Company of Heroes 2 is the long-awaited continuation of one of the most consistently well-received Real-Time-Strategy franchises on the market. Rising from the ashes of now-defunct THQ, Relic Games has delivered another satisfying and unique experience, set in the chaos and destruction of the Russian Front of World War II.
Visuals – 8/10
It’s hard to beat the level of detail achieved by any of Relic’s games. The battlefields in both of its big RTS franchises feature wildly diverse settings, and incredibly intricate environments, with little of the perfectly symmetrical layouts found in many genre staples. The unit models are hyper-realistic, and it’s hard to beat the level of reaction in their environments. On the other hand, the animations of the infantry are incredibly stiff, and many of the units float across the terrain in a very jarring way, all the more so for how polished the rest of the visual work is.
The user interface in-game is quite large, frustratingly so for a title that seems so stingy about field-of-view. I often found myself having to scroll around just to the see the scope of one skirmish, and that’s not something I want to add to the list of things to think about in the middle of a combat.
The cutscenes peppered throughout the title seem to have received the least attention. They are clumsy, grainy, poorly animated, and are at times downright ugly. They serve in no way to prop up an already-generic narrative with cardboard cutout characters.
Audio – 7/10
The ambient work and sound effects are absolutely top-notch, and are well-achieved from a technical standpoint. Relic’s authenticity shines through here. The soundtrack is good, if forgettable. You won’t find yourself whistling anything here, but it certainly serves to establish the setting in a clear manner.
The voice-overs are a weak point: a lot of sound and fury, and a tremendous amount of what feels like unnecessary adult language. To clarify, as cursing is often flavoring intended to communicate intense passion behind a message, it will often quite sound out of place if delivered in a less-than-convincing manner. This title is rife with unconvincing voice-over work.
Gameplay – 8/10
The core gameplay of Relic’s RTS franchises has always been about the careful positioning of troops in relation to each other, making the best possible use of cover, and utilizing the map to advantage. This title is no different, and frankly, it’s not different enough. It is virtually impossible to differentiate the game-play between Company of Heroes 2 from it’s predecessors.
The multi-player centers around point-capture and territory control, and still serves to provide an incredibly refreshing change-of-pace from more prototypical resource/research based RTS titles. Company of Heroes 2 requires you to genuinely out-strategize your opponent, and it is unlikely that a heroic display of micro will save you from any poor tactical choice. It’s less reactive and less based around counter strategy than other titles, and while it may suffer for that in the long run, in the meantime the change-of-pace is remarkably refreshing.
Tech – 7/10
The title still seems to have some launch jitters, and like many of the games built in the Essence line of engines, has some very mixed performance across machines. My laptop and desktop seem to run the title at around the same ‘suggested’ specs, despite a wildly differing range of horsepower. The performance test yielded nearly identical results between it’s auto-detected settings (Minimum on nearly every level) and the highest possible settings: a maximum framerate of 60, a minimum of 15, and an average of 40. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t seem quite right.
The technical execution of every other aspect of the title, is really quite good. Online seems to be responsive and well-executed.
The integration of TwitchTV into the title is certainly an interesting choice, and perhaps indicative of the direction of the industry. I certainly hope not, as I find its very presence to be annoying. Streaming integration in a console title perhaps is justified by the degree to which it is difficult to do so without said integration, but on a personal computer, there are other solutions that don’t involve it being shoved in the consumer’s face.
The degree to which THQ’s must have been difficult and nerve-wracking cannot be underestimated, and only those directly involved can know how much that affected the development of Company of Heroes 2. I was willing to give this title a lot of slack on that score, and thankfully I didn’t have to.
The authenticity of the package, and the guts to maintain a really different core mechanic in the face of a veritable wave in the precise opposite directions speaks very highly of the veteran developer.
Overall – 8/10
First and foremost, Company of Heroes 2 is grounded. Grounded in the lauded footsteps of its predecessors, perhaps the second most respected Real-Time Strategy franchise in the business, and grounded in history. The attention to detail in the Company of Heroes titles has always been phenomenal, and this is no exception. The sheer depth of customization of units for use in the multi-player and co-op elements of the title is staggering, and the unit detail and sound effect work is particularly top-notch.
But Company of Heroes 2 is also grounded in some outmoded and clumsy control schemes, and lacks the polish that I have come to expect from a lauded developer like Relic. It also does little to advance the genre as a whole, and suffers from some very uneven performance issues.