basic RTS.
That’s one thing that this game seems to proudly display on its chest, is that it’s incredibly tense all the time. Units die like you’d expect. If you send regular infantry up against a tank? You’re not thinking right. Troops will die in an instant and before you can ask why, you realise that you’ve just sent them to single handedly take on a much larger group of Germans and regardless of their rank, they will still die like a regular person would expect to die if a gun shot them in face.
Company of Heroes 2 looks fantastic in game. The harshness of Russian winter and the bleakness of war strikes the viewing orbs in my head with a great pleasure. Tiny animations of the soldiers huddling around the campfire are neat touches and it’s morbidly pleasant to just watch unfold, as the battlefield becomes infested with explosions and the brutality of war. In some peculiar cases though, I found that cutscenes would jitter and drop frames. As for sound, you’re getting exactly what you expect from a war themed product about the Russians: large choirs chanting and singing Russian and grand music. Though, the soldiers themselves, all have these – regardless of the poor accents in place – great little pieces of banter. “Who stole my biscuit?” “I wouldn’t eat it even if I did!” These are things I super enjoy about RTS games, because they’re always quite exaggerated and it’s always good to have some lightheartedness in your super serious video game about the war.
Company of Heroes 2 might not do anything to really shake up the RTS genre, but what it gives us is a varied campaign with what would presumably be some addicting multiplayer. Integrating the weather as a factor and giving the player options should they be on the losing end of the battle is much appreciated. It’s tense and through all the crap drama within the story, it did a fantastic job at dragging me into the atmosphere of the Russian Red Army during this period. Sometimes it can be tough, but it is always fair, much like a Russian General.