Gamescom 2012: Hands On with Company of Heroes 2
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War has never been so real...
As the sequel to one of the highest rated strategy games ever, it would be fair to say that Company Of Heroes 2 has quite a lot to live up to; which could be why it has taken them 6 years to make it. But, with its release now within sight, we were invited to try it out at Gamescom this week.
Still set in the second world war, Company of Heroes 2 has shifted its sights form the Western Front to Russia and the conflict on the Eastern front. While making a war game that is essentially Russia Vs Germany might not seem like the most obvious choice, the reasons become clear when you look at the history. The war was basically decided on the Eastern Front, with some of the most brutal and punishing battles in history. Coupled with Russia’s foreboding terrain and lethal weather, the scene is perfectly set for a war game of epic proportions.
And that seems to be precisely what Relic are aiming to deliver. Everything that made the original Company of Heroes great is back, and has been built upon. There are also some major new additions to the game that are going to make a big impact of the way it is played.
Render me beautiful!
The first of the many improvements from the original is the implementation of Relics new ‘Essence 3’ engine, featuring vastly improved rendering and efficiency, this will ensure as many computers as possible will be able to run the game. This new engine also allows for much more destruction and damage. Pretty much everything on the screen can be burnt, blown apart, ran over or smashed, sometimes all at one. Buildings on fire burn right to the ground, and tanks mercilessly flatten walls, fences and shrubbery.
The audio for Company of Heroes was always something they received a lot of praise for, and wishing to continue this tradition, Relic have gone to great lengths to perfect the sound for the sequel. Every weapon sound within the game is a live recording of the real weapon, captured at a variety of distances and orientations, to provide the most realistic audio environment possible within the game. The result is a powerful and visceral soundtrack - bullets wizz, ping and hiss over the battlefield, and artillery thunders in the background. Some of the sounds are so realistic that they sound a little odd, the Russian artillery truck (known as ‘Stalins Organ’ to the troops) makes deep, menacing whooshing noises as it disgorges its payload of rockets.
Graphically, Company of Heroes 2 is stunning. The version we played was running on Direct X 9, whereas the final version will be Direct X 11, so although we did not see the games truest potential, we were still very, very impressed. The characters and vehicles look incredible for an RTS - they would almost pass in a current generation FPS...almost.
There's snow-way that's real...
But it is the terrain and textures that really steal the show. Snow, ice and mud all look very real, and their degradation and damage as troops and vehicles interact with them is gradual and permanent; the battlefield looks totally different after a battle or a large amount of troops have soldiered through. Explosions and small particles like smoke and snow are extremely well executed as well, with thick smoke billowing from burning vehicles and buildings, obscuring lines of site and adding to the tense confusion of an epic battle.
Possibly the biggest addition to the game is something Relic is calling “Cold Tech”. Temperatures on the Eastern Front were known to reach minus forty at times, a point that had constant effects on the way war was waged at the time, and this unique feature has been applied to Company of Heroes 2. On certain maps there is ‘extreme cold’, with dynamically generated blizzards rolling onto the battlefield. These blizzards aren’t just a visual effect either, they gradually freeze your men to death if you leave them outside unprotected. Infantry can be saved from freezing by sheltering them indoors, within a vehicle, or by using your engineers to construct bonfires to keep them warm. These new bonfires provide a really interesting element to the game, as when the weather takes a turn for the worse, infantry have to make a dash to shelter, or battle over the warmth of a fire. Fires can also be destroyed by the enemy, leaving your men to freeze.
Blizzards aren’t the only part of ‘Cold Tech’ though. Snow falls and accumulates, hampering the movements of your men. It can also be melted and blown around by explosions, exposing the ground below, before slowly re-accumulating. Ice is also now common in the game, and can be destroyed to send vehicles and troops to watery graves, or to prevent enemies crossing the ice. Heavy vehicles moving across ice also slowly damages it, and some parts are weaker than others, so crossing it is always a calculated risk. The surface of the ice is also slippery for vehicles, especially the faster moving ones, adding to the difficulty of navigating this new surface.
The other new feature is ‘True Sight’. The way the fog of war works in Company of Heroes 2 has also been overhauled, and now it is much more realistic. Troops can't see through walls, smoke or other things that would usually block their vision, and if none of your troops can see something, then neither can you. This makes the possibility of ambush much more likely, and immediately affects the way the game is played. This new system for the fog of war also moves and changes much faster than before, and is really noticeable in the way the game looks, I’m still not one hundred percent sure that it improves the game aesthetically, but the impact it has on how the game is played is significant.
The way strategic points work has also been changed; instead of each point having a predetermined resource it provides, you must now use and Engineer to build a dump of the resource you require next to the point. You can still only build one type of resource at a point, but the dumps can be destroyed and changed, making it much easier to accumulate the type you need.
Company of Heroes 2 is such a big game, and there is so much new in it that I could double the length of this article and still not cover it all. Relic have really reached into every nook and cranny of the game and made improvements almost everywhere. The real test will obviously come when we play the final version, but judging by what we have seen today, it is going to be a pretty strong release.
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