Review by TargetDog

"The first RTS I've liked for years; strategy gaming at its finest. This is one of, if not the best, RTS of all time."

1998. A memorable year for gaming, especially for PC gamers. What came out that year? Grim Fandango, Thief, Half-life, and Starcraft. Ah, Starcraft. The first and last RTS I every truly loved; I would play that game religiously day after day until it finally became tiring for me and I moved on to other games. But after starcraft, I must say that no RTS excited me anymore; Warcraft 3, Rise of Nations, Rome: Total War, Warhammer.. all fantastic games, yet I couldn't simply get "into" them the way I could with Starcraft.

Then, this game came along.

First, let me just say this; this game is top-notch in absolutely every single way. There are practically no flaws in this game. From everything to the absolutely amazing graphics(Never have RTS games looked so good) to the hard-hitting, brutal sound(Gunfire, explosions,pinned soldiers shouting for support) you would be hard pressed to find a major flaw in this game. If you have never been interested in RTS games that much or feel that all RTS games lately are all the same, take my advice and download the demo; you'll be blown away.

First off, let's start with the gameplay. If you go to basic structure, this game is quite similiar to other RTS games(especially Warhammer 40k by the same developer, Relic.) You still have your builder units, your basic infantry units, your bases, defenses, all that stuff. However, this game does not contain nearly as much base management as other RTS games do; in order to gather resources, your units must capture resource points which are outside your base. Company of Heroes has much more aggressive gameplay than other games do, which in my mind is a good thing; cut the slow resource gathering and send your units to attack and capture outside points; this results in many small skirmishes in the battlefield. In fact, the games battles are all mostly small skirmishes; you won't see any epic, 1,000 man battles here, but small skirmishes make battles much easier to control, which is a good thing, especially for this game.

Units in this game have many functions which they can take advantage of; for example, they can hide behind cover, throw grenades, throw satchel charges, hide in buildings, and other doo-hickeys. They can also get pinned by enemy fire; when pinned, they lay down and move much slower and will have a hard time attacking. As such, it's best to pay attention to your units when they're fighting so you can take advantage of your situation; for example, is an enemy squad hiding behind a couple of sandbags? Use a grenade to flush them out. Being pinned? Quickly order your units to retreat to your base or run at full speed towards the enemy. Luckily, the units AI is good enough to support themselves; they will actively seek out cover by themselves, among other things; however, they definitely fare better when you yourself are looking over them and telling them what to do. Because battles are hard to manage this game is a bit hard to manage as a whole than other RTS games, but you soon get used to it. Vehicle AI doesn't fare as well, though; my units often bumped into each other or couldn't find a correct path to traverse terrain and got stuck behind a tree.

Speaking of which, CoH has similiar vehicles for each side(Axis and Allies. There are only 2 factions in the game.) which would be troop transport, tanks, recon vehicles, and others. The two factions differ in that the Axis take longer to build their base than the Allies do, but that their units are stronger in the end; as such, an Axis tank dueling an equivalent Allied tank will probably win, whereas the Allied tank will lose. However, the Allies can get their tanks out faster, and their units in greater numbers, so the game isn't really unbalanced. The Allies do have a tank which can stand up to the strongest Axis tank, but it can only be deployed by selecting a certain tech tree, which I'll talk about right now.

CoH has commander skills for each side, which can greatly impact a game and could lead to victory or defeat. However, each side has 3 skill trees of different qualities, and you can only choose one. For example, the Allies have an armor tree(skills relating to armor units), an infantry tree(skills relating to infantry) and an airborne tree(skills relating to airborne capabilities.) All of these skills are useful and can greatly help you in a time of need. If your tanks are greatly damaged from a battle, you can use a tank repair skill and have all your tanks freshly repaired and good as new. These skills come at a cost however; to unlock skills, you must build up command points by defeating enemies and taking strategical points; once you have these command points, you may unlock skills. You are able to unlock all skills in the skirmish and multiplayer modes, but in the campaign mode you slowly gain the ability to unlock them over time.

The campaign mode is 15 missions, and can last pretty long; some missions may take 20 minutes while others will easily take you over an hour. Each mission in the campaign is varied and exciting; one minute, you're defending a town from the Nazis, and the next minute you're assaulting a German hill protected by Howitzers. The skirmish and multiplayer mode are fantastic too; skirmish has Annihilation(destroy the opponent's base) and Victory Points(control strategic points on the map until the opponent runs out of points, which slowly go down over time) and the computer is no slouch; they WILL give you a challenge. This game is definitely best played in multiplayer though; playing with humans beats playing with computers any day.

The graphics in this game are beautiful and easily the best ever for a RTS. When you zoom in for a close up, the graphics are as good, or maybe even better than a game like Call of Duty 2 or Brothers in Arms. I'm sure you've all seen screenshots; so I won't bother describing it all in detail for you. Let me just say that the physics engine is fantastic. When you blow up an armored car, it skiddles and flips over and crashes into a nearby rock; when you throw an explosive at a group of infantry, their limbs fall off and they get blown sky-high landing in each and every direction; it is a sight to be seen and makes the game that more compelling.

Sound is great too. Gun sounds are great; gun shots sound piercing and dangerous, and explosions sound well, explosive. The music adds to the atmosphere of the game, especially in the campaign, where you'll sometimes feel triumphant or sometimes feel cornered, and the music reflects that well. The best part about the sound is the speech, though. Unit speech is incredibly useful in this game, and also funny. You might hear your infantry screaming "We're Pinned!" and that's your cue to go over to them and find a way to help them; you might hear "Sherman taking hits!" and quickly scroll over to your tank to find out hes being slammed by Panzers. Also, units make clever(and corny) one liners a lot, which adds humor to the whole thing.

After I finished the campaign, I felt happy for playing such a great game but also dissapointed because it was over; but soon after that, I started killing opponents on the online multiplayer mode. I can't get enough of this game, and this will keep me playing for a while. There are few issues here and the ones that are there are really nothing to speak of. You'd be well-advised to go get CoH as soon as you can, as it is one of the best RTSes of all time.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 09/18/06

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