Do you remember the Commandos series of games? Apparently they were releasing Commandos games up until 2006, something that comes as a bit of a shock and leaves me wanting to invest a lot of time and money into the series, but my experience with them comes from the first title: Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines.
I played this game 14 years ago and it remained a fuzzy half memory in the back of my mind that occasionally resurfaced, reminding me that Commandos was awesome.
The second I sat down with Company of Heroes 2, Commandos snapped back into sharp focus in my mind. After a few goes at the game I realised that it’s not actually that similar to Commandos, but the almost intimate approach to RTS gameplay that was on offer in the demo made an instant connection between the two games in my head.
There’s a mountain of gameplay mechanics I could talk about based entirely on a single, 15 minute level, but the important one is perhaps the most unexpected one – the game’s emotion. The thing about Company of Heroes 2 is that it makes you care about your individual soldiers and squads. Maybe in a larger battle you’d lose that connection to your soldiers, but with the limited number of squads the demo gives you you have to care about them if you want to succeed.[videoyoutube]It’s more than that though, the game feels like it’s been specifically crafted to give you as much of a connection to your units as possible.
It’s everything from the pace of the game to the way it makes you think tactically, through to the way that you watch your Russians crawl forwards on their bellies or lying as low as possible whilst a machine gun fires inches above their heads.
The way your characters react when under fire from a machine gun emplacement is a thing of beauty, as is your ability to use one unit as a distraction whilst a second unit flanks in and throws a grenade at the feet of your enemy.
The question is whether you can bring yourself to commit that first set of soldiers as a simple distraction, knowing that you’re likely to lose at least one soldier to the hail of bullets that will soon be whizzing over them.
There were times where I was all set to use this kind of tactic to wipe out an enemy emplacement, but hesitated for a moment before committing my troops. Was there a better to approach the situation? Could I outflank this group of enemies and put less of my troops at risk? I’m certainly not the biggest RTS fan in the world, but I’ve played enough to feel incredibly refreshed by a game that genuinely makes you think about every move you make.
The way that your link to your soldiers feeds into your tactical thinking, which itself feeds back into those emotional ties, is really what makes Company of Heroes 2 feel special.
There’s much more I could talk about here, so much more that could be said about this game. I could talk about the way that Relic have implemented weather, making it as much of a foe as the enemy. I could go into greater depth about the game’s tactical nuances, or the way that the smoke from a burning building blocks your view. It all feels a little irrelevant though in the face of what the game’s real triumph is though, actually making you care about the soldiers under your command.
That’s what Relic have really done here, they’ve turned your forces from faceless automatons into living, breathing soldiers who you want to protect, but occasionally have to sacrifice for the greater good. That, in my opinion, is all you really need to know.