Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts Hands-On

Lead the British or the German Panzer Elite in this stand-alone follow-up to GameSpot's 2006 PC Game of the Year.

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Thanks to its thrilling gameplay and destructible battlefields, Company of Heroes was GameSpot's 2006 PC Game of the Year. After all, the game took one of the most overused settings--World War II--and made it fun again. Now THQ and developer Relic are hoping to get noticed for 2007 with Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts. However, don't call this an expansion. Opposing Fronts is instead a stand-alone follow-up that will serve up two new armies and campaigns, and you won't need to own Company of Heroes to play it.

Forget about Colonel Klink. The Panzer Elite in Opposing Fronts is, well, elite.
Forget about Colonel Klink. The Panzer Elite in Opposing Fronts is, well, elite.

We've known the basics regarding Opposing Fronts for a while now. The game will feature two campaigns and two new army factions. The first lets you play on the German side as the commander of a Panzer Elite unit, which is a hard-hitting, offensive-based force, during Operation Market Garden, the largest offensive operation in history. It was popularized in the book and movie A Bridge Too Far. The second is from the perspective of the British Army, specialists in defensive structures, during the Battle for Caen, which was part of the Normandy campaign in which the Allies struggled to break beyond their relatively small toehold on the continent.

As you'd expect, each of these two factions plays quite a bit differently from the American and regular German Army factions that you may be used to in Company of Heroes. Though you don't need to play Company of Heroes before jumping into Opposing Fronts, it might help. We say that based on the challenge of the opening missions in both of Opposing Fronts' campaigns. Company of Heroes slowly eased you into the gameplay, starting you with a relatively easy assault on the Normandy beachheads and then gradually introducing airborne and vehicle elements later in the campaign. The Opposing Fronts campaigns start with missions that have you doing a lot more.

Take, for instance, the Panzer Elite campaign, which starts off with British airborne commandos dropping all around your position, supported by fighter bombers. There are multiple stages to this mission. First, you defend yourself by manning antiaircraft guns around your area; then, you use a mobile force of armored cars and a mortar halftrack to defeat concerted attacks on various positions. The Panzer Elite are big into mobility, as this is a vehicle-heavy army. The mortar halftrack is an example of this, as it can race around the battlefield dropping mortar and incendiary rounds. But Panzer Elite infantry primarily take the form of tiny, three-man squads of panzer grenadiers. After you defeat the offensive, you've got to race out and crush the airborne landing zones.

The Brits get a chance to represent as well.
The Brits get a chance to represent as well.

The British opening mission is also pretty hectic, as it starts with defending against a German counterattack before going on the offense, first clearing out a nearby abbey and then taking the neighboring French town. The British are interesting in that they can build so many different things. Engineers are important in Company of Heroes, since they build all of your structures, but sappers (the British engineers) might take a gold prize for what they can do. British defensive structures include the awesome howitzer, which can lay down a smother barrage that doesn't cost you any resources, or it can also fire a creeping barrage for 150 ammunition points. The creeping barrage is for when you want to "walk" artillery in front of advancing troops. This can shatter any dug-in defenders along their route. Then there are slit trenches, which give infantry excellent cover. Or there's the Bofors 40mm antiaircraft canon, which can also be used against light vehicles and infantry. And then there's the antitank emplacement, which can kill tanks. A defensive line consisting of slit trenches, Bofors cannons, machine gun nests, mortar nests, and howitzers can be awfully difficult to breach if you're an attacker.

There's just so much going on in these missions that Opposing Fronts feels even crazier and more hectic than Company of Heroes. Maybe this is because the game packs in even more of its predecessor's wild, physics-based interaction, or maybe it just never gets old to see bodies being hurled out of vehicles by the force of explosions or to watch shot-down planes crashing with spectacular explosions. The fully destructible battlefield, and the tactical implications of such destruction, seems as fresh as ever in Opposing Fronts. We're basing these impressions on the finished game, and we'll continue to play the game in preparation for our review. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts ships next week.

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