Company of Heroes 2 review
Pathfinding was also a problem for some of my troops. Had I not intervened when an anti-tank gun’s turret stretched a few metres past an overhang, I think most of the Red Army would still be stranded east of Warsaw. Luckily, these are the only technical problems: the game ran smoothly on mid-range AMD and Intel CPUs, and came with the suite of graphical options you’d expect from such a PC-centric title.
"I was driving the steamroller inexorably closer to Berlin."
Even that weak enemy AI is less of a problem than you’d expect. After the retreats of the campaign’s first third, the Red Army has time to coalesce and push back. For much of the rest of the story I was driving the steamroller inexorably closer to Berlin. Enemies in my path were like locks that I could choose to either smash through or delicately unpick. Against tougher foes, both approaches felt good.
Even better are CoH2’s Theatre of War missions. These are focused fights split into three categories: co-op scenarios, solo challenges and AI battles. Where Isakovich’s campaign story spans 14 missions, the Theatre of War has 18 missions for 1941 alone – the years progress as more battles are won – split between the German and Soviet sides. Where the main campaign can be bloated, these missions are exhilarating in their singular focus and multiple options. I played one solo challenge that asked me to level German buildings with long-range Katyusha rocket trucks supported by a small contingent of troops. On my first go I careened around the map, launching barrages before sacrificing squads to allow the Katyushas to escape. On my second attempt I worked out a solid firing solution and parked up in the middle of the level, able to rain rockety doom down on the marked buildings as my dug-in conscripts kept my Katyushas firing. Both attempts were successful.
"Co-op is Company of Heroes as an aggressive kid’s toybox."
Co-op missions are similarly freeform. Both generals can choose to mix and match similar forces and push together on their objectives, or to coordinate and specialise. This is Company of Heroes as an aggressive kid’s toybox, allowing you to either pull out your favourite soldiers to win the fight your way, or asking you to battle back against almost-overpowering odds in a way the campaign rarely does.
"I’ve already plotted how I’m going to go back and kill the next 250 tiny, pretend people."
I found most of the character and cleverness that was missing from CoH2’s campaign mode in these Theatre of War missions. I found yet more in the game’s multiplayer: replacing the game’s slightly wonky AI with real humans makes for ludicrously tense matches, even if a few tactics – mortar spam, particularly – feel entirely too effective for their own good. Both Theatre of War missions and multiplayer matches feed back into a central character: your own general, an upgradeable fellow who can select his combat bonuses, signature units and vehicle camouflage.
I went for a shock specialist for his ability to field flamethrower tanks: nasty little brutes that can rumble into fortified positions before squirting out jets of fire. Generals have buffs and boosts that can be switched out once you’ve unlocked them – my Soviet Guards now have a 5% health increase after I used the unit to kill 40 Panzer Grenadiers – creating a compulsion loop that means I’ve already plotted how I’m going to go back and kill the next 250 tiny, pretend people.
And despite the niggles and deficiencies I’ve pointed out here, I do want to go back and kill them. CoH2 takes its lessons from history very literally. Like the Red Army it depicts, it wages its war by throwing everything forward at once, and like that Red Army, too many casualties were left to die along the way. It’s sometimes clumsy, a game that can’t maintain all its systems, with too many disparate moving parts to feel consistently coherent. But the final result, despite the small losses along the way, is a winner.
- Expect to pay: £40/$60
- Release: June 25th
- Developer: Relic Entertainment
- Publisher: Sega
- Multiplayer: Up to 4v4
Company of Heroes 2 is the USSR of real-time strategy games: huge, powerful and just a little bit broken.