The machine gun nest of the German base perimeter has just been destroyed by a artillery barrage, send plumes of dirt high into the air. My troops and tanks scurry past and surge into the enemy’s encampment. Despite the thunderous sound of tank fire and the buzzing sound of sub machine guns, I lean back in my chair, smug like a General whose just won a battle and then found a ten pound note on the floor in the same second. But suddenly I am aware how fast my heart is racing. Is it the amount of fizzy drinks I drank during the game? Is it the thought of Mila Kunis? No not this time.
In fact it is Company of Heroes 2.
The great thing about the first game-and great about the sequel-is its ability to provoke so much emotion. How I cheered when I finally defeated a Panther tank with a small T-70 tank and how I despaired when I accidentally bombed that same tank. When you win you feel like you have won an actual battle, with your clothes charred and your gun still smoking. Of course when you lose, it feels the complete opposite.
Many players of the first game will recognize alot of similarities between the first and second games. The basics such as base building, different levels of cover, territory capturing and tech tree’s have remained. But Relic have tried hard to move away from the first without compromising too much of what made the first game so special.
What Relic have attempted to do is not only put together a game that is entertaining but also to try and fit in as much historical accuracy as possible. Being a history geek myself it is nice to see that Relic have included small details which make up how the Soviet Union fought. And in Company of Heroes 2 you dont have to look to hard. The names of some units such as the Conscripts or the Penal Battalions give you some idea of how the war in the east was fought. Perhaps best of all the famous ‘Not One Step Back!’ order 227 means that when an Officer is present, any retreating units will be shot at your Headquarters.
This time, instead of the complex hedgerows of France we have the expansive Soviet Union . Adding to the already challenging battlefield is the snow and the blizzards which are famously vicious in that part of the world. The new game engine means that snow can be something of a help and a hinderance. For example, during one game I controlled a fuel point which was in deep snow, meaning enemy infantry get bogged down. Blizzards bring a fresh new challenge to gameplay in both the singleplayer and the multiplayer, reducing visual range and adding a new challenge: keeping your troops alive. Temperatures drop and so do the men under your command if you don’t build fires or garrison buildings to keep them warm. Failure to do so will result in a ticking off from the commentator about how you are wasting valuable uniforms and weapons- oh and the death of your men, of course.
So, onto the campaign. The campaign is told through the eyes of Lev Abramovich Isakovich, a former soldier now locked up in the Gulag who narrates the story from the defense of Stalingrad to the Battle of Berlin. It is just as challenging and engaging as its predecessor but I feel slightly let down by the scripted sequences which forces the game to suddenly change direction with the arrival of an ally or better units, suddenly a victory for the player. This is despite the fact you have been on the back foot up until this point. I also can’t help but feel somewhat frustrated by the AI which can sometimes cause me to be a teeny bit annoyed due to its inability to simply move back or attack in a way which doesn’t involve trying to fire through a building.
However, I am particularly enjoying the Theatre of War which fleshes out the campaign just nicely by adding solo and co-op missions for both the German and Soviet Factions which are a welcome relief if you tire of the campaign or the multiplayer matchmaking.
Company of Heroes 2 grabs you by your emotional collar and will shake you violently, making you beg to play again and again. Even if you have already spent a whole day doing exactly that. I think many fans will be put off by the current price tag but the hours of exhilirating, heart racing moments which made you feel like a tactical genius certainly make up for the feather-light wallet.