Company of Heroes still plays like The Most Horrifying War Movie You've Ever Seen: The Game. Now Relic are beginning a new campaign, taking their 2006 RTS classic, and rebuilding it for 2010's online audience. For free. This year, publisher THQ will be hosting the game as a free-to-play download, funded with item purchases. It's currently available for free in Korea. It will be free-to-play in the US before the end of 2010, with a European release to follow.
That doesn't mean it has become any softer or easier. In fact, the new Company of Heroes Online delivers even more depth and even more complexity than ever before. We've been playing the Korean version of the game relentlessly. And there's one realisation we've come away with: we'd be nowhere without paratroopers.
Here's an example. We're in the final stages of the fight. The only units left on the field are tanks. They prowl through every street, circling and outmanoeuvring their foe, looking for that elusive chance to fire a shell into their weak rear armour. For all their power, tanks can't win the match. The all important victory points need to be captured by infantry, and the decisive point on this particular map now lies unclaimed. I need to get it back.
At a fairly hefty resource cost I give the order, and down come the paratroopers, in a storm of silk and Yankee smack talk.
It's a suicide mission, of course, but I get a few moments of grace before the German bombing run starts. Relentless, earth shattering strikes begin to lay waste to the area. When it clears, the Paratroopers are all dead, but the all important victory point has turned blue. They've capped the point. The bastards did it.
Whether it's your division commander, or the new new army items and hero units gifted by random drops after every battle, the additions made by Company of Heroes Online are all about specialisation. Army items are assigned to your base before a fight, and can grant general buffs to certain types of troop, making your tanks move quicker, for example, or improving the accuracy of your Riflemen. Hero units, meanwhile, are unique special units that gain experience on the battlefield, earning new abilities every time they level up. These abilities vary from a simple increase in sight radius to, in one case, an Axis Halftrack that can self destruct on command to cover an area in flame.
In combination, commander abilities, army items and hero units can be used to tune your army to fit your preferred style of play, making your favoured strategies more powerful. Let's say you're looking to dominate the early game and set up impenetrable defences to stave off the late tanks rush. Take an Infantry commander for faster infantry deployment and access to better defences, slot in army items that increase the durability of your infantry and recruit heroic Engineer and Riflemen units to the field. If, like me, you favour fast response and suicidal charges for victory points, then go for air command.