- Platform PC
- Publisher Sega
- Developer Relic Entertainment
- Release Date 25/06/2013
Company of Heroes 2 Review
For Mother Russia!
“Henceforth the solid law of discipline for each commander, Red Army soldier, and commissar should be the requirement – not a single step back without order from higher command. Company, battalion, regiment and division – commanders and appropriate commissars, who retreat without orders from higher commanders, are betrayers of the Motherland.”
- translated excerpt from Order No. 227, signed by The National Commissar for Defence: J. Stalin
Hearing this order shouted at you by a political officer as you trudged towards the front line would not fill you with confidence. Advance or perish, by the guns of the enemy or by the guns of your comrades.
The Eastern front of World War II was not a place for the feint of heart, nor was it a place for “cowards,” running from certain death. The infamous Order No. 227 ordered that any troops of the Red Army who retreated or did not advance were to be shot as traitors of the Motherland. The rapid advancement of The Third Reich would be halted at Stalingrad, the millions of military and civilian casualties all treated as acceptable losses.
Retaking the ruined city – by sheer strength in numbers – is the your first mission in Company of Heroes 2.
Big Boots To Fill
Relic Entertainment’s Company of Heroes was a breath of fresh air for the RTS genre back in 2006, bringing the WWII franchise back into limelight with unprecedented battlefield control and mechanics. COH was the highest ranked strategy game of all time and lauded as one of the best games of the year, and for good reason. The attention to detail on the battlefield was beyond what we had seen in its predecessors and it gave the historic WWII setting a fresh perspective. Relic took their time with the sequel, and they nailed it.
The tight controls of the battlefield remain largely unchanged, the fine line of hand-holding simplicity and overwhelming complexity being straddled perfectly. If fired upon, your troops will run to cover and return fire while you scramble to position a machine gun emplacement or barrage the enemy with mortars. You can rush in hot and heavy with a tank division and promptly pop them into reverse gear, backing away from the dangerous enemy AT guns while still pounding the nearby ground troops.
The environment of the Eastern front is vastly different from the European theatre, the most startling change being with the weather. Severe snow storms can bog down vehicles, slow down troop movement as they wade through waist deep snow and will even cause your soldiers freeze to death unless you can get them to shelter or the warm embrace of fire. Frozen rivers can be crossed and even used as traps to sink enemy armour with deftly placed explosives. The NKVD officers, the ones that allegedly shot retreating troops, will spawn at your base every time you mobilise conscripts or penal battalions. This addition means to add some further authenticity, but its execution lacks conviction and doesn’t really affect the gameplay.
Waving the Red flag over the Reichstag marks the end of the march on Berlin but it’s at this point that COH2 comes into its element.
The campaign picks up after an hour or so in, the poorly written (and very poorly acted) cutscenes notwithstanding. Lev Abramovich Isakovich is a former lieutenant and political officer who experiences the missions as a series of… flashbacks. Morals are tested as Isakovich witnesses Soviet brutality in an attempt to spark a conflict within the player, but the plastic looking 3D models barely do the subject justice. You might replay the campaign many times, but you’ll only sit through the cumbersome cutscenes once, if at all. The yells and screams of your companies at the front line during gameplay are much more authentic, as are the gruesome piles of bodies and limbs that accumulate around heavily guarded German strongpoints.
While the campaign missions offer a variety of combat scenarios to help train you for the multiplayer maps, it is not until the latter end that you really get to experience the full gamut of artillery, armour, troops and air support. This is not a bad thing, as breaking up the chaotic advance-and-vanquish objectives with more clandestine infiltration (such as the excellent Polish partisan mission “Behind Enemy Lines” and the suspenseful cat and mouse tactics in “Tiger Hunting”) gives a welcome break from hasty micromanagement and lets you hone your skills using specific units while utilising the environment to its full potential.
Waving the Red flag over the Reichstag marks the end of the march on Berlin but it’s at this point that COH2 comes into its element. The Theatre of War mode lets you play a variety of battle scenarios as either the Germans or the Soviets and lets you choose to co-op with a friend, team up with AI or slug it out solo. Timed objectives help keep the pace of the battle high and avoids the RTS trope of building an unstoppable force and unleashing it at your leisure.
The visuals and sound effects portray the brutal atmosphere of the Eastern front like never before, Relic’s proprietary Essence 3.0 engine generating explosion, fire and line of sight never before seen in the genre (with the exception of the original COH of course). Setting a fuel soaked farm field ablaze as German infantry advance across it – and some of your own troops remain defending it – certainly lands you one of those “holy shit” moments. Once you learn how to advance and keep your men mostly alive, this game truly does give you the feeling you are wearing the general’s epaulettes.
Is there revolutionary new direction of RTS with COH2? Not really, but this isn’t a new IP claiming that it is. Relic have taken a masterpiece of battlefield simulation and patiently refined it, and took a risk in portraying the Red Army as a brutal force with little concern for the lives of its conscripts. That portrayal has recently sparked controversy in Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union. The story and concepts may not be 100 per cent accurate, but the experience is engrossing and accessible to everyone, not just RTS wizards that can issue four commands per second.
There are few $60 games that provide such endless gameplay potential, but Company of Heroes 2 is one of that deserves your investment. A masterful refinement of the original, armchair generals will be right at home with one of the best PC titles of this year.