Released in 2006, Company of Heroes became one of the most beloved strategy games of all-time. It’s no surprise, boasting intelligent gameplay, historically accurate skirmishes and explosive set-pieces. With a double jump between publishers as well as a switch from the Western Front to the Eastern Front, does this tactical follow-up still offer an impeccable experience for strategy fans?

Often considered World War II’s bloodiest campaign, the missions of Company of Heroes 2 span Operation Barbarossa, depicting Germany’s invasion of the USSR in 1941. Putting you in the role of Soviet general, you’ll lead the Red Army into battle from above, where a single decision could make the difference between a triumphant victory and a brutal defeat. Stringing the historical battles of the campaign together are a series of cut-scenes telling the story of Lev Abramovich Isakovic, a Russian soldier imprisoned and interrogated within a Gulag Prison. Sadly the ugly cut-scenes are unengaging and superfluous, quickly revealing themselves as a poor attempt to string each mission together.

While such a basic storyline would hurt an inferior game, it’s the return of the tense strategic gameplay that makes Company of Heroes 2 just as addictive as before. As you proceed into each carefully constructed campaign, you’ll begin with a small set of troops and gradually build up your army. With each different class of solider having an expertise on the battlefield, how you rally your troops into battle will dictate your chances of success against vicious Axis enemies. Equally important is how you position your troops behind cover, build up defenses and seek out flanking maneuvers which can give you the edge on your enemies.

While those who’ve played the predecessor will feel at home, there are some new features which make the sequel distinctive. Take the new true sight system, which gauges an accurate line of sight for your soldiers – shrouding enemy positions in secrecy. Sending an unprepared team into a seemingly clear street may actually reveal an overwhelming squad of enemies. This addition adds a new level of strategy, and you’ll need to make sure that you’re always prepared to face the unexpected. The updated engine also provides new environmental effects, with snowy maps requiring troops to stay warm by seeking out campfires, while frozen lakes can be shot to trap enemies.

 

Much like the original, Company of Heroes 2 also comes packing a considerable multiplayer component. Even if you’re a confident commander within the single player campaign, going up against other Company of Heroes veterans is a considerable challenge, and there’s plenty here to keep players entertained. Alongside the usual roster of match types, Company of Heroes 2 also introduces the fantastic Theatre of War mode. Bringing together various co-op challenges and solo missions built around specific ideas – from assassinating generals to destroying enemy compounds – the concise and focused missions here are arguably better than those seen in the main campaign.

It’s fair to say that strategy games have a stigma of being visually drab. While Company of Heroes 2 is viewed from the usual perspective which makes soldiers seem like scurrying ants, the presentation is uniformly superb. Zooming into the battlefield reveals sumptuous details – from the individual weapons of your soldiers to the crumbling architecture around them. Watching large scale battles unfold with numerous soldiers and environmental effects is exciting, while the authentic sound effects make Company of Heroes 2 a strategy game that’s as thrilling as it is slow-paced and cerebral. Complementing the visuals, the fantastic orchestral score is as emotionally sweeping as any war movie.

It’s been a long time coming, but Company of Heroes 2 ably lives up to the legacy of the original game. It might not offer many significant leaps forward in terms of gameplay, while the attempts at narrative fall flat. However, with stunning presentation, incredible depth and the return of the gameplay that made the original so fondly regarded, Company of Heroes 2 still earns distinction.

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  • Developer: Relic Entertainment
    Publisher: Sega
    Release Date: 25/6/13