It's a small tank, but still able to flatten the snow beneath its tracks, power across the field and destroy the machinegun position. Sitting in a giant, obvious-looking tin can carries its own risks, however, and the new fog of war system means that enemy ambushes are a real problem. The tank is burst by sneaky Nazis hidden behind one of the village houses.
Part of the fun of Company of Heroes 2's campaign will be controlling the fight between two vastly different armies. The German troops you'll be struggling with are well-trained, professional soldiers, with the best military technology of the age.
Your Soviet troops make up for their lack of training and crappy equipment with sheer numbers. Your tanks might not be as good, but you have a lot of them. Your men don't have months of training, but there's always more where they came from.
Matthew brings on another, bigger tank. He orders it towards the village alongside his infantry, and they force the Germans to retreat onto a sheet of ice. The tank follows, sliding on the frozen surface as it powers on.
Just as it looks as if the Soviets have the battle won, the sound of an overhead plane is heard. A bomb hits the tank and the screen fades to white, ending the brief demo.
It's a thin slice of what Company of Heroes 2 should feel like to play, but the heart of the first game is there. The new additions, such as the snow, proper line of sight, and more advanced cover system, all feel like natural extensions of the original's tactical combat. It's not radically different, but it's promising.
“Company of Heroes 2 isn't about different,” Quinn says of Relic's return to realistic warfare. “It's about new, and it's about more.” This takes me by surprise. In a world where sequels strive to justify their existence by twisting and warping original concepts, there's something bold about saying upfront that you intend to repeat yourself.
“We tried a number of things,” Quinn says. “In part, it was 'How far can we push it before we lose the essence of what Company of Heroes was?' And we just had an innate sense that things got out the comfort zone of what the game should be, so we started to narrow in.” Relic have resisted the temptation to shoehorn needless modes and mini-games in where they're not welcome. “We want more authenticity, we want more realism, we want tactical improvements...” Quinn sort of half shrugs. “I dunno, I'm bored of the original Company of Heroes,” he says.
Greg Wilson, the game's producer, is incredulous. “Really!?” Quinn verbally backpedals, laughing.
Matthew Berger, another designer, explains the philosophy in contrast to Relic's last sequel: Dawn of War 2.
“Dawn of War 2 was a very big departure, which was to bring newer players in,” he says. “When we started looking at going to Company of Heroes 2, that kind of departure did come up. We were really very clear that we wanted to maintain the core game, and that was a decision we made and that was in part because of Dawn of War 2.”
Greg quickly counters the obvious thought: “Dawn of War 2 is an amazing game, but there were certain things that didn't suit the franchise very well.”
Company of Heroes 2 should, then, satisfy existing fans first and foremost. From looking at the forums, it seems there are plenty of them, although that raises one last question for the team: what happened with Company of Heroes Online?
CoH Online was a free-to-play re-tooling of the original, with most of its campaigns offered for free and an expanded microtransaction-fed multiplayer. It failed to catch fire, and was stomped out suddenly after a protracted beta period. As soon as I ask what happened, a chilly silence descends on the room. After a pause, Greg says that the project was “interesting”, “challenging”, and a lot of lessons were learned. They're clearly not going to expand on that.
With the presentation over, the interview done, I'm hanging around the halls of Relic's offices. The walls are lined with framed articles about their games. Every games company does this. There are previews of Dawn of War and of Space Marine, and on one wall, all eight pages of PC Gamer's review of the first Company of Heroes. It concludes, “This is nothing short of genius.”
There's still a lot about Company of Heroes 2 that Relic aren't ready to show. They haven't decided which missions will be in the final game, because they haven't built them yet. They don't know exactly how Order 227 will impact your troops outside of cutscenes. The game's economy will be tied to territorial control, as per the first game, but they're not yet ready to talk about it in full. If they've decided how multiplayer will work, they're not telling.
But their ambition not to change, but to outstrip the superlative original Company of Heroes, nearguarantees the same thing the Soviet top brass enforced back in the early '40s: not one step back