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Company of Heroes (Pre-E3 2006)

Developer: Relic | Publisher: THQ
Players: 1+ Player Game | Genre: Real Time Strategy

Release Date: 09/13/06

The last real time strategy released by Relic, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, stunned players with amazing, intense animations, as well as a unique style of play revolving around squad based tactics that took a refreshing step away from the conventional base building bonanza and tedious micromanaging of previous strategy games. Relic’s newest RTS, Company of Heroes, will build upon Relic’s strengths as an RTS developer, and what better setting for epic, chaotic combat than the second world war?

Relic’s intention with Company of Heroes from the start was to create a realistic scenario based upon the actual tactics, strategy and combat of a real WWII battlefield. It is towards this goal that many of the new gameplay aspects in Company of Heroes strive. The first of these additions is a dynamic environment, true to the battlefields of WWII. Walls, building, and other obstructions no longer stand in the way of any force armed with explosives, as Company of Heroes adds the ability to create scalable, dynamic damage to any object in the field. Create paths with a few tank shots, or eliminate enemy cover with a well placed artillery shell to change the tide of battle.

Large amounts of debris aren’t the only way that Relic plans to bring a realistic battlefield to your screen, however. In Dawn of War, they added the concept of infantry fighting in squads to reduce the burden of micromanaging on the player. In Company of Heroes, they plan to take this a step even further by creating effective tactical AI for every single unit the player owns, having them all respond to changes in the battle and the environment as a real soldier might. A hail of artillery, for example, might cause your assortment of troops to run away from the blast zone rather than stand there and take the blows until you order them away. An approaching tank will cause them to hide and fire from cover rather than stand sheepishly in its field of view. In addition to their tactical behaviors, they will also take advantage of changes in the environment as they present themselves, whether you know it or not. A misplaced shell from an enemy tank, for example, could cause your troops to fire at it through the newly created hole in the building.

It is in these ways that Relic intends to reduce the amount of tedious micromanaging the player is forced to endure, especially for situations in which the orders would be typical, gut reactions by the infantry. Your troops won’t stand in the face of blatant danger only to be annihilated while you worry about more complex, strategic matters. Now, while you’re taking care of other matters, they’re running for cover and doing the best to stay out of danger while still dealing damage. On a larger scale, this makes the battlefield look much more realistic, a giant step closer to the realistic war that Relic intends to bring us.

As with Dawn of War, resources are handled in a much less specific way than usual, negating the need to actually gather the resource with worker units. Instead, strategic points on the map offer up a constant supply of resources when captures. Points held by the player will offer one of three resources: manpower, fuel, and munitions, which are needed just to allow units to use their weapons. Taking another step towards a more realistic theatre of war, Relic has created the concept of ‘supply zones’ to their game, necessitating a connection between areas where supplies are to be used. That is, forces in an area cut off from all other player owned territory will be unable to utilize supplies gathered in those areas. More than ever before, strategic placement of troops and control of the land is key to winning any battle.

Another interesting addition is the Company Commander system, which completely changes the way you look at the tech tree. Instead of slowly building up research in all areas and trying to beat your opponent at their own game, you can now choose a specific tech tree to follow based on your preferences, from airborne, to armor, to infantry. You’ll progress along these tech trees by ‘leveling up’ your army, which occurs quicker the better your troops perform in battle. With each level, new abilities are unlocked for you specifically oriented to the tree you decided to follow.

The most important step towards a realistic war, though, is the visual appeal of the battlefield. Relic set higher standards for RTS visuals in Dawn of War with stunning animations and sounds, and Company of Heroes only looks to improve on this aspect. Exploding buildings, troops careening through the air, destructive shrapnel and environmental objects tearing apart under fire all add up to the most amazing battlefield visual yet created in a videogame. If it’s a real war experience they’re aiming for, Relic certainly seems to be hitting the mark so far. Hopefully they will set a new standard for Real time strategy along the way.

By Andrew Bruck - 05/10/06
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
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Screenshots for Company of Heroes (Pre-E3 2006)

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