Back in 2006 the gaming world was introduced to Company of Heroes, an RTS which brought tactical gameplay to the forefront of the RTS genre. Now, Company of Heroes 2 is looking to have the same impact that it did six years ago. games.on.net attended THQ’s booth during E3, and while we couldn’t get any hands-on time with the game, we were treated to a very solid fifteen minutes of gameplay.
Creative Director Quinn Duffy explained during the game’s opening sequence that Relic Entertainment were building COH2 on their new ‘Essence Engine 3’, a revamped version of the engine used in Dawn of War II. The graphics we were seeing impressed me right from the start, and naturally raised the question of performance on low-end systems. I asked Duffy, and he noted that the engine features a new renderer, which should ease any extra trials slower rigs will face. Hopefully he’s right, because for an RTS, COH2 is looking really good. It will be a feat to see this game run on anything more than two or three years old.
The portion of gameplay we were treated to took place in 1942. Russians and German forces clashed in this demo, giving us a bloody – and accurate – portrayal of the Eastern Front during World War II. Duffy explained that they wanted to provide a high level of immersion for the player through this title, and one of the ways they were attempting to do that was with their ‘Truesight’ mechanic. The demo player we were watching ran into a grouping of trees, and surprisingly, the fog of war RTS players have become accustomed to became jumbled and discombobulated. In Company of Heroes 2, the player can only see what the units see. Duffy said that many RTS games would arbitrarily place a field of vision around your soldiers, and that Relic wants to change that standard.
While some of the other mechanics like improvements to the cover system and some ‘stealth’ gameplay didn’t really stand out, the one thing that did catch my eye was the ability to destroy parts of the environment. At one point during the demo, Russian forces had to break into a German encampment. The fortifications used to defend this base were wooden walls, inside of which was a log cabin. The Russian forces sent some of their men to the front gate as a diversion, while another regiment was sent on a more specialized mission to breach the compound’s walls via explosives. The result was dead German infantry.
Some of the survivors retreated inside the log cabin. This is where the flamethrower comes in to play. The Russian forces torched the wooden abode, forcing the Germans to either run out of the front door and be killed, or stay inside and endure a fiery demise.
We then jumped to another part of the demo, focused on pinning and suppression mechanics, using area-based and dynamic cover to traverse the battlefield. For the purposes of the demo, the Russian players units were being suppressed. A cinematic cut in at this point, and the Russians abandoned the fieldin a cowardly retreat. Under Joseph Stalin’s infamous Order 227, this was punishable by death. After a warning from the squad’s commander, the troops were ruthlessly gunned down by their own comrades, lending credence to Relic’s claim that COH2 is indeed both bloody and historically accurate. The brutality on display was not off-putting though, for me at least. I feel that in this sense, it’s better for the player to be aware of just how traumatic combat can be. This was a real order, carried out by real soldiers in a real war – not some fake scenario.
Finally, some vehicle gameplay was shown. There really wasn’t much on display, but we did learn some new things: for one, the player can commandeer abandoned vehicles such as tanks. Obviously, this means that their enemies can, too, but it creates a sense of dynamic gameplay and adds a feeling of immediacy to the game’s combat. The mechanical behemoths of World War II were valuable commodities to have on ones side.
Company of Heroes 2 features a more precise and logical look at World War II and the violent acts within than many other games in the same setting, but in terms of overall innovation, there wasn’t much on offer that we haven’t seen before. For fans of the franchise, Company of Heroes 2 will be an absolute must-have. I have a strong feeling that for everyone else though, it will be hit-and-miss. The game high-end graphics mean that they are cutting out a huge part of their potential market. Normally, I wouldn’t be so skeptical, but the Alienware desktop Relic had set up for the demo was struggling at some points to run the game well. We’ll have to see what happens when it releases sometime next year.