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Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts

Company Of Heroes was the strategy game of last year - brutal, brilliant and full of brawn. Can the sequel reach similar heights? Suzy Wallace tracks its progress...

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Hippies might want to look away now, as it's pretty certain that a lot of trees will snuff it. Mosqueira also quips that we'll "get to see what happens when a Sherman attacks a windmill". I'm putting my money on the Sherman.

Other additions will include "tactical sound" (enabling the astute player to recognise the type of machinery firing from its unique sound effects), a full selection of weather effects, complete day-to-night transition (finally enabling missions that say "hold the town until daylight") and a complete overhaul of the vehicle AI.

Carota continues: "We spent all this time doing the believable squad movement, and the vehicles frustrated us, because we had big plans for these formations, but just didn't have the time to implement it in COH. Visually, seeing intelligent behaviour from your units is very important, and the believability factor was quashed a lot when you saw a whole bunch of vehicles doing the dirty."

Square Off
As my presentation comes to an end, Mosqueira loads up a level to give us
a quick demonstration of the two new armies in battle. Under the cover of darkness and a stinging rain, a couple of British squads cautiously stalk across open terrain to capture a resource point, with a Cromwell tank and their lieutenant standing watch. Once the point's been captured, Mosqueira has one squad build a slit trench while the other takes cover behind the standard sandbags. Lightning flashes overhead, illuminating the forces at work.

Minutes later, a couple of the half-track vehicles of the Panzer Elite roll into the square, with German soldiers leaning out of them, firing their Panzerschrecks at the Cromwell tank. However, they don't last long against the heavily dug-in British.

Time to even things up a bit. The steady rumble of a tank fills the air, and suddenly one of the walls of the square crumbles before the might of a Panther. Panzer Elite troops flood through the gap in the wall and the scene descends into chaos, with machine-gun fire filling the air and explosions rocking the screen. Mosqueira switches back to the British to call in some help courtesy of the Royal Canadian Artillery. Soon, shells begin to drop from the sky and the battle really heats up.

Panning around, the units that took cover behind the sandbags have been totally wiped out and the Cromwell's been decimated by the superior Panther. All that remains is a handful of plucky Brits in the slit trench withstanding hit after hit. When only one is left, it looks like the battle's going the way of the Germans. Suddenly, reinforcements arrive, and a neat bit of flanking exposes the weaker parts of the Panther's armour to the two newly arrived tanks, while the infantry reinforcements mop up any German stragglers. A moment to feel patriotic if ever I saw one.

Half The Battle
It's an exhilarating display that serves to remind us all just why the original Company Of Heroes was such a notable success. After all, how many other RTS games can you list where just the act of watching someone else play a level gets your heart racing?
The problem with follow-ups to games that are so successful is the difficulty of matching the intensity and expectations of the first title. But my trip to Vancouver has cemented in my head the fact that the team at Relic are one of the most passionate I've ever met. Couple that with a love for their subject matter that borders on scary and a harsh eye for self-criticism and you can begin to see the potential for Opposing Fronts to be hugely successful. And if this is only the beginning of the COH follow-ups, then Relic seem to be firmly in line to live up to their goals.

The definitive WWII strategy title? We thought they were there already to be honest - but won't stop them bettering it if they feel inclined. Just don't mention the moose...

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