Company of Heroes
Company of Heroes has experienced a recent resurgence in the eyes of the PC gaming masses, especially in the form of its online multiplayer. A combination of deadly multiplayer combat in addition to intensive tactical thinking has somehow kept this game going since September 2006, and it’s still played today by multitudes of PC gamers worldwide. Why?
Thinking about it, the question grows in my mind - it is not that special, it's another WWII game, one amongst many that we have been inundated with. Its graphics, though decent for its time, are now considered outdated, and its game-play can be found, more refined, in current Relic real time strategy games, such as the newest Dawn of War games (Retribution particularly).
As of 2011, Company of Heroes is still the highest-rated RTS of all time. There must be a reason for this.
Having last played the campaign of original Company of Heroes all the way back in 2006, 5 years ago, I restarted the single-player campaign, in hopes of jolting my memory and recapturing that spirit. The moment I hit Omaha beach however, I realized that I've been a veteran of this damned strip of land six distinct unique times. I have saved the town of St. Mere and para-dropped into France more times than I could remember.
My single-player replay of Company of Heroes did not get off to a good start. It was particularly slow-paced, with only small amounts of infantry doing mundane tasks (well, relatively mundane) of crawling up hillsides and lobbing grenades. Most of the unit options were locked off and everything was quite limited. I felt as if I was playing a tutorial that lasted three or four missions.
Flanking is essential in winning this game - also, grants incredible satisfaction when done right.
However, as the campaign progressed and freedom began to open up, the true potential of the gameplay revealed itself. What's so special about Company of Heroes is that it sets up movie moments for you. It is a constant rolling picture of Saving Private Ryan, with one lone survivor of a squad taking out a tank before being blown up, or a single sniper braving an entire field of enemy defenses to sneak in and snipe out the mortars. These are (mostly) unscripted, or at the very least, side-missions of the main objectives, and achieving them while doing everything else is a balancing act that is supremely satisfying when done right.
For example, one of the missions had me take a sector, occupy a building within and build a barracks at the start of the game with a limited force. Yet immediately, a missclick left my infantry standing helplessly in the open while it got bombarded by enemy Nebelwerfers (rocket artillery). Left with only two squads and a jeep, I attempted to take a building with one, and knock out the artillery with the other, while the jeep distracted the enemy MG-42s. This went well, up till the point the panzer appeared and knocked out my jeep, while the Nebelwerfers, still alive, blew apart my barracks. All I had left was a lone squad of riflemen, without any anti-tank weapons. I charged, of course.
They were suppressed by the heavy machine guns. They crawled on. They became pinned when a tank round blew two of them into the sky, exploiting the excellent ragdoll physics of the engine, rifle spinning into the air. They recovered and moved on. They were mowed down by the infantry. Somehow, they made it. Or ... he made it. One lone gunman, who I like to believe was smoking a cigar, wore black shades and had biceps twice the size of his neck, survived, ran forward, and lobbed a grenade into the Nebelwerfers. Then, I clicked retreat, and he ran like Hell. The Nebelwerfers exploded behind him, probably swaying his hair slightly in the shockwave, flapping his sleeves dramatically.
The tension of that moment had me at the edge of my seat.
Basically do you want your men to a) die in ditches, b) get torn to shreds in the air or c) cook to death in tin cans?
I went on to win that game. This then, made me remember why I love Company of Heroes. The AI may be infuriating, the graphics angular, and the story generic, but its choreography is beautiful. The animations and detail bestowed upon the models are amazing, the individual tank shells smoking in the air as they are ejected from the barrel, the look on the infantryman's face as he hurls a grenade into enemy lines. All this then transforms the game into any AAA action flick.
However, this is not merely a mindless tussle between two sides. Instead, tactical choices, especially in positioning, is absolutely vital. The direction in which you attack a tank determines if you hit its rear armour, which can make the difference between a penetrating shot and a futile glancing blow. Few actions are more satisfying in games than achieving a flank on a Panzer tank, with the use of a heavy tank in front to take the hits, while speeding your rangers around the back to blow it apart with their bazookas.
This, unfortunately, does come at a price. In order to allow players to achieve tactical manoeuvres and feel good about themselves, the game does ensure that it takes a substantial amount of hits to down infantry, to the point where it becomes unrealistic.
This kills the immersion that the game had been working hard to build up till this point, leaving players slightly annoyed at the lone gunman who is clearly wreathed in flames, yet does not die. Although it allows for dramatic and tense moments, such as a last engineer of the squad hurling a satchel charge at the bunker, it is less so when you have two tanks sitting practically on top of a rifleman, yet does nothing more than scratch him with their tank shells.
Time-honored tactic known as the
The multiplayer, however, is where the game really comes to life. Everything learnt in single player is put into play here, and you must focus both on your macro, in terms of economy and strategic unit choices, and on your micro, the abilities of your forces and their positioning (vital!). Played with friends, this becomes hugely competitive and team-based, with you having to trust your ally to defend your right flank as you move into build a defensive line in the front. Concerted strikes against enemy positions are momentous occasions, pings playing all over the minimap as players scream into their headset: "KING TIGER! HE HAS A BLOODY KING TIGER! RUN!".
Unfortunately, this does take a while to get going, and the start of the match is extremely formulaic.
Furthermore, the multiplayer is extremely dynamic and even here, epic tales of heroism and cunning are created. One of my most memorable games was a 2v2 where we had lost the front lines. My friend had been crushed thoroughly in his infantry push forward, and was frantically trying to rebuild his army, as our territory was captured by the enemy left and right. I was fighting a losing battle attempting to hold the lines, and eventually buckled. The two enemy players made a push straight into my base, knocking out my production facilities, and leaving me with little more than a few engineers and emplacements. Retreating to my friend's base, we held a defence against Tigers, Panthers and a particularly stubborn King Tiger for nearly 45 minutes.
All the while, my last facility, the tank production grounds, churned out Sherman after Sherman, each time leaving me with barely enough resources to keep up my friend's defence. Finally, we reached a critical point, and with only two sectors in the entire map owned by us, we charged forward with a counterhook by the left of the map, through the normally unused beaches. Reaching the enemy base, we lay into their tank production facilities, before they could move their ponderous war engines back. The tide turned, and our victory was marked by the King Tiger facing off against the few remaining Shermans, my friend's lighter and faster tanks moving at flank speed to finish it off from the rear.
In terms of audio, this game's a winner. Orchestral music accompanies the rising action brilliantly, the explosions resounding across the map in a realistic but heart-shaking manner. The crack of a sniper rifle is almost enough to make me leap off my seat and go to ground, pinned in a foetal position. However, as each game tends to drag on a bit, the music does start to become irrelevant, as the action rises and falls so many times that it no longer manages to evoke the same emotions for that session. Yes, I remember now why I love this game. It is not perfect, not by a long shot. It has annoying AI, incredibly frustrating path finding, slightly hammy acting and outdated graphics, but it also has a soul. It does what it does extremely well, and that is to make a movie moment in your head. Likening it to modern games, it can be compared to Modern Warfare games, where what matters most in the single-player is the spectacle and experience of the crazy F-yeah moments, whereas what matters in multiplayer is skill (although one uses the brain and the other, reflexes). If you have not tried Company of Heroes (which I sincerely doubt), give this critically-acclaimed, beautifully choreographed wargame a go. You will not be disappointed.
In terms of audio, this game's a winner. Orchestral music accompanies the rising action brilliantly, the explosions resounding across the map in a realistic but heart-shaking manner. The crack of a sniper rifle is almost enough to make me leap off my seat and go to ground, pinned in a foetal position. However, as each game tends to drag on a bit, the music does start to become irrelevant, as the action rises and falls so many times that it no longer manages to evoke the same emotions for that session.
Yes, I remember now why I love this game. It is not perfect, not by a long shot. It has annoying AI, incredibly frustrating path finding, slightly hammy acting and outdated graphics, but it also has a soul. It does what it does extremely well, and that is to make a movie moment in your head. Likening it to modern games, it can be compared to Modern Warfare games, where what matters most in the single-player is the spectacle and experience of the crazy F-yeah moments, whereas what matters in multiplayer is skill (although one uses the brain and the other, reflexes). If you have not tried Company of Heroes (which I sincerely doubt), give this critically-acclaimed, beautifully choreographed wargame a go. You will not be disappointed.
- Intense Strategy Gameplay: Extremely tactical, built mostly upon micromanaging your troops.
- Well-developed: Detail and design is brilliant, amazingly done and adds wonderfully to the spectacle.
- Smart Gameplay: Tension is built through gameplay, and you are rewarded for your decisions and risks.
- Interesting Multiplayer: Multiplayer is flexible, dynamic.
- Varied Soundbites: Audio fits the mood perfectly, although it tends to die out after a while.
- Generic Plot: Story is not very intriguing, although some might disagree (your mileage may vary)
- Old Graphics: Graphics are outdated right now, and even then were not much to write home about.