It's been nearly six years since Relic released Company of Heroes, which went on to blow the minds of PC gamers everywhere, revitalize interest in the World War II setting in real-time strategy games and go on to become the highest rated RTS game and highest rated strategy game of all time on Game Rankings.
MMGN got to have a brief look at the long-awaited sequel, Company of Heroes 2, at a THQ-run pre-E3 event in Melbourne. The hands-off demo we saw was set around the poor town of Rzhev, which is being battered by the approaching German forces attempting to link up with the 6th Army at Stalingrad and battling it out in the snow and cold against the desperate Russian forces.
The first thing the demo covered was the new Essence 3.0 engine. It's clear from the beginning that Relic are focused on improving upon every aspect and adding new features that fit their previous title's framework rather than completely reinventing their game.
In terms of the presentation, Essence 3 has made textures crisper and more detailed, infantry models act and look more realistically and the impressive smoke and fire effects add to the intensity and desperation of the wide-scale bloody battle.
But the snow, smoke and fire aren't just for show. The new engine has incorporated depth into the level terrain; snow isn't just painted white texture, it has real depth and is dynamic. Infantry noticeably struggle against the brutal winter environment as they trudge slowly through the heavy snow all the while under fire. Footprints, tank tracks, blood-stains and debris are permanently imprinted in the snow, allowing the player to see where enemy units may have occupied and advanced to.
In one instance, a grenade explosion rocked the earth and a tank fired upon one of the fields, which removed a significant portion of the snow field. This was just one instance which showed how the environment is incredibly reactive to its combatants. The new terrain effects reinforce a strong sense of realism and intensity to the winter battles of the Eastern Front and the tactical gameplay the series is known and loved for.
The smoke and fire effects are heavily integrated with the "True Sight" system, which essentially means anything the units can see, the player can. The demo featured a group of infantry battling it out across a field of snow and rushing their way to their next set of cover, but because the fire and smoke of a destroyed tank obscured their vision ahead and broadened the traditional "Fog of War", they did not see in time the enemy AT turret and their supporting artillery just a few metres in front of them, with most of the German units being ridden with bullets or blown to pieces. The soldier AI was impressive, with the units being broken and scattered as the artillery strikes separated the surviving comrades from regrouping.
Although the buildings of the town seemed like safe shelters, artillery shells whittled down the structures, and a few well-placed flamethrower units burned the remainder to a crisp, along with all the poor soldiers within.
The few surviving ground troops of this skirmish managed to vault their way to the next set of cover and survive the next onslaught of gunfire, which showcased the new cover system. Infantry units are more versatile and are able to use cover more effectively; overall the combat seems more faster-paced so that there's no time wasted running around fences, walls or debris.
Cover is also more destructible than the previous game; although the buildings of the town seemed like safe shelters, artillery shells whittled down the structures, and a few well-placed flamethrower units burned the remainder to a crisp, along with all the poor soldiers within.
One interesting part of the demo shown was a short cutscene involving a few desperate soldiers retreating from the front-line. A high-ranking Soviet general ordered them to go back to their posts, but when they refused they were gunned down, reminiscent of Stalin's Order No. 227. Relic are focused on the authenticity of the setting, as also shown by the real gun sounds for added atmosphere, and I'm curious to see how they incorporate such aspects like this into the gameplay side.
Another major point of the demo showed the importance of abandoned vehicles. A set of infantry units managed to make their way to a incapacitated tank, and the commentator emphasized the advantage one side would receive by repairing and taking over these vehicles, or even using them as make-shift cover.
And yes, tanks are bad-ass. Like the titanic behemoths they truly are, the tanks units that were shown rolled over the hectic battlefield with ease, mowing down unguarded infantry units with machine gun fire and blasting them away into oblivion. The snow fields, trees and buildings fell or collapsed completely from their might.
Company of Heroes 2 is set to launch in 2013, and from what was showcased in the demo, it looks like Relic is going to have another smash-hit RTS on their resume.
By Nathan Misa - Bio