Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Company of Heroes

I finished the World War II-themed RTS Company of Heroes. I'm not really sure why I did, or why that game met with such universal acclaim (93% on Metacritic). Seriously? It's the slowest RTS I've ever played: "the real-time strategy game that feels like a turn-based strategy game!" Even repairing a single vehicle takes what seems like ages, and if you want to move your forces from one end of the map to the other, you might as well go make yourself a snack. Everything is in shades of grey, all of the infantry look exactly the same, all of the vehicles look exactly the same, all of the buildings look exactly the same, and most all of the maps look exactly the same. I'm pretty sure that the word "fuck" makes up about 20% of the dialogue, and "Jerry" (slang for "German") is another 20%. (If we dropped as many bombs as these soldiers dropped F-bombs, we'd have won the war in a week.) There's way too much focus on accuracy and realism, and not nearly enough attention is paid to the raw emotion and sorts of things that make games fun. In Company of Heroes, I can choose between two boring varieties of M4 Sherman tanks. In Red Alert 3, I'll be able to choose between a levitating psionic commando dressed in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform, or a gigantic robot that shoots lasers out of its eyes. One of those two games focuses on fun.

It's not terrible, but overall it was fairly mediocre. There are good parts—the resource mechanism I liked a lot from Dawn of War is here, and implemented even better. Instead of gathering resources, you capture strategic points across the map, such as fuel and munitions depots, and as long as you control the territory between that depot and your headquarters, you'll receive a constant stream of supplies. It's quite clever and works very well, except for the fact that you're limited to a very low number of troops (about a dozen for the whole map), and if you keep a couple back behind front lines to protect your strategic points, you're down a fairly significant portion of your forces. Infantry are also pretty smart, and will travel between locations that provide cover (destroyed vehicles, sandbags, building walls, rubble) to protect themselves. When they're bored, they even share war stories, which was cute until the hundredth time I heard about that Kraut and his potato-masher. All of that is really enticing when you play the demo, but the novelty wears thin and you're left with a game that just isn't fun.

I'd say it's just interesting enough to keep playing once you get started, but not really interesting enough to stop you from questioning whether it's worth it to go on. In my opinion, it's forgettable and completely skippable. Maybe it's great to play with friends or something, or maybe it's great if you're a big fan of World War 2. But there are a lot of better games you could spend your time on.

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