Company of Heroes 2 review
The burden of history weighs particularly heavily on the early quarter of the campaign. With the Germans pushing into Russia, the Soviet forces are in full retreat, meaning many missions aren't won so much as vacated. One asks you to flee the map, burning villages as you go. Another cast me into one final Soviet-held capture point with a broken and scattered force, before flashing up my next objective: ‘hold out against waves of enemies: 0/10’. I managed to hold out against a glorious zero waves on my first go, and as my men were pulverised and the screen faded to black, I planned how better to spread them out to hold the line. I was surprised to see the words ‘mission complete’. It certainly didn’t feel that way.
But there is glory here, and there are heroes. Company of Heroes 2’s quieter missions are its most memorable. One level in Polish territory gave me control of a super-sniper and a few squads of her resistance chums. Unlike most squads, the snipers would hold fire until directly ordered to shoot, making traversing the Polish forests a pleasingly efficient military exercise: move one set of snipers to the treeline to provide cover for another leapfrogging duo, before destroying an enemy squad with six carefully aimed bullets fired in a single devastating salvo.
"there is glory here, and there are heroes."
Another level deposited me and a handful of ill-equipped conscripts in a freezing town, asking us to take down a near-indestructible Tiger tank with ingenuity and planning. This mission made good use of Company of Heroes 2’s true line-of-sight: without eyes on my tanky target, I was left bumbling around in the cold. After a few of my squad were squished under its 70-tonne tracks, I began to lay down tripwires and traps. Eventually crippling the big bastard caused a real-life fistpump, a gesture repeated when I got to shoot its driver, commandeer it, patch it up and drive it home. These levels show CoH2’s moving parts working to drive the war machine forwards.
They don’t always do that, though. The game is loaded with half-explained and unintuitive systems. Four resources – manpower, fuel, munitions and population cap – determine whether you’ll be able to call in new troops and vehicles. Of these, I ran out of munitions most regularly, using the red-coloured numbers to perform special abilities such as launching sniper flares or sending IL2 fighter-bombers on strafing runs. Too often I sat around outside enemy encampments, waiting for my munitions to tick up to the point I could destroy my opponents in one barrage, rather than pick my way through a fortified position on foot.
"The game is loaded with half-explained and unintuitive systems."
Conscripts come in three distinct flavours: fresh ones are flimsy meat shields; Frontivik conscripts can be outfitted with close-range SMGs and Molotov cocktails; and penal battalions are almost the equal of trained soldiers. Calling conscripts into battle also furnishes your home base with a commissar for a time. Retreat a broken unit back to your home base with this commissar active, and he’ll shoot the deserters – an act that, for some crazy reason, increases your progress toward unlocking better conscripts.
Relic want you to jettison the remnants of battered squads, trading them off for better upgrades as the mission goes on, but the process isn’t properly explained or justified. It’s completely counterintuitive, the kind of design decision that should’ve been summarily shot in the head at an early stage in development: especially when the layout of some bases meant my cowardly retreaters were able to hide behind buildings to stay out of the commissar’s eyeline and avoid the death penalty.
There are other niggles. Penal battalion soldiers have satchel charges by default, and can be outfitted with rifle grenades at your home base. Both abilities are set to E. Pressing the hotkey in battle seemed to select one of the abilities at random, so that if I wanted to pop a tank with an infantry crew, I’d have to locate the squad I needed, click the ability and place the charge – all with the mouse – by which point the tank I was trying to destroy had usually spotted me fiddling with my explode-o-bag and buggered off.
"CoH2’s AI is a bit suspect."
That’s if it was able to process that much information. CoH2’s AI is a bit suspect, leading to some confusing scenarios. I’m no expert in mechanised warfare, but I don’t think the Wehrmacht’s primary tank tactic on spotting enemy vehicles was to jam their steel charges into high gear and trundle towards the foe like affectionate puppies, stopping a few metres short with their thinly-armoured arse flapping in the freezing breeze.
It almost makes sense for the Germans’ heavier tanks to perform such ramming manoeuvres, but then the little tank destroyers have a tendency to do it too. German soldiers display a similar level of battlefield awareness, struck by a Wehrmacht-wide case of short-term memory loss. Grenadiers will hit the ground as one of their number is shot in the neck by a sniper, only to pop back out of cover a minute later, having forgotten about the leaking corpse that used to be Jürgen lying in the dirt next to them.