E3 2012: Company of Heroes 2 Gameplay Preview
Snowbound and ready for action
©2012 Arthur Kotsopoulos
THQ Australia held a pre-E3 showcase event highlighting their current line up of upcoming titles with never before seen gameplay footage for the lucky “elite” of the Australian media.
Sitting in front of a projector screen, we were told that the video showcase would run for 40 minutes, 20 minutes for a Company of Heroes 2 gameplay footage with developer commentary and 20 minutes for Metro: Last Light consisting of a never before seen level showcasing the games exploration and less action orientated gameplay. But we’ll get to that in a later article.
For now it’s back to the eastern front of World War 2 with Real Time Strategy title Company of Heroes 2.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
The developer Relic Entertainment, represented at this event by Quinn Duffy, has clearly decided to take what worked in Company of Heroes and their Dawn of War franchise and enhance them in almost every way.
Taking a few moments to talk us through the Essence engine currently in its third iteration, Duffy showed us how the improvements to the graphics and environment work to the player’s advantage and disadvantage.
Trekking through the snow with a squad of soldiers trying to find cover from the imminent onslaught of bullets that would descend upon them, we were shown that like real life they left tracks in the snow with every footstep.
Tracks, that if you were playing multiplayer, your enemy could easily use to their advantage, track you down and flank you before you even have the chance to retaliate with a counter attack.
Continuing with the demo and taking cover behind fences, we were shown the way flanking works when coming up against a group of enemies and strategically playing to your strengths rather than going head on into battle.
Approaching the house just up ahead which was fortified by enemy troops, Duffy commanded one squad to the front line to bring all the enemy’s fire and attention to them, whilst another squad, which had a soldier equipped with a flame-thrower, flanked from the right and proceeded to burn the barn.
This tactical piece of gameplay gave Duffy the upper hand as the enemy started to retreat back. They knew they were out-smarted and out-matched.
Zooming in on the now burning barn which was emitting a large cloud of black smoke, the graphical fidelity was the first thing to catch my eye and it amazed me.
- The way the fire burned was like sitting in front of a camp fire hypnotized by its flickering beauty,
- The smoke swayed accordingly to the wind,
- It was a suitably dramatic sight watching someone flail out of the barn on fire, rolling in the snow until they collapsed and moved no more.
There were a few gasps and few laughs during this moment, followed by complete silence as we watched how the cover system works with “True Sight” in Company of Heroes 2.
Fog of War
Whilst it’s still technically “Fog of War“, True Sight is the next evolution you might say, where you can only see what your troops see, rather than having the ability to monitor everything you’ve already uncovered throughout the map.
Moving up ahead from the now burnt out barn, Duffy told us that enemy troops lay crouched behind sand bags waiting for us, however the player wouldn’t know this.
Taking cover behind a broken-down tank, we were told that in light of the enemy losing its foothold and not being able to hold the line they would call in an artillery strike as a last resort, surprising the player.
After the enemy started retreating, allowing our troops to mount over the cover and descend upon the sand bangs, out of nowhere it started raining artillery shells.
What ensued was an amazing scene of flying bodies and great explosion effects, leaving craters in the ground that flattened our squad and the snow.
This destruction conversely made traversing easier though.
Which brings us back to the way the environment works within the game; when you walk on flattened snow you’ll be able to walk at a normal pace whereas if you were to walk knee-deep in snow your pace would slow down making you more susceptible to enemy fire.
Combining True Sight with the environment allows for some amazing tactical scenarios, that as we were told will make the hardcore dedicated fans of the franchise and RTS genre extremely happy.
Accompanying the taking cover and the ability to mount walls, every feature plays out in harmony with each other.
Throw in authentic explosion and gun sounds, Stalin’s Order 227, which forebode troops retreating from battle without direct orders, and what you’ve got is an authentic strategy war game with as much care and time dedicated to its gameplay as its overall story.
Theatre of War
- Any newly destroyed vehicle can be used as cover for your troops and vice versa, for the enemy.
- Enemy AI is extremely smart and have the same advantages and disadvantages as you have
- The animations in Company of Heroes 2 are amazingly fluid.
With what was shown over the last 15 minutes, every tactical and environmental piece of gameplay in the final battle gave us a better understanding of how all these gameplay elements seamlessly flow with one another.
- The heavy armour (tank) played victim to True Sight when it rolled unknowingly onto a plateau of ice, losing its traction and being susceptible to an enemy air strike
- Enemy AI were flanking us from left and right taking cover where appropriate to lessen the severity of our bullets
- The enemy were throwing grenades at our troops were stationed with the heavy mounted machine guns, trying to eliminate them
- True Sight limited what we could see and so we didn’t know where or how our enemy would strike.
Being a fan of the Real Time Strategy genre I was pleased with what Company of Heroes 2 demonstrated, and even though we are still quite a long way from its release, the game is shaping up magnificently.
Whilst it is another sequel in the plethora of sequels, THQ have a strategy game that the hardcore RTS gamers, the core franchise base, as well as new comers coming into the fold, will love.
It’s not a bad thing being a sequel in a case like this when it looks to be this good.
Company of Heroes 2 is a damn perfect excuse to start getting excited for strategy gaming all over again.
©2012 Arthur Kotsopoulos
Filed under: E3 2012, Game Impressions, Xbox 360 Tagged: | company of heroes, Company of Heroes 2, Darksiders II, dawn of war, Essence Engine, Fog of War, Metro Last Light, Real-time strategy, Relic Entertainment, THQ, World War II