After suffering shocking losses in the icy hell of Bastogne, the tattered remains of Captain Johnny Vastanos Airborne division are crushed beneath the might of German armour on their very next deployment.
Allied forces quickly followed suite and were routed in the entire area, being pushed back all the way back to France. I’d been in battlefield command for three hours at this point and already I’d let hit Hitler win WW2.
With the RTS sphere having long been dominated by multiplayer, never fear, Relic and Sega has once again stepped forward to put the single player back into real time strategy. With their second major expansion for 2013s, Company of Heroes 2: Adrennes Assault, we focus fully on story.
The lengthy single player campaign takes place near the end of WW2, during the final major German offensive, known as the battle of the Bulge. The campaign feels mechanically similar to Relics other single player success story, Dawn of War 2 franchise, in that you have a battlefield map with various regions to conquer and customisable units to deploy
The campaign follows three distinct companies, the Airborne, Mechanized and Support. Each with unique strengths and their own upgrade trees.
Each company also has their own Commander who will dress you down post mission with contextually different replies based on your actions.
While the writing and personality for these characters hasn’t exactly taken any daring strides outside of well-trodden character tropes, the writing is proficient enough to give your actions more narrative context and tie you into the game world beyond simply chasing your next objective.
The Airborne are versatile but infantry based, able to drop supplies and men to various points on the map, giving you a lot of tactical freedom but lacking the serious fire power to go up against entrenched enemy positions or German panzers.
The Support company is, as you might expect, ideal for defence based missions, able to set up heavily entrenched positions with high fire power.
These quickly became my favoured company, as the defence orientated missions are a definite highlight. The mechanized infantry are extremely manoeuvrable and can get some solid firepower across the map quickly, making them perhaps the most generally useful of all three companies.
As each company gain battlefield experience, they gain levels and may progress through a series of skill trees which improve upon their specialties.
Who you choose for what mission becomes increasingly important as the campaign continues, as losses sustained in combat effect your company’s overall manpower past the end of the mission, essentially giving each company a health bar which results in them being disbanded if you make too many poor choices in battle.
This is combined with a fairly harsh Save mechanic which allows you only one slot, combined, this makes the campaign a fairly brutal gaming mistress.
However this proves to be the strength of this game, a feeling of weighty consequence for your actions which is sustained throughout the entire campaign.
This system forces you to consider the lives of all of your men, instead of constantly feeding them into the meat grinder only to generate more back at base.
This was perhaps the only strategy game I have played where I felt genuinely guilty for each unit lost. Combined with the games established, Veteran mechanic where your unit’s level up throughout the mission, you have more and more reason for obsessive micro management of every unit.
What Relic games have always done well is making the action on screen more visceral, as opposed to random particle effects destroying faceless swarms of easily replaceable nothings.
The destructible environments, detailed animations, well fleshed out physics engine all combine to give the combat a visual richness and depth.
My only issue with the game graphically is that the overall texture quality can seem quite dated; meaning zooming in too close to any part of your war effort can break your immersion.
The game has an impressive amount of context sensitive sound bites as well, meaning your units will react realistically to various situations that they find themselves in and tying you close to the game world.
With how well polished the main campaign missions are, it is a little disappointing that the random skirmishes you encounter in between on your world map are occasionally more frustrating than fun.
You are spawned on a map with strategic points to hold and have X amount of the enemy to kill, but sometimes only in a strangely specific manner. Only being able to win a battle by killing a certain number of Germans with tanks seemed jarring after how brutally realistic my campaign so far had been.
These small issues aside however, this expansion is a worthy example of single player strategy done right, with both narrative and mechanical devices combining to make a uniquely memorable campaign and a purchase essential for fans of the series and genre as a whole.
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