Saturday, December 15, 2007

Company of Heroes

Tech Info:

Publisher: THQ
Developer: Relic
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: Sep 13, 2006

System requirements:

Windows XP or Vista
DirectX 9.0c
3.0 GHz Intel Pentium IV or equivalent
256 MB NVIDIA GeForce(tm) 6800 series or better
6.5 GB of uncompressed free hard drive space (We recommend having 1 gigabyte of free space after installation)

Graphics & Sound:
Company of Heroes for the Windows Company of Heroes is brought to us from Relic, makers of Homeworld and the stellar Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, and industry stalwart THQ. This game has garnered quite a lot of buzz from its showing at E3, and has come through with rave reviews upon its release.

Graphically, COH is stunning. Not only are there all the latest high-tech advances like dynamic lighting, shadows, real-time physics, shading and more, but you also have rag doll physics (Havok Engine) and fully destructible environments. Got a sniper bugging you across the way? Just throw a satchel charge into the nearest window and problem solved. The attention to detail is also just staggering. You can zoom right into the action, seeing the various gear and facial expressions of your men, as well as the battle scars on your vehicles, the craters, burning embers and lovely ricochets in the ensuing mayhem. Imagine Call of Duty realism in a RTS folks - it’s that good. I would literally set-up Skirmish mode (along with a handy cheat) to set-off some gargantuan explosions, ripping enemy soldiers limb from limb, cartwheeling into the air in pieces and landing all over the European countryside. Glorious.

Speaking of the terrain, the various locales your brave troops face off in are modeled on the real historical places your grandparents fought in. The impressive city environments offer a bevy of church towers, quaint cottages and industrial works. Some maps are wider open, such as the bucolic farmlands, dotted with barns and windmills, or the quagmire of hedgerows, making every advance a slow and treacherous endeavor.

In the sound department, this game has some very impressive features. The various weapon and explosive effects are 100% spot on. The 50.caliber machine gun has that famous staccato “thump-thump-thump”, while the deadly MG42 has the steady “brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpppp” effect because of the much higher rate of fire. The same can be said for the explosive rockets, small-arms fire and more. You even get a wide range of “colorful” (in the adult sense) responses from both sides, as they scream for help, or harangue your orders. Just another touch to bring this battlefield to new heights of vibrancy. Lastly, the orchestral war-themed tunes are matched well with missions and conditions, and hold up well amongst the other visual and auditory treats.

Company of Heroes for the Windows In Company of Heroes, most people will dive into the Campaign mode and be busy for a few days grinding through the 15 splendid and varied missions. Unlike most RTS's, you don’t have to send out gatherers (like wood cutters, etc.). You have a few men at the start, and maybe a pre-made base, but the manpower, fuel and ammo points come after capturing various strategic points, not unlike in Dawn of War. This constant tug-of-war between the important resource nodes provides a rather dynamic battlefield, as opposed to the classic “zerg” attack used by amassing a ton of troops at your base, and then finally launching out in a huge wave of destruction. In COH, you have to constantly micro-manage the building of defensive structures, forward bases, armor and more to keep the attack going. Some missions will take you from the infamous meat grinder of Omaha beach, to the port city of Cherbourg, and even an enemy V-2 rocket installation, where you must overtake it with only limited airborne troops. Before each level, you are treated to beautiful CG intro, as well as in-game graphics that link together the story of your brave men on the advance. In the middle of most missions, you will also be given tactical map instructions, complete with a host of arrows, markers and oral objectives to complete - really slick stuff! The missions scale up from very minute in scope, so that you get a handle on all aspects of gameplay, from basic troop management, to the complexities of resource control and utilizing one of three core strategies. The latter really offer an interesting wrinkle to the gameplay.

Each strategy employs a different arm of the military; the Airborne strategy uses airdropped infantry, guns, supplies and air power (recon, strafing and bombing runs from P-40 Thunderbolts). The Army or infantry doctrine is all about artillery, expert Rangers and so forth. Lastly, the Armor strategy focuses on the “kings of the battlefield” (aka tanks) and allows for a rocket tank, as well as the mighty Pershing to be called into the fray. Each of these actions costs valuable points, so knowing when to play these special cards is critical.

Units are pretty expansive and range from your typical infantry squads, to the impressive 105mm howitzers that can move whole mountainsides with destructive fury. Most units can receive upgrades such as anti-tank capabilities, flamethrowers, armor skirts, bigger guns and so on. Once again, these don’t come free; so keep on eye on those resources. The way units behave and react is also pretty amazing. The A.I. in this game is really remarkable. Soldiers under mortar fire will huddle into bomb craters or behind sandbags. Armor crews will cry out when they see indestructible German Tiger tanks prowling the field, and must work to the rear for any chance of survival. A single sniper can demoralize a whole unit, as it picks off soldiers one by one, while slipping back into the shadows. Not since Close Combat have I seen A.I. modeled so well.

There is also Skirmish mode versus both human and A.I. opponents. You can choose from a large amount of maps, for up to 2-8 players, and provide for an unlimited amount of replay value. Especially against another person, the tactics can vary wildly from defensive-minded opponents who will set up a bevy of bunkers, barb wire and static field guns, versus the assault-minded foes, who will crash fully laden half-tracks into your positions, filled to the brim with gun-toting grunts. You can play in Annihilation mode (all bases/enemies dead), or go for the faster Objective based, where you have to secure various victory points in order to win.

Company of Heroes for the Windows On the default mode, the A.I. is rather tough. Couple this with the micro-management and aggressive gameplay and many new to the RTS may be overwhelmed. Luckily, you have a couple easier difficulty options (as well as some suicidal ones for veterans) and with a really well thought out tutorial, I don’t see much of an issue here. If Relic could have offered more autonomous options for some units, it would cut down on the micro-management aspect, because often times, you may be on one side of the map trying to construct elaborate defense, with machine-gun bunkers, tank traps and mines, while on another front you are getting railed, because you didn’t set-up your anti-tank gun in exactly the right position. This became especially evident in the “defend the hill mission”, where you have to withstand some serious enemy armor and infantry advances.

Game Mechanics:
Company of Heroes for the Windows The camera system is smooth and can fully zoom into the thick of any action. At times though, if you swing up to view the skyline and oncoming enemy forces, there is quite a bit of slowdown with all the action taking place. Other than that, the controls are pretty basic from the heavy mouse click and hot key system of your typical RTS game, and Relic improves upon the formula nicely.

Company of Heroes is an amazing title, with jaw-dropping graphics, physics and sound, with intense gameplay and deep, never-ending multiplayer action. This might be in my top 10 PC games of all time list; it most definitely climbed to the top of my strategy list. If you are any kind of fan of war games, strategy or just have a pulse and a PC, you would be moronic not to get this title.

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