Company of HeroesWhen I first heard about Company of Heroes, it was many a year ago, and I had been rather dismissive of it at. Eventually I found a free copy of the game, and decided to pop in in and see what the fuss was about. My only regret was not playing this game sooner. Yet again, I found myself in love with a RTS game.
Haven't heard of CoH? Well, in 2006, THQ and Relic released this game, which follows the events of World War II, as the player commands one of two companies throughout the single player campaign.
The first thing that stood out was the immense detail in the graphics. Now of course, graphics alone don't make a game good. In fact, developers focusing too much on graphics will likely end up with a lower overall quality of a game (exhibit A: Crysis). The sheer amount of detail was astonishing, especially for a game from 2006. Terrain scarring from explosives and artillery/tank rounds, fires, rubble, and the physics that made many aspects of it all so much more believable, were all part of the brilliant visual experience.
The next thing that stood out was the voice acting. Granted, I've seen (rather, heard) better voice acting in games, but this is still quite up there in believable voices. The sarcastic humour of many of your units, and their well executed reactions to in-game events (such as being shot at), contributed to setting the atmosphere of a war during a battle, or during moments of no fighting.
Then, as I started playing more and more, I got familiar with the gameplay. The user interface is simple enough, and hotkeys are always a major plus, especially for more serious multiplayer users. You gain experience over time, and as your company builds and kills, but thankfully, it isn't enough of a feature for me to consider this game to have any form of RPG element to it. It is more of a reward for doing things, but you quickly max out. As with any RTS, the selection and issuing of orders for your units is quite standard. Select and click. However, once I started moving my units around, I began to notice the behaviour of my infantry. They would favour a path of better cover, when travelling somewhere, as long as the cover isn't too far off their course. During fights, they would also do this, moving up and towards cover, wherever possible (they would still remain relatively close by, unless ordered otherwise).
As I played, and had access to more and more units, I found that the sound effects were also quite amazing. Explosions, impacts, demolitions, and collapsing buildings had a good amount of detail in them. Good, not great. Regardless, a decent pair of headphones or a sound system would be a perfect combination with this game. One effect I liked was the transition from normal voices, to voices with radio effects on your units, depending on whether you could see them on your screen, or if they were off, and somewhere else on the map.
Eventually, I also discovered that the proper use of tactics while playing will make a massive difference. For example, a unit attacking another unit will only do so much damage per unit of time. However, the more you flank your enemy, the more damage can be dealt. If you can move your units closer, and provide them with cover, their effectiveness also improves. This feature is a major step up from many RTS games, where the amount of damage inflicted will always remain the same, regardless of distance, or flanking.
As I progressed, the storyline tickled my fancy. I didn't feel as if this was another generic war game, and the cutscenes really drew me in emotionally. Like the voice acting, I've seen better, but it was still well above average, so as far as I am concerned, it's still a major plus.
If I could badmouth this game about one thing, it would be the music. Perhaps I am being picky, but for me, a good choice of music will always improve the atmosphere and experience of a game. The music choice was appropriate for a wartime setting, of course, but I hardly noticed it. Perhaps that was to allow the player to concentrate more, but for me, it felt as if there was no music at all, most of the time. Naturally, there's a fine line between enough music, and overpowering music, but this line was never even approached, which was a bit of a downer. It would have also been nice to have more intuitive, variable music. That is, music that changes with the events of the game. Unfortunately, the same music was used over and over, on a loop. Sure, it did its job, but only just. Music for battles, tension, and 'safe' times would have made a significant improvement to the feel of the game. I will note, however, that certain sections of the game, such as the ending cutscene and credits, had good music in it.
I briefly touched on it in the voice acting section, but I will mention it again...The humour in this game was perfect. It's the kind of dark, and/or sarcastic humour you would expect from a war setting, but there are also moments where the units speak directly to you as a player. Repeatedly clicking on many of your units, especially infantry, will eventually cause them to say something appropriate (or inappropriate, as the case may be). "What the *bleep* do you want?", "You click me one more time, and I will *bleep*ing smoke you", and so on. Games rarely make me burst out laughing, but those comments were so sudden, and out of the blue, that I couldn't think of how else to react!
Of course, trust Relic to develop a wonderful game, packed with many features. I believe Company of Heroes was the first of many games to incorporate a lot of its AI features, such as the intuitive movement of units to cover. While the AI for other aspects, such as enemy units, aren't as good as they could have been, I wouldn't consider it an overly negative aspect.
In conclusion, yet another (relatively) old game that I would recommend buying. I look forward to CoH 2.