Company of Heroes 2 preview
When the mission loads, the camera is zoomed in on a small squad of five dapper Soviets. Their coats are flapping in the wind, and their feet are buried in snow. For shivering conscripts, they look great: just a little shy of the detail you might expect from a third-person action game, and way beyond the visual fidelity most real-time strategy games offer.
Matthew pulls the camera back, showing more of the area. He has a couple of other squads under his control. As he selects them, mortar shells strike. One of his soldiers is sent flying by the blast. When the smoke clears, some of the thick snow has been blown away.
This is one of CoH2’s technical marvels. You can’t make a game about the Eastern Front and not have snow, but this isn’t just a flat, white texture. This snow has depth, will spread procedurally, and will compact when rolled over by tanks. It changes the way you think about the battlefield: tanks can get bogged down in deep snowdrifts, infantry can use it to flank. It provides a blanket of cover for the land’s actual terrain. It does everything short of lemon-flavoured snowcones.
Matthew orders his men onto the road, where the snow is thinner and they can move faster. It’s a good plan, until a soldier steps on a landmine. Matthew orders them off again. Up ahead, German soldiers take positions behind a farm wall and start firing at the Soviets, who are now trying to sprint in deep snow.
There’s nothing to take cover behind here. Matthew sacrifices a few men to engage the Germans, and sends the rest of his squads to flank the enemy from the east. When they reach the wall, Matthew opens a hole in it using explosives, then orders a flamethrower soldier to start incinerating Nazis.
The flame effects get even better when Matthew directs them towards the farmhouse itself. The building catches fire, the snow on its roof begins to melt, and its walls collapse as the Germans inside flee. Matthew has taken control of the position.
Avoiding deep snow, flanking around cover, using equipment to blow holes in walls, destroying buildings... this small skirmish contains much of what made the original CoH so compelling when it forced players to improvise their tactics based on the environment.
Matthew orders his Soviet soldiers to a wall at the back of the farmhouse. Like everything else this wall can be destroyed, but before the Germans have the chance, Matthew orders his men to vault over it. That’s new.
In the next field, our comrades run up against a German machinegun position. They’re pinned down with no cover. The game switches to an in-engine cutscene, where a soldier gives the order to retreat, and the men turn to flee. Another machinegun is waiting for them. This one is operated by fellow Soviet soldiers. They glumly open fire, carrying out Order 227 and killing their own.
When the cutscene is over, Matthew is given control of two new squads of Soviets. This time, he makes his own cover by dropping a smoke grenade. As he does so, a fog of war effect greys out the area on the other side.
Relic call this ‘True Sight’, and it’s another of CoH2’s new additions. You can only see what your soldiers can see. That means that you never know what might be on the other side of the next building, beyond the treeline, or even beyond the smoke of your own smoke grenades.
While the smoke provides cover, Matthew again orders his men to flank across the deep snow. The machinegun is still in position, ready to rain hot death down on any squishy Soviets out in the open, but luckily, Matthew now has a plan. His plan is a tank.