After the Russian and German armies of the original release and the US army and Oberkommando West in The Western Front Armies, it only makes sense that Relic’s latest addition to Company of Heroes 2 comes in the form of The British Forces, another major player in the fight for Europe during the Second World War.
The launch falls into Relic’s traditional form of standalone release, which lets you own a single army or expansion, but still play against existing players and armies. However, this release is not like the others, in that the British forces are being added to the game on their own, rather than with an Axis counterpart. Additionally, Sega is engaging in a major push to get people playing the game, by making the entirety of Company of Heroes 2 and its existing expansions free to play this weekend, before allowing a limited number of players to sample the new British army from Monday to Wednesday.
Right from the off, it’s clear that the Brits have borrowed the form of base buildings and expansion from the US army that was part of the previous expansion. Here, as there, you have a small but flexible base camp, which can be upgraded over time to add support infantry and vehicle sections, as well as have pick-up points to buy your units more powerful weaponry to help them better counter German tanks and infantry units.
The stock infantry squad needs a little beefing up to reach full strength, by purchasing the ability to reinforce units with an extra man, as well as grenades and picking up the aforementioned weapons. They’re initially backed up by machine gun units and Royal Engineers, as well as the cheap and cheerful Universal Carrier, that first acts as a fast transport unit, but can then be upgraded with a Vickers K or a WASP flamethrower – which makes use of the game’s excellent flame effects.
The various commanders you can choose from during a battle – you pick three to take in with you, and choose one as you see the battle unfolding – can also have a major impact on how your army plays, with the abilities they unlock giving you a lot of options and flexibility. The Commando, for example, lets you send commands behind enemy lines with a glider or can let you call in a smoke barrage that obscures your advance, while the Special Weapons Regiment can call in a special tank hunting unit, a halftrack from which weapons and unit reinforcements can be deployed and more. The former is perhaps more oriented to the daring infantry-led assault with light vehicles backing it up, the latter on maintaining a strong front line defence.
It certainly feels as though the more defensive style of play is the better fit for this army, which has more natural defensive abilities than attacking. As you capture a key position in multiplayer or skirmish, you’ll ideally want to strengthen it with various emplacements. To this end the basic infantry unit can dig a quick trench for cover, and dropping a machine gun unit will be very effective at closing down an infantry assault, while the engineers create mortar emplacements and other support structures behind them to rain down fire from above or give you a forward point to retreat to.
Of course, when the German troops get to their end game and are able to pump out a large number of tanks, it can be rather difficult for the British – and other allies, it must be said – to keep up, regardless of what has been built. Being able to add a PIAT to a unit or getting the sniper and his armour piercing .55 rifle into a key position certainly helps, as will building a number of tanks of your own, like the Sherman Firefly or the British designed Cromwell and Churchill tanks and their variants.
Relic have tried to give the army a quite uniquely British flavour, partly through the various unit voices. You’ve got Welshmen in the Royal Engineers, Scottish snipers and even a few New Zealanders pop up. As you hand out orders, there’s an amusing amount of sergeants yelling at the troops to stop touching themselves and get on with what I’ve told them to do, to the point where if this were true, I’m surprised they can even see the enemy coming.
What’s interesting about The British Forces is that Relic and Sega have once again produced a standalone and multiplayer-only army expansion. Buying this lets you use the British army online and fight against other players using any of the existing armies in the game – Automatch will set you up against Axis forces, mind – and you can, of course, play skirmishes. There’s a collection of new multiplayer maps to try out as well, but there’s no offline campaign, just skirmishes against AI, and this is something we saw with The Western Front Armies as well.
Then again, that was followed by the Ardennes Assault standalone single player campaign, which brought some innovative new ideas to the table for the Company of Heroes series. With The British Forces, there are certain units and abilities which tantalisingly point toward a campaign based off Operation Market Garden. Although previously tackled in the first game’s Opposing Forces expansion, that was from the German point of view, and it would be interesting to see Ardennes Assault’s campaign map gameplay combined with this audacious airborne operation.
As someone that typically prefers the single player side of a strategy game, the prospect of such a campaign is quite intriguing, especially with the work that’s been done for the British army and how Relic have created something that feels quite nice and different to the existing armies in the game.