Company of Heroes review
- Stunning graphics
- Amazing sound effects
- Innovative gameplay; like no other RTS out there that I know.
- Action packed
- Mod packs provide with the possibility of more varied game play, and potentially longer shelf-life as well as play time for the game.
- Tactical overhead map is a brilliant and most useful addition once you get used to it.
- Don't need CD to play (but need CD key to install and play online)
Played at the highest detail settings, CoH has an incredible amount of detail. Coupled with the unique tactical strategy, this is really one of the best RTS games to come out in a while (including the likes of AOE III, Civ IV and others, although each of these shouldn't be compared as they are all different types of strategy games.)
- Painfully slow loading times.
 - After recent patches, loading times have been much improved.
- Not a lot of players playing ranked games online, although it is possible to find games to join. (The Relic online service will require lots of tweaking before it reaches the potential this game has to offer in terms of mplay.)
 - This has also been somewhat improved by the recent patches.
- Game length is kind of long. To play a single game you need to put aside up to an hour, and usually no less than 20-30 min.
(Note: I have not played the campaign, and do not intend to. Consequently, the following review is based on Skirmish games vs the computer at all four difficulty levels and a few hours online mplay.)
The first thing that struck me when I loaded up the CoH tutorial are the graphics this game has to offer. For a fully 3D environment, the texture detail is fantastic. As units engage in combat, mortar shells and tanks blast at infantry squads, and AT guns target the tanks, you can clearly see shrapnel, and the bodies of your infantry being blast up several feet into the air, their bodies flexing fluidly as you'd expect in real life. You can't but help admiring the visuals.
Going beyond the graphics, the next thing that is striking about this game is the importance of tactical strategy as opposed to economy management and micromanagement in other RTS titles.
You may play the game as either Allies or Axis; Essentially Americans or Germans. Each of the two factions comes with it's own unique selection of infantry units and it's own armament. The two factions can also choose special abilities from a selection of three different concentrations. In total, the possibility for varying strategies is vast. And as Relic continues patching the game, the balance between infantry and tank use will likely be ironed out (as it is, a majority of games usually end up as tank spam, although this doesn't always have to be the case.)
Each player has an HQ, and can build production buildings within a very limited area around the HQ. There are, however, defensive structures you can build around the map that include bunkers, medical centers, barbed wires, sandbags and others. Overall, the game play will focus more on front line battles than on base building and resource collection.
The maps are then split into "territories", each territory has a "point" that needs to be "captured" ("cap" for short) before the territory comes under your command. Here is where the tactical and resource part of the gameplay comes in. Some territory's cap points are strategic points and provide you with a higher population capacity and a slight increase in manpower (I will discuss the resources briefly.) Other cap points provide you with fuel or munitions. If a territory in your control is not connected to your HQ territory by other territories in your command, that territory is said to be out of supply.
What this means is that, on some maps, caping a certain point will cut off your opponents resource supply from all other territories that connect back to their HQ through it.
To add some depth to the concept of capping territories, your units can build observation posts on cap points. An OP makes the capping of a point more difficult as it: 1) acts as a defensive structure and 2) the OP needs to be destroyed before the point can be recaptured. Building an OP also increases the amount of resources that cap point provides you.
Coming back to resources, there are three: Manpower, munitions and fuel. Manpower is needed for basically everything, munitions are needed for upgrading your units and using special abilities (like calling in air strikes or throwing grenades), and fuel is needed to make motor units (e.g. tanks and jeeps) and for certain building/unit upgrades.
So how do you collect resources? You don't. Resources are given to you as a constant influx. i.e. every minute you will gain 260 manpower, or 5 fuel, etc. The amount of resources you gain/minute depends on your territories. Some cap points will give you +5 fuel/minute, for example, or the more difficult points in the center of the map will give +16 fuel/minute.
So "economy management" effectively translates into map control. Which, in turn, translates to more time spent focusing on controlling your units out on the battle fields.
Finally, before concluding this review, I'll give a brief commentary on the concept of gameplay. There is a certain level of realistic combat strategy in the game. For example, units can take cover, and there are three different levels of cover a unit can have: A squad can have no cover, light cover, or heavy cover. This is easy to know because as you move your units you will see colored dots to indicate first, the level of cover your units will have, and second, where your units will be positioned around that cover.
Flanking also plays an important role, as does distance. So, to put all these together, the game dynamics work as follows: The closer a unit is, the more fast and easy a time they will have killing other units, or the more accurate they will be. If a unit is being attacked from two sides it will die faster. Tanks will take minimal damage if hit on their front side, where the armor is heavy, but more damage if hit from the side or the back, where the armor is most vulnerable. Units garrisoned in buildings will be harder to kill. And, a unit that is generally of a lower firepower can beat a better armed unit if it is in better cover.
In conclusion, CoH is a very refreshing game on the field of RTS gaming battles. The realism of the game extends beyond the graphics, but are also apparent in gameplay dynamics and the full interactivity of all obstacles on the map (walls can be run down, buildings destroyed, the ground gets leveled under powerful mortar/tank shell attacks, bodies will fly, etc) and even to the sound (units come in over radio if you are selecting them from off map, etc.)
For the micromanaging strategy fanatics, this game still has a lot to offer, and for the players who like strategy (tactical strategy at least) but don't appreciate the hassle of macro and economy management, this game should be even more appealing.
It's been a long time since I've been tempted to buy a game after borrowing it or playing a demo, and I must say this game has left me happily satisfied. Although it can be frustrating sometimes to play 2 or 3 games only to realize 3 hours of my day have been shot, the two or three hours are loaded with fun.
Even if you are not willing to purchase the game, you should definitely download the demo or borrow it from a friend. If this game is not be worth the buy for you personally, it is definitely worth the try.
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