I’m obsessed with Company of Heroes, it’s official. All my other games have taken a back-seat as I spend all of my gaming time playing online. So why is it so good? What makes it stand out, and why should you start playing it?! Below are my list of reasons why this is by far the best RTS of all time.
From Bad to Good
I downloaded the demo when it came out, not expecting much as I’ve played most WWII RTS’s that have come out in the past few years (a lot). I played through the demo and was quite unimpressed. I also tried the multiplayer beta and I started to see what all the fuss was about. As I have a friend at THQ (thanks Damian) I decided to get it for cheap and give it a go. I started playing multiplayer and fell in love with the game. I was really bad though, so I decided to give single player a go to see if it was any good. I usually steer clear of SP in RTS’s completely, however after the first 3 missions I was hooked with SP as well. For some reason, the two worst missions out of all the Single player game were the two they put in the demo. I played through the entire campaign and both had a lot of fun, and learnt quite a few tactics to use online.
Rather than give a regular review, I’d like to just talk about a few of the key features that makes CoH stand out for me. There are two unique concepts that CoH has that I’ve never seen in an RTS before, and I’ve played a lot of them.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I only just found out about this, 50 MP games into playing. I’ve always said that RTS games should have a good retreat in them making ‘running away’ a viable option in the battle. In every other game, retreating only works if you have a faster unit than the enemy, and even then, it’s barely worth using. CoH actually has a ‘retreat’ button which makes your men stop whatever they are doing, and run at great speed back to their base. You can’t control them until they are back there nor where they go so they can sometimes cross in front of enemy fire, however most of the time it works. This is pure genius. It opens up so many great strategies and means that one simple mistake isn’t completely punished by losing your entire group of men and giving the enemy precious XP for the kills.
I’ve been thinking about snipers since they appeared in C&C and wondered how they could be implemented properly. CoH has the best implementation I’ve seen. Take the regular hide until they shoot, add in some detected at close range or by a recon unit and you have a fairly standard sniper dynamic. This is done in a lot of games and works well. Where the guys at Relic have excelled is adding an extra element to the hidden status. The first few times the sniper fires it becomes visible for a brief instant, not long enough for an MG nest to re-man the gun to return fire. However after quite a few shots, the length of time he becomes visible increases, until after quite a few shots he is visible continuously. Just like in real life, the sniper gives away his position more actually the more he fires. It also means that a sniper can’t simply decimate enemy squads without moving around or having some kind of support.
It’s all about the tactics
Once you’ve played a few weeks of CoH, nearly every other RTS feels like it has no strategy (I’m talking about you Tiberium Wars). In CoH you can use every part of the terrain to your advantage from dead cows to walls to buildings. Unlike in nearly every other RTS where hopping into a building is a sure way of winning, in CoH it comes with its own disadvantages. The key here is that there is no perfect strategy that will always win the day. You may figure out an awesome setup (like putting MG’s at all the choke-points around a map) but there’s always a counter to the strategy. I’ve played 50+ games online now and I’m still continually learning tactics and counter-tactics each time I play.
A simple example of this is the movement of your troops around a map. When you start playing you figure out fairly quickly that different objects on the map supply your troops with different amounts of cover. The green, yellow and red shields denote Heavy Covert, Light Cover and Exposed respectively. Easy to pick up, instant strategy added at little cost. In fact, you don’t even need to worry about this if you don’t care. Players can just move their men around and they’ll automatically move to cover if left exposed. Once you move on though, you realise that each type of cover requires your men to position themselves differently. If you make them all huddle around a burnt out wreck they will have great cover, however they’ll also be tightly bunched. This means that throwing a grenade their way will inflict major casualties, negating the advantage of the cover. If you’re quick though, you can start out in good cover, draw the enemy out and then retreat to a more spacious but less protected area as the enemy draws close to throw their grenade. This kind of simplicity with layers of complexity is what RTS games should be all about.
So my recommendation if you haven’t played CoH is to go to EBGames or equivalent and buy it. Try it out for a week and try and get as far into the Single player game (and a little multiplayer) as you can and decide if you like it. If not, take it back, free of charge, but I’m fairly sure once you start playing you’ll see how truly original and deep the game is.