Sunday, December 17, 2006
Company of Heroes
Company of Heroes is a visually stunning real-time strategy game that depicts all the violent chaos of World War II with uncommon intensity. Set during the invasion of Normandy toward the end of the war, Company of Heroes takes its cues from Saving Private Ryan, by portraying both the sheer brutality of the war as well as the humanity of its combatants. Many other recent WWII games have also drawn influence from Steven Spielberg's landmark film, but Company of Heroes is even more graphic. This and the game's highly authentic-looking presentation are its distinguishing features, and it boasts some frantic, well-designed strategic and tactical combat to match. Company of Heroes trades a wide breadth of content for an extremely detailed look at WWII-era ground combat, and its action is so fast paced that it's best suited for the reflexes of an experienced RTS player. So if you're unfazed by these implied setbacks, you'll find that this latest real-time strategy game from the developers of Homeworld and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is one of the most dramatic and exciting examples in years.
Provided you have a powerful-enough system and graphics card to appreciate the visuals in Company of Heroes, you'll quickly be struck by the level of detail depicted in the game. Infantry move in teams, darting from cover to cover. They may be ordered to occupy any building on the map, and you'll see them shutter the doors and take aim out the windows. Vehicles are shown to scale, so tanks and other armored vehicles look big and imposing, and, indeed, they are. Infantry seem almost helpless against tanks, and you'll hear the men screaming as tank shells explode around them, sending bodies flying, while lucky survivors dive out of the way. Yet by attacking a tank's vulnerable sides and rear armor with explosives, it's possible to turn the tables on these lumbering threats...turning one of the most basic confrontations in Company of Heroes into a thrilling cat-and-mouse game, much more than a typical clash between a couple of RTS units. What's more, the battlefields themselves have at least as much character to them as the various infantry squads and vehicles as your disposal. The quaint French towns that are the set pieces of many of the game's skirmishes truly look as if a war was waged there once the battle is done, since buildings will catch fire and collapse, telephone lines will topple, blackened craters will appear in the wake of artillery blasts, and more. These changes aren't just cosmetic, either. Those blast craters provide cover for your infantry, while the ruined husks of blown-up tanks might interfere with a machine gunner's line of fire.
The game focuses on the Allies' invasion of German-occupied Normandy in 1944, specifically on close-quarters skirmishes between infantry and armor. Company of Heroes presents a number of novel twists to real-time strategy conventions, but at heart this game works like other RTS games do, by putting you in charge of base construction, resource gathering, and tactical command of various military forces in an effort to defeat the opposition. The game includes a good-sized single-player campaign spanning more than a dozen missions, in which Able Company lands on Omaha Beach on D-Day, liberates a number of key towns and strategic points, disrupts German supply lines and secret weapons, and finally helps crush the remnants of the Nazi war machine in France. It's an exciting campaign, tied together with cutscenes and mission briefings coming from a variety of voices, which creates a few threads that help tie the missions together. In addition to the campaign, you can play skirmish matches with up to seven computer-controlled players on a series of different maps, and you can also jump online into the proprietary Relic Online service to challenge other players in ranked and unranked matches. The Relic Online service is a cut above most similar offerings, and lets you easily find a ranked match against players of similar skill or host a match with your own custom settings.