No retreat, no surrender - Company of Heroes 2 First Look
No retreat, no surrender - Company of Heroes 2 First Look
It's too easy to look back and think that half a decade ago the world had given up on World War 2 games. There were too many, most of them doing the same thing, and people felt that video games were stagnating. Thanks to the saturation of World War 2 shooters it's also easy to think that Relic Games' Company of Heroes fell into this same chasm - it didn't, and as the many RTS fanatics who still love it will tell you, it still doesn't.
Company of Heroes emphasised realism in a way most other games were terrified to. It forced players to learn real world tactics to win, and you cared about your units through repeated success. Thanks to your attachment to your units, the fact that it was telling the same story wasn't a tough pill to swallow because it was telling it in a sufficiently different way. Ultimately, Company of Heroes was a game ahead of its time in a number of ways - but that doesn't mean there was no room for improvement... improvement we'll now get to play with in the near future.
Company of Heroes 2: Eastern Front starts with a setting change - one clearly described in the title. Where the first game took us through the Western Front - from D-Day and deep into France - COH2 promises to show us the Battle of Stalingrad (and perhaps even the latter Battle of Berlin).
As the terrible forces of the Third Reich quickly learned, the Eastern Front meant snow - and a lot of it. The sense of cold isn't something we Aussies are normally accustomed to - even up on Perisher it never even comes close to the -40C temperatures that tore through villages in the USSR - but with clever use of a dark colour palette it looks like Relic will have us feeling the chill.
As your Russian soldiers slowly make their way through the snow, tracks form - tracks enemies can follow. When artillery crashes down in their path the snow disappears (explodes) - traversal through the area becomes quicker, and your path disappears. Suddenly you're stuck with a tough choice - the artillery is zeroed in on the area where the shell dropped, which makes it unsafe, but you move faster - which can be the difference between life and death in so many ways.
The biting cold will kill soldiers - during a blizzard a temperature gauge flashes next to exposed units, warning you that they will die soon. From a gameplay perspective this is definitely a great way to get players to seek a source of heat, but to me it's the way your soldiers drop one by one, as they succumb to exposure, that would force my hand and keep them alive.
It's actually very confronting - as we watched our Relic guide casually let his men die in the blizzard I felt awful. I wanted him to put them in cover (to protect them from the wind chill factor), or send some engineers to light fires... to do anything to help them out, instead of letting them stagger a few steps forward before they dropped to the snow.
Ice plays a huge part in the game as well. Our demo gave us a frozen river as the only manner of ingress into the German front line - and then they set up a heavily fortified outpost across the other side. Infantry with no measure of cover had zero chance when attacking the position - they were cut down immediately - and so it was left to Soviet tanks to break through.
This meant sending vehicles like the iconic T-34 and the even heavier KV-1 across a frozen river - and as the glassy covering of the moving water slowly splinters under the 26+ tonnes of armour and gun there's a tension you don't see elsewhere.
When the ice breaks - whether due to weight or explosives - and your soldiers collapse into the sub-zero waters, they die an awful, awful death. Eventually the water freezes over again - and you can send more tanks out to tip-toe the line with a watery grave.
This sort of attention to detail - this focus on realism - is what drew people to Company of Heroes as a series - and it's here in spades. Soviets soldiers had a rough time in World War 2 - numerous Stalin signed orders emphasised the famous "Not a step back" philosophy, which often meant state sanctioned slaughter of retreating troops.
I'll be interested to see how this plays out in the greater war - there were "no Soviet prisoners of war, only traitors", and that would have to cause a significant amount of stress on an army. Morale management was never a big part of COH - probably because ultimately the series championed Tactics (as opposed to Strategy) - but I'd love to see it impact the game in some way.
One change fans of COH will be glad to hear of is the addition of Vaulting - while the waist high wall was deemed insurmountable by the US forces in the first game, the mighty USSR can go over a small fence with ease. It's important for a number of reasons - and "it makes sense" is only a tiny one.
The big reason efficient pathing is essential now comes down to TrueSight - a new mechanic aimed at making Line of Sight an extremely important tool. Where you typically look at a battlefield in a war game as a map - one gradually uncovered as the fog of war peels away - it's not realistic to allow an omniscient idea of the battlefield.
TrueSight aims to rectify this little inconsistency by unveiling the fog of war - and then covering up the parts of the battlefield you can't actually see at any specific time. This isn't a particularly new mechanic - I recall the same philosophy existing in the Mechcommander games (though perhaps not so beautifully realised). Here the map obfuscates as your soldiers move - portions behind objects (think houses or enemy vehicles) disappear and reappear in real time.
So when playing a multiplayer game, if you've managed to divine your enemy's location I can see how being able to Vault will allow you to obscure your Line of Sight that little bit longer - which might let you win the battle in the long run.
What is most important is that Relic nails the AI as well - these new changes will mean nothing if the computer can see past TrueSight or can't Vault. I have faith that they will smash it out of the park - still, even if they fail there's always multiplayer.
Company of Heroes 2: Eastern Front is shaping up to be something pretty fantastic - it's been too long since we've seen a solid Real Time Strategy, let alone a great Real Time Tactical. The changes - added to what we've come to love from the COH experience - have me extremely excited. If only we didn't have to wait until 2013.
Comments on this Article
Wed 25 Jul 12, 12:41pmPhyaran
Posted: Wed 25 Jul 12, 12:41pm
Post Your Comment
Recent News Entries
The Xbox One Makes Perfect Sense To Me
Call of Duty Ghosts - First Look
Microsoft reveals the Xbox One
Sony announces Australian launch of PlayStation First
Rhode Island putting Kingdoms of Amalur up for sale