The original Company of Heroes is among my favorite RTS games if not my favorite overall. It has great combat, plenty of vehicles and weapons, good graphics and the campaign is diverse and interesting. So imagine my excitement with the release of Company of Heroes 2. The hype train came to a screeching halt when during my Steam purchase of this game, I was disappointed to find out the shear amount of day-one DLC; so disappointed in fact that I wrote a separate post about it. Huge amounts of Day-One DLC is one of the first omens of a crap-for-cash video game. Nonetheless, I would be remised if I didn't take the time to play through it at least once.
But I can't say I'm too pleased with the results.
Gameplay and Functionality
Close Quarters: The first level of CoH2 starts you off during the assault of Stalingrad. Beginning with 2 infantry units, one of the first things you notice is that the map is very, very clustered with buildings. This wasn't an issue to start with because it was the first level after all and, of course, it was a city. But continuing throughout the game you notice that this issue does not really get better, in fact on some maps it gets worse. The majority of the time during the campaign is spent fighting in small streets with tight alleyways and considering the game utilizes tanks and tank destroyers, you will grow you despise these clustered cities with every fiber of your being. The problem is alleviated only in the skirmish mode against players and AI but I would have liked to see more varied level design.
Are you dead yet?: The time it takes to kill infantry in the game is borderline unacceptable. It got so bad during a skirmish at one point that five infantry were able to take my armored car down to quarter health with a flamethrower before they finally fell back. . .with three of them still alive. This problem becomes almost rage-quit worthy when you try to fight enemies stationed in buildings. In the first Company of Heroes, you could throw grenades through windows or use satchel charges to blow them out; this not only gave you an option against enemies in buildings, it also made you measure the risk factor in sending troops into the line of fire, but now you have to either damn-near destroy the building or burn it down with a flame thrower. Worse yet, considering that the majority of the maps you play on are cities with a lot of buildings, well, you can see where this becomes a huge issue.
Scripted RTS: Be prepared for scripted events, because there are a metric ton of them in this game. Whether it's a small in-game event where a tank almost destroys your AT gun or a tank driver losing control, this game piles on scripted events to the point where it feels like you're just watching a play acted out. What's really restrictive, however, is how the campaign spoon feeds you parts of the map. Instead of giving you access to the entire map and then telling you what you're objectives are, you have to unlock areas of the map bit by bit before you can beat the levels. I absolutely hated this, especially given the fact that the maps are linear as it is.
Cheesy mechanics: The rest of my issues lay with corny little mechanics like having to make sure your troops don't freeze to death on cold levels and Order 227. Oh, Order 227, how useless you were; basically, Order 227 means that if you tell a unit to retreat back to base, they will be shot by the officer stationed there. This would have been interesting if they used it on certain levels, but it persists throughout the entire game; which, again, would have been fine if they hadn't attached a completely artificial mechanic onto it. On the right side of your screen is a bar, when that bar fill up, Order 227 is given and remains active until the bar depletes. I still can't figure out what causes the bar to fill up, but all I know is that throughout the entire level I hear "Order 227 has been given", "Not one step back!", "Order 227 has been withdrawn". It feels incredibly unnatural.
Along with bad AI pathing and the fact that Relic has done what no one asked for and shifted focus from large armies to troop and vehicles abilities like they did with their poorly received expansions, Company of Heroes 2, in terms of game play, is a significant step backwards(So they will be executed back at base immediately).
5/10 - 'Average'
Story and plot
Spoiler Alert: The Russians win: Considering everyone knows how World War 2 played out, I assumed the player would just be taking to part as a run-of-the-mill Soviet commander on his way to Berlin, so I was surprised by the well written story in this game. It followed a good natured journalist after he was caught trying to defect to the Americans. Each level is accompanied by his stories and the struggles that the Germans and Soviets went through on the Eastern Front. Although the plot of someone telling their story while being interrogated is a bit cliché, it gives a balanced view of Germany and Russia during the war.
7/10 - 'Good'
Dialog and script
Another pleasant surprise, the dialog feels natural, well written and the troop banter is pretty entertaining to listen to. Hearing Soviet troops talk about American mayonnaise on spam sandwiches gave me a pretty good laugh. The main characters talk like you would imagine they would during a war, with the main character lamenting over the horrors he's seen and the commander trying to justify them as being part of the greater good for his country, it offers some convincing dialog I that thoroughly enjoyed.
7/10 - Good
Technical Graphics (Played on a nVidia 670 / i7 Ivy Bridge, performance may vary)
Company of Heroes has always been about the realism factor and that is reflected in its graphics and Company of Heroes 2 has done a general improvement of the textures and graphical effects. There's nothing like seeing massive amounts of dirt kicked up from giant explosions and bullets shredding through the ground or gun fire from an AA half-track slamming into the side of a building. The models look better, the explosions have been reworked to look more convincing; essentially all aspects of the engine have been improved, although I am hearing about some performance issues on other rigs so I can't speak for everyone. There were some graphical glitches like floating bodies and mounted troops flickering in and out so points will be docked due to those issues.
8/10 - 'Great'
Art style and direction
As I said, Company of Heroes stresses realism and the art style is no exception. The art design fits this type of game perfectly, there are no cartoonish features and nothing ridiculous that wouldn't belong in a World War 2 drama. I've always loved that about Company of Heroes; the realistic way that NPCs battle and the fact that the game carries a very convincing graphics engine and art style is what makes Company of Heroes the best choice for a realistic WW2 RTS.
10/10 - 'Perfect'
Again, the cities in this game are cluttered messes that restrict movement and only act to infuriate the player as they try to plunge their way through tiny streets with tanks that are larger than the alleyways. The fact that the maps are cut into sections and unlocked as you progress through the level is also a massive detriment. Overall, the level design just feels bad and I can't think of a logical reason for these type of restrictions, like the developer didn't trust the player and wanted to hold their hand throughout the entire level.
3/10 - 'Bad'
There hasn't been much improvement in the second installment, the machine guns still sound like they're shooting out dull thuds and the small arms still sound a bit too 'Hollywood'; guns don't make clicking sound when you shoot them, well they do, but you can't hear it over the deafening bang. Why can't developers understand this? While the gun sounds could be greatly improved, and probably will be by modders, the explosions and tank shots sound much crisper and are worthy of turning your headphones up for.
6/10 - 'Above Average'
Coming off of the first Company of Heroes, the UI was somewhat recognizable to me. The unit cards have been moved to the center and they give you a pretty neat overview of the currently selected unit, the unit list was moved from the center right to the top right and some of the building options have been slightly rearranged. I won't go as far as to say the user interface was drastically improved(Since there were not many issues with the first games UI to begin with) but there were a few improvements made that I hope they keep around.
I would, however, like a better way to keep track of currently selected units, this is a problem that has persisted since the first game, especially on skirmish and multiplayer maps.
8/10 - 'Great'
As far as aspects like Q & A are concerned, Company of Heroes 2 is certainly a well-built game. Throughout the entire campaign and the few skirmish matches I played, I had not encountered a single non-graphical bug. Unfortunately, this is one of the few areas that CoH2 excels at.
9/10 - 'Exceptional'
There are plenty of features in this game, new multi-player modes and skirmish options, plenty of maps and a decent sized campaign. But I cannot forgive the absolute money grab that was the day-one DLC packages. The fact that it will cost you almost an entire game just to receive all the skins and tactics (Which in my opinion is vital to the game play) is absolutely unacceptable. No company should chop up unit skins into 22 different packs and then remove game tactics and charge $40+ dollars for the entire bundle. I would have even been fine with them including the tactics but keep out 4 or 5 skin packs as DLC, but to have twenty six, TWENTY SIX, different DLC items on launch is the completely wrong direction for SEGA to take and in a lot of ways it makes me regret the death of THQ even more.
But this kind of nickel and diming has become standard in the industry. Want a complete game? That will be $90 please.
5/10 - 'Average'.
All in all, it wasn't a 'bad' game, but it definitely stung, I hope this isn't a preview of the direction Relic is taking or what SEGA is pressuring them to do and instead is just a hiccup that will hopefully be resolved by the next installment. The restrictive maps, shifting focusing onto unit abilities, jarring game mechanics all had me asking 'why?'. Who asked for these things? Considering the reviews of the Company of Heroes expansions, this is the exact opposite direction we wanted the series to take. We wanted more open maps and bigger battles but what we got were claustrophobic maps and smaller battles.
I'm happy Company of Heroes has a pretty dedicated mod community because this game needs a lot of work and unfortunately I don't think Relic will be the ones providing the kind of changes we want.