Not the first, but certainly the prettiest RTS (real time strategy) game to use the Allied offensive during WWII as its backdrop, Company of Heroes begins like many fps (first-person shooter) games before it, with the invasion of Normandy and the bloody slaughter that ensues on the beaches below the cliffs.
The gameplay follows on from its predecessor Dawn of War, with the ability to reinforce existing units on the fly being far more important than churning out new units from your barracks back at base. Level progress always requires you to capture and hold checkpoints, but uses inventive ways to weave this task into the story. An intuitive grouping interface means you'll never build a unit that sits in the corner of the map undetected. Units include paratroopers, heavy machine gunners and mortar teams, not to mention the mechanised divisions. Similar to the fps game Brothers in Arms, this game employs a heavy reliance on using cover for tactical advantage and the game's ruthless nature forces tactical play over brute strength and numbers. Placing one unit in heavy cover and laying down a suppressing fire, while another unit flanks your enemy becomes second nature. The ability to earn points and build your way down a talent tree for added abilities, like artillery bombardments, is not only inventive, but lifesaving when in trouble. This feature makes co-operative multiplayer skirmishes extra fun, with each of your friends choosing a different tree.
In between missions, the pre-rendered cinematic sequences tell the greater story with the sombre and poetic retrospective that only an old, military hardened voice can do. However, opening sequences for each level are full of gunfire, explosions and general mayhem. These intro sequences are rendered using in-game graphics and are a mind-blowing example of just how good this game can look. Individual soldier models look as good as many fps models do, but are generally viewed from afar, though the ability to zoom right in gives a whole new perspective on the battle. This same detail is applied to every facet of the environment and the results are worth the hefty system strain. While it will run on a lower end system, be aware that you'll want all your hardware maxed out, from GPU and CPU to RAM, if you intend to run this on ultra settings. The physics of the maps add a level of realism that becomes so natural to the gameplay you'll forget it was ever different. Tanks crush everything in their path, destroying corners of buildings and turning walls into dust. The intensity forces hard concentration to survive and is probably the only downfall of this game, if you can call it that.
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Verdict: An excellent RTS and one of the best WWII games to ever see the light of day. It's gripping, stressful and loads of
Score: 4 1/2 out of 5