Company of Heroes 2 is the anticipated sequel to its landmark predecessor, Company of Heroes. During the development of the Company of Heroes 2, Relic had their publisher switched from THQ to SEGA. This turbulence suggests that not all design decisions may have come out exactly as planned. Switching publishers may have given Company of Heroes 2 a shaky start, but that doesn’t mean it won’t stand out as one of gamings most well-known RTSs for the second time running (Protip: It doesn’t.)
Company of Heroes 2 does not distinguish itself all that much from the beta. It does not seem as though the missing features were being worked on, but rather were in stasis. The features that were in the beta have been released with the degree of “quality” that they had back then. The AI still has no self-preservation and the graphics still look like 7 years of stagnation. The final release version has multiple different features such as singleplayer, multiplayer and a challenge mode. However, neither the beta features nor the ones that have been added feel fully fleshed out. If anything, the Company of Heroes 2 beta acted like more of a marketing tool than a chance to iron out the creases.
I would like to address the biggest concern I have with this game. The optimization is nothing short of terrible. The game features both an auto hardware detect and a performance stress test. Initially, I was happy to see that Relic were taking such a user friendly and simple approach to achieving the optimal settings in your game. I then found that the game seems to chug slower than a gas guzzling Russian tank in winter, regardless of what setting it’s put on. Performance testing showed me that it was not possible to achieve any higher than 25 frames per second, even though the game looks no better than its predecessor which was released 7 years ago. Despite my best intentions, the game was virtually unplayable with these performance issues.
The singleplayer campaign follows the past of a tormented soldier from the red army. You will undergo different scenarios based off of real world battles that occurred throughout World War 2. Each of these scenarios will be strung together with cutscenes that look like they were made in the same era the game is set in. At many points it seems like they simply zoomed in on actual gameplay and had the AI act out a movie to the best of its ability. The campaign does a decent job of keeping the objectives fresh. However, the game’s challenge mode (known as Theatre of War) includes a slue of various objectives to keep things interesting to a greater degree. Much of the campaign feels forced with a lack of compelling story or characters. It feels as though any objective I undertook in the campaign could have been enjoyed just as much in a custom gamemode or challenge. The intention of the objectives is to act as a foundation for what could have been a decent story. The result was nothing more than yet another, sub-par, tacked on campaign mode.
The game as a whole is not an incredible looking title. It runs far slower than it has any right to. I expected quite a bit from the sequel to one of the best looking games of 2006. The game is awash with muddy textures and has a generally visually boring landscape. For a game that has an oblique viewpoint which is no more than 20 feet above the ground, you would expect that more time could have been spent adding visual detail and flair.
One of the game’s more positive aspects are its sound assets. Despite its shortcomings in certain areas of presentation, the audio quality is stunning. Units will banter amongst themselves when idle and will react with convincing cries when in combat. All dialogue adjusts to the current scenario and unit selected. Many of the actual sounds, such as tank engines, give a real powerful growl and explosions sounds convincing. This may seem like an almost trivial feature, but having these impactful sound effects backing the units makes it feel as though you’re controlling an actual force to be reckoned with. Evidentially, there was a large budget allocated to this game. The powerful orchestral scores are far from generic and do a great job of setting an ominous or intense tone. That said, this budget seems to have been scattered throughout the game haphazardly.
The theatre of war mode provides a greater challenge than the singleplayer mode. Thankfully it does away with the needless narrative that it was coupled with. There are singleplayer and co-operative challenges to be played out. This mode will also allow you to experience the war from both the perspectives of the Axis and Allied forces in numerous different missions. This acts an effective way to sample both sides before diving into the game’s multiplayer.
Despite some slight balance issues, multiplayer is where Company of Heroes 2 really comes into its own. It replicates the intensity of the singleplayer and Theatre of War battles while combining it with the unpredictable nature of human opponents. The game’s Trusight mechanic can be used to its fullest advantage allowing you to flank and ambush opponents in clever ways.
Company of Heroes 2 does not fit the rank of sequel. 7 years of development has accomplished little more than a slight graphical upgrade with some minor features added. The game was also released with a shameless amount of day one DLC. This may make it sound like the devil himself, but do not take this the wrong way. Company of Heroes 2 is not a bad game. It seems to be riding on the coattails of success that is Company of Heroes 1. If you enjoy the action packed RTS experience that Company of Heroes brought and want to see it with a new paint job, this is the game for you. If you’re looking for an innovative step forwards within the RTS genre or Company of Heroes franchise, you won’t be finding it here.