Review by serados

"A solid entry in the RTS genre, but could do with more content"

Company of Heroes (CoH) is a Real-time Strategy (RTS) game set in World War II, from the creators of Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War/Winter Assault and the Homeworld series, Relic Entertainment. It utilises a new graphical engine developed by Relic called the Essence Engine that fully supports the latest technology like High-Dynamic Range Lighting, dynamic shadows, advanced shader/particle effects and so on, allowing in-game graphics to look similar to that of a first-person shooter - no mean feat for an RTS game.

The main campaign of the game starts from the Allied landings on D-Day. Your first mission starts you off against heavy odds, requiring you to maneuver your infantry units up the beaches while facing fire from the fearsome German MG42 heavy machine guns. The campaign tells the story of Able Company, one of the infantry companies that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, and their exploits in German-controlled Normandy. Along the way, you will also take control of the 101st Airborne Division troops in order to carry out missions to disrupt the enemy's backline and prevent supplies from reaching the beachhead. The 15-mission campaign has a variety of missions that test your skills at various aspects of the game, from the more micromanagement-tedious infantry-focused missions early on, to the more standard higher-level strategic decision-making later in the campaign. For example, one mission requires you to set up defenses against incoming German troops and hold out until reinforcements arrive, while another has you storming a hill in order to push German forces out of the area. Medals can be achieved by completing various challenges, like completing a mission within a time limit, or destroying a certain structure, and more, which gives a small sense of accomplishment when you look at your full medal gallery.

Gameplay in CoH feels very solid and logical, with some small details that make CoH feel in a class of its own compared to other RTS games released recently.

As soon as you enter the game, you find out that heavy machine guns will tear the unlucky members of your infantry units to shreds and pin the survivors down, causing them to crawl slowly on the ground. Artillery bombardments create smouldering patches of earth and craters which can be used as cover for infantry. Flanking maneuvers are very devastating as infantry gets pinned down very easily while taking fire from multiple directions, and tanks receive more damage when hit in the sides and rear. Infantry can take cover in buildings and receive only small amounts of damage from opponents, but throw in a satchel charge and the entire building crumbles in a few seconds, killing everyone inside. Explosives send troops flying, preventing them from firing for a few moments. Strafing aircraft sends infantry jumping out of the way to avoid getting hit by the machinegun fire. Tanks stop in their tracks momentarily when they get hit by an anti-tank shell.

Combat in the game is extremely fast paced and definitely a radical change if you're a turtler or a defensive player, due to CoH's resource model and victory conditions. In order to gain resources, you have to capture territories which provide a constant flow of a single resource, similar to the resource model in Dawn of War. Resources are split into three categories - Manpower, Munitions and Fuel. Manpower is the major resource in the game, and is used for building almost every unit and structure. Munitions are used each time your infantry units use a skill, like throwing Grenades or launching disposable Panzershreck anti-tank missiles, as well as for weaponry upgrades and for calling down heavy artillery. Fuel is the "bottleneck" resource of CoH. It is used for upgrading troops, building the most powerful tanks in the game, and comes in short supply compared to the other two resources on most maps. This makes holding on to Fuel resource territories vital to eventual victory, which does create some strategic challenges for the player.

You receive experience points as you kill units, which will allow you to upgrade your Commander Skills. You can choose between three military doctrines for each faction – the Allies have the Infantry, Airborne and Armor companies; the Axis have the Terror, Blitzkrieg and Defensive doctrines. With these Commander Skills, you can call down artillery strikes, call in bombers, send in elite tanks and even build your own personal Howitzer on the field.

The twist in CoH is that in order to win, you have to capture and hold Victory Locations as opposed to wanton destruction of your enemy. Victory Locations you hold will slowly reduce the enemy's Victory Points, and you win when their Victory Points reach zero. As such, combat in CoH centers around the victory locations. The smallest maps have at least three Victory Locations, so combat can get extremely chaotic when you are trying to defend two Victory Points in addition to your resource territories and base. If you delay capturing opponent-held Victory Locations, your own Victory Points will fall gradually, making the game a race against time. A second game mode, Annihilation, is available for players who prefer to blow their opponents' bases into smithereens, but that mode feels less exciting than the default Victory Points mode.

Unit hit points are not shown, however, and the “damage” numbers seem to be relative. People used to the more “standard” RTS gameplay like in Age of Empires, Starcraft, and Warcraft might find themselves slightly confused. Armor values are also not shown, leaving you to figure out which units have stronger armor than the others.

The graphics in CoH are by far the best I have ever seen in an RTS game. Due to its implementation of the Havok physics engine, some very beautiful explosions and ragdoll animations can be seen. Explosions throw up clouds of dust and dirt, and sections of entire buildings are flung away from the explosion. Infantry units get blown apart, leaving a mass of severed limbs and torsos after a devastating V1 rocket strike.

Relic managed to fit in many things you would expect from an FPS game in CoH – bullet leave holes in walls, when zoomed up close, you can clearly see each soldier has different faces, and you can zoom in on vehicles to see every detail on the armor, right up to the vehicle identifiers painted on them. Everything looks realistic, and you get immersed into the environment from the get-go.

Playing a huge role in the overall experience of CoH is the wonderfully satisfying sound effects in the game. The thunderous barrage of the MG42 many game players are familiar with is back in CoH. What's great about the sound in CoH is that each infantry weapon has its own distinctive sound effect which you can tell after playing for some time. Another nice touch is that sound effects in the distance are also played, and the loud exchange of a tank fight in the distance can be heard from the other end of the map, in the form of low-pitched, thudding booms. Voice acting is functional, but there are not many moments in the game that requires dramatic voice acting. In terms of variety, unit speech in CoH is comparable to Warcraft III, except with less witty lines. Each unit has about 5 lines of “standard” speech that you hear when issuing move orders, attack orders and so on. A nice touch is that whenever your units come under fire, their responses become shouts and you can hear them panic when escaping enemy pursuit in critical condition.

After completing the main campaign, though, there is very little incentive to head back into CoH for the casual gamer. The 15-mission campaign can easily be completed in 10 to 20 hours, and the Skirmishes against the AI get boring fast since there is only a small selection of about ten maps available for play in Skirmish. The AI is pretty good, though – it seeks out and captures your territory sectors, although the Normal AI seems too intent on using engineers to capture your territory sectors instead of holing up at the victory points or storming the victory points with a large force. Online gameplay is available through Relic Online, a match-making service (no, not of the romantic kind) operated by Relic itself, instantly bringing to mind Blizzard's As usual, playing against human players is an entirely different experience, but even then you will get bored of playing the same maps over and over again.

In the end, what you get is a product that is worth buying for the experience itself. The technical aspects and aesthetic aspects of the game are very well done, but until expansion packs are released to open a wider scope of single-player content, you would not be playing this often after a few days, when you exhaust the available scenarios and maps available.

Gameplay: 9/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 10/10
Replay Value: 7/10
Reviewer's Tilt: 9/10

Final Score: 9/10

Company of Heroes is a very good RTS, make no doubt about that. However, it seems to me that Relic, in making CoH look, sound, and feel authentic and state-of-the-art, they forgot to add in content that adds replay value.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/25/06

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