Company of Heroes 2 Review (PC)

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The original Company of Heroes is a real time strategy game set in World War II that was, on release, praised for its polish, intelligent combat mechanics and robust multiplayer mode. Now that we at MCMBuzz have got our hands on the highly anticipated sequel, does Company of Heroes 2 live up to the standard of its predecessor? In short, while it’s not a vastly different experience, it delivers more of what made the first game so addictive and widely praised.

Company of Heroes 2 takes the story of its single player campaign and focuses it on the Western front and the Soviets fighting off the Nazi invasion of Russia during World War II. The story can get pretty dark at times and the nature of those battles does mean that in many cases you win battles through the sheer number of troops you have (which results in a majority being killed for victory). This move to the Western front changes up some aspects of the way you have to play the game, as well as introducing new environmental effects that reflect the highly challenging nature of an attempted invasion of Russia during the winter.

The gameplay centres around an action heavy blend of squad management and resource allocation. You move your troops into position, give them a target and an attack mentality (like attacking constantly or defending a specific mark) and then manage where to use resources like grenades or where to deploy new troops to replace those who die. The combat rarely lets up, forcing you to dart around the map managing situations as they unfold, and this gives the game a very frantic and action packed pace.

COH2 has had a really nice visual overhaul since the first game. The in-engine visual effects and art design are wonderful, everything runs smoothly on my mid range PC and the new map uncovering mechanic works really nicely. Rather than uncovering black areas of the map via a circular radius around the character, you instead uncover areas that your soldiers can actively see, meaning that you can’t automatically see what’s around every corner in the darkness until you’ve turned that corner. This adds a nice element of tension to uncovering the map, just because you never know when you’re about to stumble into a group of enemy soldiers requiring you to change up your strategy on the fly.

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The only visual disappointment is the game’s cutscenes, which stray deep into the Uncanny Valley. Much like the animated film The Polar Express, characters have this weird aura about them where they look almost real, but subtle issues visually and with their movement make the fact they’re unreal super apparent. The visuals just didn’t look right in cutscenes, in stark contrast to how good the game looks in-engine.

There have been some minor tweaks to the way established troop types play in the new game too. Snipers are now only invisible when stationary, rather than when moving and several troop types can now hop over small walls on maps. These changes are fairly minor, but they do close up some minor exploits and open up new avenues to victory that were not previously possible and will need to be kept in mind for competitive play.

The biggest change to the gameplay this time around is not a change with the troops, but rather environmental effect additions. As the campaign takes place in Russia during the depths of winter, both the single player campaign and multiplayer maps see an increased focus on the limiting effects of sub zero temperatures. There’s snow that limits your movement speed, blizzards that not only limit your field of vision but also freeze your troops to death, and frozen rivers that can take damage and break, significantly changing the flow of gameplay. When that blizzard rolls in do you head for shelter nearby or risk your men’s lives for a chance at taking a critical position on the map? Do you go the long way around a river in your tank or cross it, unsure if it will take your weight, or is someone going to blow up the ice and sink your tank? There are several ways these elements change up the game, helping it to feel like more than just a new reason to shoot people.

One thing that’s a shame is that it doesn’t feature any kind of tutorial. While the game does a good job of teaching basic tactics with its initial missions, it does nothing to explain either the fundamental controls or how the user interface works, and I could not find this information in any of the menus. While this will not be an issue for returning players, newbies may need to look up the controls online before playing, or face a few missions of frustration while they mash buttons and keys working out the basics.

Company of Heroes 2 is more Company of Heroes in the best possible way. It makes some interesting changes for returning fans while maintaining the polish of the original. The only complaints are the barrier to entry for new players and the oddly plastic looking cut scenes.

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