Note: This review focuses on the single-player portion of Company of Heroes 2 because there were very few multiplayer matches running on the actual release code during our review period. If there are any huge problems we encounter after release, we'll update this review accordingly.
Company of Heroes 2, the long-awaited sequel to Relic Entertainment's critically-acclaimed World War II real-time strategy game, belies its name. Playing as the Soviets in the game's main campaign, there are very few times you'll feel like a hero.
The trials you'll face along the Eastern Front, from Stalingrad through to Germany, are a far cry from the original game's D-Day inspired rah-rah-palooza. The campaign in Company of Heroes 2 is a series of morally ambiguous situations where the guys you're fighting for appear just as bad as the enemy you're fighting against.
Back in the USSR
Even our protagonist, former Soviet lieutenant Lev Abramovich Isakovich, doesn't agree with his country's actions. The story is related as a series of flashbacks from his comfy home in a Siberian jail cell, presumably for rebelling against the Motherland. It's a gloomy set-up for a discomfiting game.
Relic definitely tries to capture what made the Eastern Front so horrific. No matter what obstacle you're facing, the primary solution is to throw more men at the front lines. Squaring off against the Nazis, you definitely come to understand this war involved a smaller, more powerful German force on one side and a meat grinder on the other.
The Russian Army relies on conscripts backed up by heavy-duty firepower.
Your main special ability involves calling up conscripts--fodder troops forcefully drafted into the Soviet army that you can merge into other units to replenish their numbers or treat as disposable forces. These conscripts make poor soldiers, but there are certainly a lot of them to go around--a seemingly infinite number, in fact.
Who cares if the Germans have a tank? You have a hundred men, and a hundred more after that, and a hundred more after that--this is a war of attrition in its rawest form. Unfortunately, the emphasis on this "throw-more-men-at-the-problem" tactic removes any sense of real desperation from the campaign.
In one of the game's first cutscenes you see a line of Soviet grunts, many unarmed, charging a Nazi position. One of the Russian front-liners gets shot, and you see the man behind him scrounge the weapon from the corpse and continue charging.
The bleak cutscenes interspersed throughout Company of Heroes 2 belie the game's rote strategic gameplay.
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