Company of Heroes Hands-On - Single-Player Campaign

We take a look at the early portions of the campaign in Relic's new World War II-era real-time strategy game, Company of Heroes.

Recently, we were fortunate enough to try out the upcoming World War II real-time strategy game Company of Heroes, from developer Relic Entertainment and publisher THQ. Relic, which has created games like Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and the Homeworld series, is no stranger to real-time strategy, and from what we've seen from the first few levels of the Allied campaign in Company of Heroes, fans of Dawn of War should be in for a treat when the game is released.

One of the most immediately noticeable aspects of the game's single-player campaign is the way it tends to get you right into the action. There are cinematic scenes before each mission, but instead of Dawn of War's long-winded conversations, the cutscenes serve to drive the action, and they bear the cinematic stamp of films like Saving Private Ryan or the TV series Band of Brothers. Speaking of those two hallmarks of World War II storytelling, Company of Heroes wastes no time in referencing them. In the first two missions of the game, you'll storm the beaches of Normandy and attempt to guide a group of paratroopers through the backwaters of France in support of the D-Day invasion. In subsequent missions, you'll take the infamous town of Carentan and defend it against a German counterattack. If you've played action games like Call of Duty or Brothers in Arms, you should find many of the plot elements here to be very familiar. But that's not necessarily bad. The early story of Company of Heroes merely acts to establish the action, and the game offers plenty of it, even within the first few missions.

Relic Entertainment's next game offers an explosive interpretation of World War II.

The version of Company of Heroes we played gives the impression that it will make Dawn of War fans feel right at home, since it offers similar interface features and a similar resource model. Your resources here revolve around manpower, munitions, and fuel. Like in Relic's previous game, in Company of Heroes there are resource nodes scattered around the map that can be captured by your infantry units. When you do so, you'll gain a steady stream of whatever resource is supplied there. What's more, resource nodes come in three different levels, so if you capture a small munitions resource point, you'll get a small stream of munitions flowing into your coffers, while a larger munitions resource point will give you a proportionally larger supply. You're not limited in the amount of resources you can hold, so the more resource points you control, the bigger your war chest becomes. Even if you lose some of your resource points later on, hanging onto them for as long as possible will let you build up a large stash of resources for your counterattack.

Another twist to the gameplay formula comes in the form of supply lines. You can capture any resource point on the map, but to gain the resources bottled up there, that node has to be part of an unbroken chain of nodes stretching back to your headquarters. If you rush out with an infantry unit and try to capture a high-value resource in the middle of a map, you'll be free to do so, but it won't do you any good; you won't gain the resources from it or be able to claim it as your territory--and claiming territory is important for reinforcing your units and for gaining experience points that grant you special abilities.

Each node comes with a piece of territory around it, and each territory has to link back up with your headquarters for you to gain benefits from claiming it. It'll be interesting to see how this affects multiplayer games, but in the single-player game, it serves to reinforce a methodical approach to the action, where you overrun and capture enemy territories and slowly expand outward from your base. This also serves to naturally focus the battles on a constantly moving front, although your computer-controlled opponent will definitely try to disrupt your supply lines by sending soldiers to your rear territories in an attempt to capture them.

The game will offer action-packed battles and streamlined strategy.

And the actual battles are shaping up very well. One of Company of Heroes' selling points is its destructible buildings and terrain, and for the most part, it's easy to see why Relic is proud of how physics are being used in the game. Tanks, especially, are a blast to take control of, since they're capable of smashing through trees and walls in their hunt for enemies to take out. Infantry units can also make great use of the game's environments. For instance, if your foot soldiers' path is blocked, you can order them to use mortars or rocket launchers to attempt to destroy whatever's standing in their way.

Good Work, Soldier

This environmental action comes into play when you have units holed up in a building. Like the units in Command & Conquer: Generals or last year's underappreciated Act of War, Company of Heroes' infantry units can inhabit most of the buildings on the map and fire from the windows. They gain a good amount of protection from small-arms fire when garrisoned, but if you shell a house with mortars, or send your tanks up to destroy the building, bits and pieces will be torn off (and the bodies of any troops caught inside will be sent flying) until the building collapses in on itself.

The game will have a physics engine that will let you send your enemies--and the houses they're hiding in--flying.

While we're on the subject of tanks, let's discuss the intriguing combat systems that Relic has put into place to make tank combat a risky, but worthwhile, proposition. If you've played other strategy games, then you might expect tanks to take up more space in your army than foot soldiers. This is represented in Company of Heroes by the population cap--the upper limit of how many troops you can have at any given time. As you might expect, tanks take up more of your population cap than a few infantry units, but they can stand up to a lot more punishment. However, when you do put your tank in danger, you may not be able to anticipate what will happen to it. Tanks have a modular damage model in Company of Heroes and will lose functionality based on how and where they're hit. If you hit a tank from behind, you'll not only deal more damage to it because of its weaker rear armor, but you'll also stand a chance of damaging or disabling the engine, making it impossible for the tank to retreat. Powerful shots to the front of the tank will sometimes shear off its main gun, leaving it incapable of counterattacking. But our favorite way to bust a tank so far, though it's only possible when a tank is severely damaged, is to kill off its crew, which causes the vehicle to fly out of control, often driving in circles and crashing through walls and buildings, before you deliver the finishing blow.

If you think you'll pull off these feats of derring-do with ease, you'll find that the artificial intelligence in Company of Heroes will do its best to give you a challenge. We've seen some instances where enemy soldiers have a tendency to stay inside a building while it's being shelled to smithereens, but in general, your opponents in the single-player game are quite capable of running away when the going gets tough. This is especially true of enemy armor. If you happen to stumble across an enemy tank and overwhelm it with armor of your own, it'll rarely stand still to take the beating; instead, it'll back up and try to lure you into enemy territory, where you'll be incapable of resupplying your units. Enemy infantry will act similarly, using the game's built-in retreat command to escape dangerous situations and attempt to return behind the lines to safety.

The last major addition to the gameplay formula that caught our eye was the inclusion of a command system that seems similar to the overarching hero powers you may have seen in other strategy games. When you kill enemies or capture resource points, you'll gain experience points, and after gaining enough experience, you'll earn a command point. When you have a command point, you can choose your command from either airborne, infantry, or armor specializations. You can only have one command per battle, though, so choosing wisely is key.

You'll be able to earn special abilities over time that can turn the tide of battle.

As you continue to earn experience, you can unlock more powerful abilities that wreak havoc with on the battlefield. For instance, the armor command starts with some useful abilities, such as letting your light vehicles capture resource points (normally, only infantry can do this), while the most powerful upgrade will let you deploy an M26 Pershing Heavy Tank. The airborne command path, on the other hand, will initially let you airdrop infantry reinforcements, but if you continue to build up experience, you'll eventually be able to call in strafing runs or even bombing runs.

All things considered, Company of Heroes looks to be a very promising game for both real-time strategy fans and World War II buffs. The game's new strategic elements build on the features that Relic devised for its previous games and should make for some interesting new gameplay, especially in online multiplayer. The game is scheduled to ship in September.

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Discussion

37 comments
wolfie7603
wolfie7603

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

salehkiller
salehkiller

thank youuu sooooooooo much Ilove you the game

Satanmar
Satanmar

got my copy pre-ordered! enough said

jawelsh
jawelsh

Gentlemen! Thank you for your animated responses; I'm sorry you felt so threatened. The purpose of a "comment" is to express an opinion about a subject or idea, very much like the way you expressed yours. Comments often times are based solely on personal opinions. In this case, what I expressed is based on what I liked or didn't like about this game and what I believed would make the game(s) a more enjoyable experience. Each of us has our own level of what we believe is right or wrong, where we draw our lines and make our conclusions. There are a great many people in this world that think (and know) differently than you realize. They may not be as vocal because they don't feel they have to live on the defense. You know very little about people, respect or history, AND absolutely nothing about me. I hope you will take this friendly advice to heart and save yourselves a lot of unnecessary grief in life. I'm sure you'll enjoy the game no matter what, so unless your the developer, the opinions of others shouldn't matter a whole lot, right? Right......

mutaz1985
mutaz1985

no much to talk rather than hope can get it soon ...............

Exceptio
Exceptio

very good beta, i love the game :)

tinyGS
tinyGS

bigelf72 you shouldnt be having a go at people for evoking their right to choice... Despite the fact that they see violence as a non-issue yet language offends them??? (thats a WTF right there). But the fact that they choose not to buy the games is good as they are not offended and we are able to play games that havent been censored... Its when the choice moves from the individual and various governments around the world start dictating what can and cant be said /watched/read thats BS. So let em choose what games they play and just sit back question why its ok to watch someone kill someone else but not hear them sware as they do it... then chcukle to yourself.. Then wonder why swearing would be such an issue for someone and probably come up with an answer similar to "religion" and think... hey that causes all the wars in the first place and WW2 was ok cos the church says it was then you'll probably have your answer on the swaring vs killing thing and then chuckle some more and then just wonder if its just you and me that actually "get it"..

bigelf72
bigelf72

Im sorry, but if your some 13 year old noob complaning about not wanting to buy a game because of its language.....your a loser. You may think that what i say is harsh....but seriously if you not 17+ shut-up...its an M rated game....your worthless rants mean nothing. Jawlesh and Kloudwalker you newbs are missing out on the best games on the market....who cares about cus words.....they are words that people have portrayed as offensive.....but really....they are just words. They dont really mean anything..... Also learn some history....the word F**k was made during the medievil days. The Royal sects where mingling with peasants (getting it on) so the king made a law called the "F**k act" (Fornicate under the Consent of the King"....it was the kings way of keeping royal blood pure.....if he didnt see you as a threat....he would allow that person to have relations with a peasant. So really....the F-word isn't a big deal....as far as realism.....war sucks....people die.....explosions and death everywhere....cusing has been in war for as long as war has been going on....(FOREVER) so simply adding to the realism isnt a big deal.....get over it....get a life...gg noobs.

rocko220_basic
rocko220_basic

Jawlesh and Kloudwalker...are you afraid to say 'Voldemort' as well?

idan25
idan25

Sounds interesting. Hope it isn't EXACTLY Dawn of War. Just not another MOD....

kloudwalker
kloudwalker

Jawelsh, I agree 100% of what you wrote, I have also passed on games because of the language which have been a lot. maybe they will start putting in the games a toggle where you have the the option to turn it off or on. i also don't buy a lot of music for the same reason .

BlueDevil
BlueDevil

I'd just wish they would explore some more battles of WWII rather than the ones with the Speilberg/Hanks stamp of approval. The maps mentioned have been done sooo many times before... Otherwise this game looks like it will rock!

jawelsh
jawelsh

Is it so necessary to have bad language to give a sense of realism? It really is only just a game. I realize we live in the real world and will hear it regardless, but that doesn't mean we have to embrace it in every aspect of life. It really is a shame; these games are fantastic and their graphics are awesome! I have discarded some games for this reason alone that were new purchases. It would be nice if there were more language controls in these games. Often times the rating systems are somewhat misleading, but I'm glad the developers seem to be mentioning more and more what the specific content of the games are. I have become very selective as a result of this concern. I would purchase many more games were it not for this "problem". My hope is that in the future these developers will be consciencious of this and know that it doesn't take bad language to make a great game - they've already done that! Thanx

csm101
csm101

Sounds really good, but.. can both sides be played? The article mentions "the Allied campaign". So does that mean there's an Axis campaign too? I hope so, otherwise it's yet another rehash of hitting the beach at Normandy ...

a_ratchet_fan
a_ratchet_fan

blackIceJoe said: The game looks good same with the movie so I hope this RTS game will be a fun one. I hope Battle for middle earth sells well because if it does the designers said they would port it to the 360. But it if does not come out at least there is always the PC. So I can't wait to see what the difference will be from this WW2 RTS then from others. Battle For Middle Earth 2 is already out for the 360.

ShraZ_Zy
ShraZ_Zy

it's C&C + COD mixed together ;) good beta

pRiVaTeRyAn92
pRiVaTeRyAn92

So, basically this a WWII version of Command and Conquer Generals? Awesome.

blackIceJoe
blackIceJoe

The game looks good same with the movie so I hope this RTS game will be a fun one. I hope Battle for middle earth sells well because if it does the designers said they would port it to the 360. But it if does not come out at least there is always the PC. So I can't wait to see what the difference will be from this WW2 RTS then from others.

TintedChimes
TintedChimes

Nice, love RTS games, hopefully it'll be cool. Graphics look awesome, hopefully multiplayer is fun too.

ffe_neo
ffe_neo

Don't underestimate this title as "just another WW2 RTS" this game is the real deal, I've been part of the beta test for a couple of weeks now and this title never ceases to amaze me even in it's beta stage. A must buy for every RTS fan out there and hopefully a good benchmark for RTS titles coming out in the future.

roemin
roemin

agree, beta is awesome and so will be the final game

Boo_looDODO
Boo_looDODO

This looks like a must buy, I am a huge fan of CoD series and nothing gets a game going than good AI and quick gameplay :) looking forward to this.

Stormrider_TMGX
Stormrider_TMGX

Its not scripted and it looks AWESOME... play the Beta...

xhalo2freak91x
xhalo2freak91x

To JDFS: Have you even played the beta? It's not scripted at all. Pretty much everything can be destroyed, and the AI and physics in this game are amazing. It's awesome when theres an enemy squad or sniper in a building, and they pin your troops down, then you send in a tank and blow the crap out of a building and the troops go flying.

DoubleAxe
DoubleAxe

Ummm, Im part of the beta, and no its not scripted, the physics are amazing, you can destroy anything in pretty much any way.... and the AI is amazing, its NEVER the same each time you play, Im sorry JDFS but your wrong, this game is amazing

Bluespike000
Bluespike000

I don't think it's scripted per say they worked alot on the AI and i'm beting it's going to be making the descions on how to play. It's told to kill you from certain ways and it's gonna try hard to do so. But the map is never the same for the game it will have replay ability i think and if not it will still be a good run before I become lost in it's vast multiplayer fun.

Syzgygy
Syzgygy

Good stuff. Pre-ordered.

JDFS
JDFS

Looks like scripted missions which sucks because it is not replayable, and since it is linear it is worse, this game will last a week or 2 then most of people will get bored, I see it coming like I did many times before. But I guess you can have a few days of fun if you like linear games.

zub1
zub1

Looks like it's trying to break the mold. Much appreciated.

NuclearDruid
NuclearDruid

The open multiplayer Beta was really fun... I am looking most forward to the single player though.

CommandoAgent
CommandoAgent

Indeed its a great RTS ww2 game JUST MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT COMPUTER TO PLAY IT!!! And A Great Video Card. Sorry for the caps.

kriz_91
kriz_91

Wow, this game is going to be great. That modular damage model they are using for tanks sounds really awesome, lot of strategy will be allowed by this.