I’ve never liked real-time strategy. I’ve given the genre many a chance, only to be let down again and again. The only major exception is Creative Assembly’s Total War series. Which brings me conveniently to Relic Entertainment’s Company Of Heroes. Both games are based on the real world and strive for realism. This is a large part of the reason why I like these over the Warcrafts and Dawn Of Wars of the genre.
While Company Of Heroes plays a lot like, say, Dawn Of War, there’s almost zero learning curve. This is because things in the game work like you would suppose them to work, based on what you know from real life. You select a group of men and order them to move somewhere, they do it – and they’re smart enough to seek cover and, crucially, engage hostiles on their own. Tanks require a bit more maneuvering, but this, too, is all logical. You mostly select a tank’s facing, keeping the weak rear armor protected. You don’t have to study the weapons, because they’re all real. You know your rifle’s worthless against a tank and you know your machinegun will keep infantry suppressed. You know you need to fortify your positions to stand a chance against an assault and you know a grenade is needed to clear out a bunker.
The game’s excellent graphics, physics and sounds actually work to the tactical game’s advantage. You have a good handle on just how vulnerable your men are, as you witness the bullets and shells kicking up mountains of dirt and sending unlucky troops flying through the air. Just two infantry units firing at each other has more drama than many an RTS in whole. The men’s constant cursing keeps you in the right frame of mind. And of course, it’s just great entertainment.
I thought WWII had been overdone and I thought I couldn’t care less about the genre, but Company Of Heroes just shows that you need to do this stuff right.
The game takes a lot of cues from TV and movies, aping well-known war scenes whenever it can. The missions have a very satisfying pace, always upping the ante and giving you small victories along the way. It never feels like you’re just grinding base after base.