Thanks to some beautifully rendered grit and grime, advanced AI and impressive destructible environments, Company Of Heroes has remained lodged in our heads since it was first unveiled at E3 last year. World War II and the RTS are far from strangers, but Relic, they of Homeworld and Dawn Of War fame, believe there's still much to be explored in the old theatre of war, and everything we've seen so far in Company Of Heroes proves them right.
The first thing that sticks out above the competition is the game's stunning visuals; COH is easily the best-looking WWII RTS we've ever seen. Thankfully though, the visuals go a bit deeper than just making the tank battle damage look pretty. Every object in the game has physical properties and can be damaged or destroyed. In most RTS games you're confined to venturing only to where the level designers want you to go, but in COH you can blow down each and every wall or barrier that blocks your path. Buildings crumble and collapse, roads crack and tanks explode, leaving their empty shells scorched on the battlefield.
This impressive level of interactivity isn't just for show either - it's a huge strategic resource; downed vehicles and rubble can be used as cover by your infantry, and holes blown in the side of buildings can instantly be shot out of by your men inside. After a large town skirmish, you'll barely be able to recognize your battle-damaged surroundings.
So far, so much a prettier and zoomed-in re-enactment of Soldiers: Heroes Of World War II you might say. Equally as impressive as the interactive battlegrounds, Relic promise, is the AI in the game. Never again will RTS soldiers wait blankly for your orders and stand ineptly in a hail of bullets. Company Of Heroes will create believable, and beautifully animated, living infantry who move cautiously through streets, duck and dive for cover and generally do their damnedest to stay alive. While they won't quite finish the game for you, it's nice to hear RTS promised that won't need your constant attention.
One of the things that makes the advanced AI so erm, advanced though, is the way that infantry move like real squads; units will do their best to remain out of sight, staying on the edge of roads and appearing cautious to the world around them. When attacked they'll run for cover, pick their targets carefully and, if necessary, sit tight and wait for
reinforcements to arrive.
While Company Of Heroes is undoubtedly a more action-focused RTS, resource gathering also plays an important role in gameplay. To generate resources you're tasked with securing strategic locations around the map, with the map itself also divided into 'sectors', each generating a different kind of resource. Fuel, munitions and manpower are the three main flavours, with fuel being needed to summon vehicles, manpower to train infantry and munitions for ammo and upgrades. As such, the securing and defending of said resources becomes a very important part of the Heroes experience.
From what we've seen so far, we're more excited for Company of Heroes than any other WWII RTS in recent memory, and when you bring Relic's stellar track record into the equation, we're confident we won't be disappointed.