Company of Heroes 2 tells the story of Mother Russia’s humanity, fighting her way to Berlin against the fascists. I know it might seem odd to say such a thing, since you’re going to be crushing Nazi’s to free your country, but as you play the game you get to experience The Motherland’s feminine side.
Brute force is best force
As you relive the memories of soldier turned journalist Isakovich, you quickly learn how the game mechanics mimic the Soviet war effort’s heartless ability to spit out waves of men and women willing to die for their country, ready to be disposed of as quickly as they arrived.
With almost an endless supply of conscripts the game lets you effortlessly built an army of overwhelming numbers. This is after all how you’re supposed to take on the Nazi’s, right? In most missions squads are trainable at your base. Losing trained squads however, is dire to your cause. Fortunately, you are able to send in multiple squads of untrained infantry to merge with trained squads when you lose your comrades. Conscripts fade much quicker though, they aren’t very affective in battle, and the more squads you have the harder it gets to keep track of it all. The increased population of 135 tiny Vlad’s might add to the experience of building a Soviet Empire, but definitely takes from the enjoyment of the game. How much you’ll enjoy these missions, will as a result be completely up to you and how smart you play the game.
This is where vehicle warfare greatly comes into play. Tanks provide cover and Engineers provide longevity as they are able to constantly repair damaged vehicles. It is also good to keep a couple of those at control points, building fuel or munitions caches, as well as serving as great defence squads against invaders trying to capture or recapture control points. Once upgraded to equip flamethrowers, these squads are more than just meat sacks to be disposed of. They can be your strongest assets in the game. Their ability to quickly burn down enemies and place mines to detonate are but a few of their great qualities.
Missions mostly require you to take over bases, but there are a select few that really stand out. One of my favourite missions was guiding my men through a harsh, icy environment. Constantly getting your men to camp fires and building to ensure they don’t freeze to death, it’s almost heart-breaking when they die. Snipers play a crucial role here, sending out flares to increase the radius of visibility. Another great mission was guiding a squad of Polish snipers through their mission. You really need to play tactically to secure the victory.
I only really started to enjoy the game once I abandoned the historical Soviet tactic of strength in numbers and switched over to using a hand full of tanks, half-trucks and Engineers. Just past halfway through the campaign, this was the most effective method to smash through enemy defences. Adding air strikes to strategy, I could seamlessly glide through to victory.
A miss is as good as a mile
The most frustrating part of the game was that my army had the worst aim, ever. I had lost so many comrades to the fascists purely because they couldn’t really shoot. Great soldiers they turned out to be. In some battles my overwhelming number of tiny meat shields would get gunned down like it was target practise, against small numbers of Nazi trained infantry.
In any reality, should eight or twelve soldiers be stormed by three times more soldiers than that, they’d not survive. Even if they did have a machine gun. I guess this was supposed to drive you to spawn more conscripts, but it did quite the opposite for me. It’s why I switched over to vehicle warfare instead.
The game’s cut scenes are, in their own right, brilliant, but the game does not to them justice. They aren’t exactly CG, but the art style suited to the theme. Right off the bat, these scenes struck a cord with me. I knew it was going to be filled with emotion, and tell a great tale. In retrospect, they make you see the game through different eyes. Instead of seeing your troops as mindless, soulless animals sent into battle for slaughter, you see them as heroes. Brave souls marching on, knowing that death is breathing down their necks.
Here’s the part where the game doesn’t do it justice. Missions greatly overshadow the cut scenes. While in-game, once you’ve started that mission, your mind immediately goes to work. You strategise and you’re completely immersed in battles. So much so that you forget about the scene you just saw. Fantastic for gameplay, tragic for the story. It’s something that can only be properly appreciated once you have finished the campaign. I really wish I could be equally immersed in both throughout the game.
In Soviet Russia, games play you
Company of Heroes 2 drives its players, compels them to push forward at any cost, even if it is death by friendlies. A no-retreat order is instated by Stalin, which is activated for some periods of time during some missions. Should your troops retreat during the active phase, a commander in your base shoots them on sight. I really liked this idea, but it had no effect on my game at all. I had no reason to retreat, because losing squads had no real consequences. It is also possible to outsmart the commander, which defeats the purpose of him being there.
I always felt that I could push forward in the game, and when you’re given a military powerhouse like The Red Army, how can you not? There’s no real reason to slow down, if you’re playing the game effectively. Because of the high population cap, you are able to always have back up troops and vehicles, in the majority of the missions.
Brutal frontline warfare
The Theatre of War is one of my favourite parts of the game. It is a lot more challenging than the campaign missions. Theatre of war pits players against harsh scenarios, odds that are not a cake walk to beat. The mode tells different stories from the conflicts on the Eastern Front. Players can play solo or co-op and as you achieve success in your missions, your story progresses on the timeline. The first mission asserts the tone of the mode, timed to reach your objectives, you have no idea that you’re probably not going to get this right in the first try. At least, I didn’t.
The game also includes a multiplayer mode, where you can challenge other players to a battle of the mind.
Company of Heroes 2’s weakness is its strength, as much as some aspects of the game disappoints, others make up for it tenfold. This masterpiece is an opiate of World War II themed strategy, it will have you coming back for more.