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Revisiting The Classical Masterpiece: Company of Heroes

"Point the gun at the camera in the sky!"

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Relic Entertainment has become a primary household name, especially in Real Time Strategy mechanics. From the Dawn of War trilogy to Company of Heroes 2.

For those unfamiliar to the series, it is a tactical RTS game that allows you to control armies of both Allies and Axis factions. When I am not getting involved with my studies, my go-to game has always been Company of Heroes. I have clocked about 100 hours for the whole gritty World War 2 experience in the Western Front.

As an armchair general, games like this has this gripping “on edge” feeling whenever you heard artillery shells and bombings from bomber planes. The audio was impressive enough to keep you hooked on for hours.

As for the visuals, it is still one of the best for RTS. You can see the goriness of the ragdoll animated units getting bombed out and send their torso flying or wiped up by personnel mines that send their legs around! It has aged well since its inception in 2006.

There’s an excellent reason for this, Company of Heroes perfected the genre of RTS.

For me, the RTS is different, it has stood to the test of time – you only have to look at Blizzard’s favorite game, StarCraft II to see good, recent examples – but for a long time, the genre felt like a hollow, with developers unable to pull out more creativity and variety of the mechanics. It has stopped improving as developers focused more on the rising popularity of first-person shooters (FPS) – Call of Duty 4.

In Company of Heroes, units have to traverse around the map tactically and strategically; these are done by having Doctrines for each Faction – Allies and Axis. As Allies, you will have the availability of choosing either the United States (US Army) or the British (yes, those tin head helmets!). The Axis is the Germans, which are divided into two groups – Wehrmacht and the Panzer Elite – which are those tanks, they are more prone to vehicular superiority in the game.

Source: Fandom Company of Heroes
Factions Assembled – British Armed Forces, USA Airborne, Panzer Elite.

The two modes offered are captivating enough. The first is the traditional Annihilation where the objective is to destroy all of your opponent’s buildings to win the game. The primary mode is the Victory Points. There are 3 to 6 VP scattered across the map, by holding the majority of VP, you will slowly reduce your opponent’s point and win the game.

Therefore, when it comes to simulating warfare, the strategy is only half of the battle, and in COH, tactics played as the importance that could not be avoided by the application of doctrine and micromanagement of units with a different set of skills. The classic did not care at all about resource gathering, but it was concluded to what you could do with it. That is what Company of Heroes are a gem of its own, truly exceptional.

The principles of realism were deeply intertwined in the mechanics, as to how soldiers should behave when facing machine guns, in it, they’ll crouch, and if it’s too long, they lose morale and possibly wiped out or retreat to fight for another day.

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Tanks and vehicles have the same realism concept in which their HP is not that superior of the soldier units. Some unit posed deadly arsenals like the Panzerschreck wielded by the Wehrmacht. Some of the units in both factions could cause a severe dent to tanks and vehicle units. The sides and rear are incredibly vulnerable, and if you failed to micro-manage, you’d lose them and wasted your earlier resources.

The cover system is a rare showcase of its intricate RTS mechanics, it mirrored the actual firefight with units garrisoning in building, or taking cover behind sandbags are much safer than running across a road and get torn apart. Your squad of soldiers could survive successfully for perpetuity. The idea of reserving unit provides leveling up mechanics as soldiers could increase their experience and spending it on Defence Attributes of Offence Attributes — an area where COH excels.

An engagement in COH usually feels more like this. (Credits: JMR MEICOMPOEL)

It is no surprise that Company of Heroes gains inspiration from the TV show, Band of Brothers. The chronicles of soldiers into the fray and their band of strong camaraderie. That is what COH implies that every unit soldier in your game is precious and not just as another sprite of the usual cannon fodder.

Company of Heroes gives you combat that feels alive and fluid. As exciting it should be, the sound design does help in enriching the whole experience. The thundering boom of artillery and the deadly sounds of Stuka bomb-runs would be enough for players to retreat their units. The constant shelling of artillery, shrieking mortars, and bombs helps the player to point out dangerous things that are coming to hit them.

While it was challenging and complex, it never sets my mood off. It is just a matter of devising your strategy and some risk assessment analysis, just like how a real commander should be.

Relic’s Company of Heroes was so good, even with the advent of the sequel, Company of Heroes 2 which was released in 2013, could not overcome it. Thanks to its micro-transactions elements. Apparently, you have a greater range of choice for commanders which provided doctrines as I have said earlier, with paid, premium commanders providing more superiority in terms of Area of Effect (AoE), extensive unit skills and tough as nail, armored tanks. The initiative failed to garner such popularity within the CoH community.

The fact is undeniable – Company of Heroes remains the apex of RTS genre and would remain as such as a classic.