Company of Heroes Review

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Publisher: THQ
Developer: Relic

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium IV or Athlon XP, 512 MB RAM, DirectX 9.0c compatible 64 MB video card, 6.5 GB HD space, Windows XP or more recent operating system (Keep in mind this game needs a really powerful system to be appreciated.)

Able company is fulfilling its duty by leading the way during Operation Overlord, the Allied forces' 1944 invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Company of Heroes explores the heroic actions of Able company as they secure the beaches, seize control of strategic villages and hold off Nazi counterattacks.

Kyle Ackerman

Every time a new game set in World War II is released, the community of nay-sayers who think that WWII has been exhausted as a genre grows. Company of Heroes proves that, like Tokien-esque fantasy, as long as games continue to push the boundaries of gameplay and storytelling, WWII is far from empty source material for games. Company of Heroes is the most intense real-time strategy experience I've had, and actually delivers on everything that THQ promised as much as two years ago.

Developer Relic has taken the expertise it built up while creating the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War franchise and created an even more impressive RTS experience grounded in the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Company of Heroes uses a similar resource model, in which players capture strategic points to gain a regular stream of resources rather than using peons to mine resources from locations on the map. Combined with the game's supply line model, solid artificial intelligence and almost completely deformable terrain, Company of Heroes is a new plateau for RTS.

Only the Highest Quality for Our Troops

Everything about Company of Heroes is top-notch. The game sports spectacular and rich sound and the maximum level of detail results in graphics that make the game look like a vivid crane shot from the highest budget WWII movie to come out of Hollywood. Sadly, achieving that level of detail will torture and drag down the frame rate of even the most powerful systems. But that's more of a warning to current gamers – designing a game capable of running well on future systems is hardly a crime. This detail means that when cut-scenes are rendered using the game engine, even character close-ups approach the quality of graphics created for first-person shooters. And when soldiers take cover in a building, they don't just disappear – a sniper will pop out the window of a church tower, and a machine gun team will set up in the half-destroyed attic of a shelled-out building.

The combination of realistic graphics, detailed physics and AI changes the way the game plays as an RTS. Soldiers will cleverly take appropriate cover behind sandbags and walls, and will flock to craters rather than stand exposed in open terrain. That means a mortar team can not only shell the enemy, it can create cover for advancing troops. And while hedgerows might form a maze of deathtraps for infantry, tanks can be rigged to bulldoze entirely new paths for surprised attacks. When combined with the game's excellent model for suppression fire and pinning soldiers, there is incredible tactical depth available.

The Difficulty of Solo Play

The game starts with a thorough (and optional) tutorial and then flings players into the overpowering events of Operation Overlord. The early missions, particularly the beach landing, make you feel constantly seconds away from failure as your troops are mown down. Yet, the game lets you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and secure the beach. As the game's single-player campaign progresses, however, the single-player missions can be crushingly difficult. This isn't as frustrating as it can be with many games, as even a player with slow reflexes can learn from his mistakes to ultimately conquer each and every mission.

As with most RTS games, the single-player game is really only training camp for the multiplayer action. Therein lies another warning. Unless you are fast and skillful enough to easily meet the challenges offered by each and every single-player mission, don't expect to stand a chance online against human foes. If you can overcome the skill barrier, or find comparably skilled opponents, the game provides an impressive multiplayer experience, allowing players to continue fighting as the Allies (Americans) or take on the role of the Axis (Germans). The last two missions in the single-player campaign are a great test – if you can't handily beat the computer when victory points are at stake, don't even think of playing a typical online match.

If you do get online to play against other military geniuses, there is a surprising variety of play options. Different units, defenses and vehicles make for a variety of strategies, but you also have to decide what kind of company commander you will be. Experience in battle allows you to pursue ability trees that represent either an infantry, airborne or armor commander. Armor commanders can purchase powers that enhance their tanks, while infantry commanders deploy footsoldiers faster. (Axis commanders have different trees that are not so easily categorized). These ability trees make for surprisingly different games, at least within the context of European WWII battles.

Company of Heroes is one of the finest RTS games ever made, and if it has a drawback, it's that the game is designed to please the experienced and hardcore RTS games, making it slightly less accessible to the casual player. But by doing so, Company of Heroes becomes the one game a real RTS fan can log on to play every single night.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 4, 2006 8:00 PM.

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