It's a special feeling being at a developer when its game goes gold, especially when it's of the calibre of Dawn of War and Company of Heroes dev Relic. All of a sudden Ride of the Valkyries fills the office; workers and visiting press alike spill into the hallway, knowing full well that the trumpeting anthem means that Opposing Fronts, the expansion to the most acclaimed RTS of the last few years, is done.
Champagne spreads across the now-packed office hub like fights at kicking-out time. Relic's development team, mostly donning work-proof beards, is pleased and relieved to get it out the door. And what do they do now that the 16 hour days, sleepless nights and missed weekends are finally over? Well they play a game, of course...
Opposing Fronts isn't your (completely) average RTS top-up; rather than a straight forward unit boost over the original game (which Relic could've quite easily pulled off considering how fantastic CoH is) in multiplayer at least Opposing Fronts plays completely different to what you're used to thanks to two diverse new factions.
First up are the Dick Van Dyke-esque Brits, a very defence-geared 'turtling' side which specialises in artillery and anti-tank weapons. They've also got some of the game's most flexible troops, able to construct machine gun nests and defences without the help of engineers. Thanks to their wealth of British witticisms and liberal use of the word 'wanker', the British troops are also a joy to command - even if you're just pissing around to see what they'll say next.
On the side of those pesky Nazis are the Panzer Elite, a side already being called Company of Heroes' most awesome faction on the official forums. Basically they're the guys with the best vehicles in the game, subsidising small infantry units for speedy scout vehicles and gigantic monsters on treads.
After caning Opposing Fronts for a few hours going back to the original two teams was like drifting into a different game; none of the strategies you use with the British will work with the USA and the same for the Axis - they're all designed to employ totally different styles of strategy.
The Brits dominate in defending their territory points and setting up small bases to generally annoy the crap out of the opposing team. They're not as fast as the Panzer Elite but if they manage to get past the early game - and get some decent tank defences up - they easily break through the hun's armour.
The Panzer Elite are a lot easier to play; straight away you can pump small tracked vehicles to capture the most important territories, and by the time you've got the tanks rolling out of your base the lowly Brits likely wouldn't have had the time or resources to get their anti-tank rolling.
Most RTS games fall short in the single-player department, mostly due to the fact that playing against other humans is infinitely more compelling in a genre where strategy is key. But after the dramatic and satisfying solo experience in the first Company of Heroes, we must admit we were expecting something more from Opposing Fronts' comparatively unpolished British campaign.
The British story revolves around the push towards Berlin that took place after the D-Day landings. A rich backdrop in history to explore you would've thought, but compared to the first game the British plot seems to be more about Cockney one-liners than cinematic flair, and the first game's compelling cut-scenes seem to be completely missing.
Thankfully the Panzer Elite solo affair, which revolves around two brothers battling in Operation Market Garden, is a lot smarter than the British tea and biscuits-fest. There's also plenty of strategy and tricks you learnt from the first game that need to be employed in both campaigns, and there's some moderate challenge on offer - even if the AI seems to be a little overly-defensive.
Single-player woes aside, there's still plenty to be recommended - especially if you spend most of your RTS time online. Both of the new sides feel unique and fit in perfectly with the existing roster; the Brits offer a defensive slant and require completely different tactics over the USA. The Panzer Elite meanwhile is a case of brute force, and they're simply awesome when you've got their mechanical monsters on the ground.
It might suffer from expansion whiff in the single player department, but Oppossing Fronts does one thing right; it injects extra life into the original Company of Heroes and that makes it a worthy purchase for all fans.
Single-player lacks the original's polish, but two diverse faction additions mean multiplayer's even more addictive than before.
- Company of Heroes is still great fun
- New factions play totally different
- Lots of use of the word 'wanker'
- Single-player lacks polish of the original