E3 '07: Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts Impressions

The British and the Panzer Elite get their chance at glory in Relic's highly acclaimed World War II strategy series.

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Relic's been on a role with real-time strategy games in recent years. There have been the acclaimed Warhammer 40,000 RTS games, along with Company of Heroes, GameSpot's 2006 PC Game of the Year. A thrilling and revolutionary RTS game, Company of Heroes actually made it feel like World War II was erupting on your screen. Now Relic is reloading with a stand-alone expansion that actually has more content than the original game. And we finally got to see Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts at the E3 Business and Media Summit.

Like Company of Heroes, Opposing Fronts will introduce two distinct factions. There's the British Army, which is described as defensive specialists, and the Panzer Elite, which represents the fast-moving and hard-hitting units that were responsible for Nazi Germany's famed blitzkrieg style of warfare. Each faction has its own unique campaign, and combined, the single-player experience will offer more missions than the two campaigns in Company of Heroes.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

Lead designer Josh Mosqueira walked us through some of the key upgrades and features. Opposing Fronts will introduce DirectX 10 native graphics (it will also be playable in DirectX 9), dynamic weather, dynamic time of day, as well as the ability to change the time of day in multiplayer matches. The two new factions are quite distinct from the American and regular German Army (Wehrmacht) factions from the original game. The Brits are a mobile force designed for those who like to "turtle," or play defensively. British structures can pack it up and roll to a new position to deploy. In fact, that's the way the British headquarters works. Even better, by doing so, it automatically boosts all resource nodes around it, as if they were fortified. You can also research new technologies that allow you to increase the resource rate, so it's possible that you can thrive with only a handful of nodes, as opposed to the other factions that must expand and hold vast amounts of land.

There are some other interesting aspects of the Brits. They specialize in defense, so they get defensive structures that other factions don't have, like slit trenches and mortar emplacements. British infantry are also more versatile than most. Having been fighting for so many years, they're a bit more experienced than other infantry. You can also specialize them by giving them either a sniper rifle, a Vickers machine gun, or rifle grenades. Perhaps the coolest aspect are some of the glider troops. You can deliver not only rifle squads, but also light tanks via glider.

The Panzer Elite are a hard-hitting, vehicle-based army. Many functions that the other factions rely on infantry for are replaced with vehicles, so there are plenty of thin-skinned scout vehicles and half-tracks. You can actually choose what type of infantry to board halftracks, so by putting a Panzershrek (a bazooka) in the back of a half-track, you suddenly have an anti-armor platform. Put a MG42 team, and you have a mobile machine gun. The Panzer Elite also get some of the toughest armor in the game, assuming it can survive long enough to get them. We're talking about King Tigers and Jagdpanthers, or tank killers. These are monsters on the battlefield, even more so thanks to the improved artificial intelligence. We saw heavy armor actually use cover more effectively, making sure to put rubble and other obstacles between it and the enemy.

Opposing Forces looks sharp, and it'll deliver plenty of new thrills to the highly competitive multiplayer community. We'll see it ship in November.

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