Road to Moscow
World War Two has had so much written about it and has been displayed in every form of media ever since the war ended in 1945. Video games are no exception and in fact, World War Two has been one of the most used scenarios for gaming. The various geographical regions involved in the war mean that there are countless battles to relive. The original Company of Heroes took place along the Western Front and Normandy with gamers controlling US forces. Company of Heroes 2 takes us to the other end of Europe, to the wintry landscape of the Eastern Front in Russia as gamers take control of the Russian army under heavy attack from the might of the stampeding German army.
Company of Heroes 2 is a real-time strategy game which focuses on the Eastern Front campaign as narrated through flashbacks by Lev Abramovich Isakovich, a Soviet Army lieutenant being held captive by his own superiors. His previous commanding officer interrogates him about his experiences during the war, indicating that he was once a patriotic Russian, but all seemed to have changed over the course of the war. The story itself is told through cut-scenes between missions and is a rather interesting one. But as is often the case with war, it is a sad story. During the flashback tales, it quickly becomes apparent that Isakovich has become disillusioned with the war, not because of how it was proceeding, but because of the tactics used by the commanders of the Red Army. The leaders would do anything to halt the marauding Fascists, even if it meant sending men to their deaths, or even killing those that were running to escape the bloodshed.
But as compelling as the story is, it is often forgotten once the action starts. Each of the early missions introduces various gameplay elements, letting you gradually learn the tricks of the trade. There is a tutorial mode, but it is mostly a video tutorial which gives you some theoretical knowledge but only has one basic sample mission to work through. So having a couple of simple early campaign missions is quite handy. Unit types are gradually introduced, so you can work out what each is specifically good at. There are quite a few unit types to get used to as you progress through the game. Each unit is grouped into small squads which make them quite easy to manage. Of course, each of the unit types has their advantages and disadvantages depending on the terrain and the opponents present. One of my favourites was the sniper. The sniper squad is less affected by the cold climate (more on that later) and has a larger viewing range and shooting distance. But they only work in small squads, meaning that once they are sighted by the enemy they become vulnerable, especially in close quarters combat. Standard Conscripts on the other hand, are better at hand to hand combat and can attack armoured vehicle with their grenades, but struggle if they spend too long out in the cold weather.
Getting your troops from one place to another works really well in Company of Heroes 2. For the most part, the squads travel the exact route that I would expect them to take. If they meet resistance along the way, they will shoot back rather than simply continuing their route further into dangerous territory. Each of the unit types are outfitted with different weaponry, and some can only pick up certain ‘upgrades’ throughout the course of the battle. Each of the squad types has their own skill set as well, although many require the use of resources that can be gained from holding Victory Points or from killing enemy units. Resources are also required if you need to send in reinforcements. Although the resources are required for a range of aspects, there is never the feeling that you have to seek resources separate from the main mission goals.
It’s a bit chilly out there
Although there are a range of unit types, ranging from infantry to mobilised vehicles, one of the toughest opponents the Germans found when fighting along the Eastern Front wasn’t human. It came in the form of the harsh wintry conditions. Weather has been included as a gameplay element in Company of Heroes 2, as the freezing temperatures take their toll on both sides of the war. Units that spend time exposed to the elements are negatively affected. Spend too much time exposed and the units will start to freeze to death. Making sure that your troops are sheltered or near a campfire can be almost as important as destroying the enemy.
Wonderful musical score sets the sombre tone of war. Decent story - for a Real-Time Strategy.
The tutorial is mostly videos showing what to do. An elongated tutorial mission would have worked better. Zooming in on units makes planning troublesome.