There's a General Patton-like plan of action for Company of Heroes 2, the long, long-awaited sequel to 2006's brilliant (and PC exclusive) WWII strategy. One: encapsulate the gritty realism of films like Saving Private Ryan. Two: real soldiers, real battlefields, real war. Three (and most importantly): create the highest-rated RTS of all time.
It's still early days, a vague 2013 release making for a painful wait, but after watching a lengthy walkthrough at publisher THQ's London showcase, we've got our big red 'mission complete' stamps at the ready.
With the saturation of WWII-era games, from tank sim to flight combat to sandbox to tower defence, you'd be forgiven for thinking developers have had one too many trips to the well. What's left after your Normandy beach landings, your Operation Market Garden parachute assaults, your sun-drenched death trips in the Pacific?
Well, for Relic it's nothing but new ground.
IN GOOD COMPANY
Their last game and its two expansions only covered four months of the war. Four months out of six years. In CoH 2 you'll start with the initial entry of the Soviets and follow the war right to its bitter end. Here battles are raging on the eastern front, a forgotten theatre which staged the bloodiest battles not only of WWII, but of the entirety of human history. Germany lost 80%-90% of its troops, one in seven Soviet citizens perished, and 90 million of 190 million Soviets were stranded deep behind enemy lines as the Axis marched ever forward. Thirteen of the 15 fiercest battles took place here; in contrast, the much-covered battle of Normandy ranks 23rd.
So in June 22nd, 1941 amidst the backdrop of Operation Barbarossa, the largest invasion in history in which 3.9 million Axis troops pushed into the USSR, the game begins. Your brow-beaten Soviets are being pushed back to Moscow, and a desperate Stalin issues Order 227, where "panickers and cowards will be eliminated on the spot", and there's to be "not one step back". It's a drastic tonal shift from the first game. In one scene during our demonstration, a captain orders a turret to cut down a wave of deserters in the snow.
This biting 40-below wilderness is where Relic's brand new Essence engine 3 comes into play, boasting environmental effects not only impressive but functional, capable of influencing the course of warfare. For instance, rather than a flat white texture, snow is polygonal, deep spots parting at your troops' feet and hindering movement. Thinner areas leave imprints and, brilliantly, tracks won't ever disappear, allowing players to trace telltale footprints and vehicle tracks to their conclusions. Rain too is dynamic, sloshing up mud and even filling fox holes to the brim, rendering them impossible to bypass or use as cover.