Saturday 9 February, 2008
I have yet to try multiplayer, but from what I've seen I bet it will be amazing. I'm looking forward to playing against my friends, although the learning curve might prove to lead to several un-fun games (at least for them!) While the tutorials quickly and efficiently cover the RTS basics of camera movement, unit movement, resources, and base construction, as well as game specifics like putting your units behind cover and effectively fighting tank battles. I found, even as an experienced RTS player, that Skirmish mode was difficult until I had completed the campaign.
This may be because Company of Heroes is such a unique game (see design section.) It features many things that are rare in other RTSs. Firstly, a pet peeve of mine in other RTS games, which are usually played from an isometric perspective, which Company of Heroes is by default, but features a fully interactive and 3D camera with zoom, pan, and pivot capabilities, is that even though they supposedly take place during the day, the fact that you can not see the sky gives everything sort of a creepy, night timey feel, that the fog of war (the absence of sight on a map, usually denoted by a greyed out area where you have been and a blacked out area where you haven't) doesn't really help. In Company of Heroes you can actually see the sky when you move the camera, which I found very refreshing. Furthermore, the game has a very developed micro-mangement system, as you can put your units behind cover, hit units in different areas, and of course the RTS staple: combine units in different was to be most effective against your enemies, IE: rock-paper-scissors. However unlike other RTSs, which essentially are sophisticated games of having your rock in the right place at the right time to beat your opponents scissors, etc, Company of Heroes plays more like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Stapler-Pencil-Eraser-Computer Mouse-Mug-Pen-Tape Despenser-Leaf-Stick-Paper Shredder. It features many many matchups, some of which are not immediately obvious. And in Company of Heroes even Paper can beat Scissors if the commander of Paper micro-manages it properly.
The first thing I noticed when playing Company of Heroes is that it is not your typical strategy game. In my opinion, real time strategy games can be divided into two categories: macroscopic and microscopic. Macroscopic RTSs tend to focus on resource gathering, base construction, and territory expansion. The best examples I can think of here are Rise of Nations, Age of Empires, etc, and Starcraft, Warcraft, etc. Microscopic games tend to be based around unit micro-management, with little to no emphasis on building, or resource management. Games like this include the Myth series, by Halo creator Bungie, where the player uses points to purchase units at the beginning of the game, and then does combat entirely based around micromanagement, formations, flanking maneuvers, holding, high-ground, and other combat strategies, rather than focusing on the larger picture. Another example of this is Full Spectrum Warrior, where the player takes command of two fireteams, and uses them to execute various maneuvers, in order to move through the game's levels. Company of Heroes breaks free of both these molds, combining elements of both, to create a unique and amazing game experience. It does have base construction, and is focused around capturing territories, sort of like the way the player extends their territory line in Rise of Nations, although closer to the Conquest style of gameplay that has been made popular in first-person-shooter games by the Battlefield franchise, and also features resources, although they are not gathered, but rather obtained based on how many territories you control. However, macroscopic points aside, where the game really shines is on the microscopic level, featuring all kinds of unit micromanagement. For example: infantry units are able to utilize heavy and light cover, hole up in buildings, and engage in various other maneuvers, although formations (a staple of micromanagement in other real time strategy games) are conspicuously absent, probably because they were not used much in combat in WWII. Another example of micromanagement comes in Tank combat, where you try to move your ungainly vehicles to get firing solutions on the rear armor of enemy tanks, where their armor is weakest. All in all, the game combines micromanagement and macroscopic game elements to create a unique and exciting experience, which is enhanced by the excellent unit-balance, amazing graphics and effects, and the plethora of possible strategies. I've noticed from playing that in order to be truly successful in Company of Heroes, players must master both the micro and macro management aspects: winning both individual engagements through superior micromanagement, while still keeping track of and managing the larger battle as a whole, through the more RTS player familiar macro-management.
It also features a unique Commander Ability tree, with three different options each with their own tree for each side. This allows you to call in support options like air strikes, paratroopers, and more powerful tanks, depending on which option you picked. It also gives your troops additional abilities. Unlike similar games where these abilities might cost resources to unlock, the Commander abilities are earned through points you win from engaging in combat, and then the abilities cost resources to use. Since resources are earned from capturing points, this keeps the gameplay based around combat, and not sitting back and building defenses.