Game Review: Company of Heroes (2006) – Steam

Title Company of Heroes (2006)
Platform: Steam / Windows
Available on OS: Windows
Genre:Strategy, Real-time Strategy, RTS, World War II
Date completed: December 2021
Game number:18 of 1005 steam games (< 1%)

Summary review: A WWII themed challenging (to me at least) real-time strategy game with a lot of interesting scenarios and maps and lots of different unit types and vehicles. Some consider this a classic in genre in fact. I only played the Normandy campaign.
Graphics: Between the weird stretching to my 5120×1440 resolution and it being from 2006…well it’s about what you expect: polygons and textures from 2006.
Music: Almost entirely supportive music that swells up at certain points but is otherwise barely noticeable because of all the yelling and explosions.
Controls: Keyboard and mouse: the way the camera is shifted is different than I was accustomed to (hold left alt and move around the mouse) but other than that it works perfectly as a PC-optimized RTS.
Replayability: I don’t know that I want to replay the campaign I have just finished any time soon. Perhaps certain maps just for fun. Eventually I will come back and do the remaining campaigns playing as Germans and British forces.
Total score: 90 / 100 – This game has this strange hold over me: it has the charm to it that makes me feel some how attached to the units and how I’m making it through scenario and yet I don’t know any soldier names or really have anything specific to relate to.


Introduction

I should mention a few things from the outset since this such an old game: it is not optimized in anyway for a wide even 16:9 screen never mind a 5120×1440 resolution. The UI doesn’t scale at all and I may as well have tried hooking up a 19″ 4:3 LCD screen I have just to play it. You can make the game windowed at a 4:3 resolution but moving the camera by moving it to the edge of the screen is completely non-functional that way.

Also, the current version for sale on steam ($20 is too much) includes the two expansions for the campaign by default. But I have only played the 12 maps designated as Normandy because I think I am about CoH’d out right now.

I remember playing this soon after it came out. I can’t remember if I finished it or not. Given the difficulty I had with it this time I would I imagine I didn’t.

The Premise

There isn’t really a narrative to this game so far as I could tell besides that of Able Company in World War II. By that I mean there are no ongoing characters, no “hero characters” or weapons that can be kept from one scenario/map to the next. The game just drops you on to a map, lists the primary and secondary goals and says “GO”. It slowly works it way from Normandy and eventually to various towns in France until reaching Germany itself.

The first mission is that of storming Normandy beach and acts as something of a tutorial. From there the scenarios get more and more complex and the resources and strategies also get more complex.

Some people use me as verb

When StarCarft 2 -another famous RTS – first came out I played the single player campaign and managed to get through in my own way (the first third was the human campaign). I had to build out my base and try and maintain it while pushing forward to win the map.

Then I started playing with a group of people in multiplayer and doing the same strategy, apparently not the right approach. So one of the group members starting using my name as a verb. Like “I’m building a little city, Ethan’ing across the map”. Well my name isn’t Ethan but you get the idea. I had become a verb and that wasn’t necessarily a compliment.

I found myself doing the same thing in this game’s campaign: building entirely too much out around the base then getting clobbered by the AI. I think the better strategy – both in CoH and SC2 – is to take more of an aggressive/expansionist tact than treat the area around the base like it’s SimCity

The game has something of a way of discouraging this “SimCity approach” though: a population cap of only 75. I am not sure if that was a technical limitation of the day or a completely arbitrary number the developer chose (and it’s probably easy up that cap). Either way it forced me to make some decisions and take some gambles I might not have otherwise taken or made.

It’s going to take some patience

I actually had a lot of fun with this game. There was more than one map I ended up having to reply over and over again until I got it, but that was fine. Eventually I realized I should really save the game at key points in my progress so I don’t have to start over.

Speaking of which: no apparent “quick save” key, at least not that I could find from within the game, there could be an obvious INI file I’m missing that lists things like quick save.

I didn’t mind replaying the scenarios all that much. It just forced me to take different tacts and approaches to a problem not to mention utilize things like assigning a group to a particular hotkey, like a group of rifle man is assigned Ctrl+1 for quick access, some airborne are on Ctrl+2 and maybe those engineers are Ctrl+9. Speaking of which if you need to take out a panzer and have the resources five sticky bombs will do a pretty good job.

Pick a specialty

As you play through a scenario you actually earn experience points for capturing different locations on the map and every time you kill an enemy unit (which could a group of German rifleman or a tank or whatever). These experience points eventually earn a command point which allows for choosing from a couple of different “trees” of perks. I always ended up with all of both trees, I’m not sure if that’s really required. The perks are things like calling in an artillery strike from off map, bringing in external units like Airborne or Rangers to assign, or parachuting in some supplies.

Some but not all scenarios you can actually choose one of three “perk trees” as I call them including having weapon crews like Rangers, drop units like airborne and one other.

It’s not StarCraft but it almost could be

The RTS I’ve played the most of I think is StarCraft 2 and the caparisons between CoH and SC2 are – it’s fair to say – evident. In SC2 you have build a base usually then start building out from there. In CoH you start with an established base if needed but if you don’t get one there’s no way to build or adopt a “real” base on a map. CoH also features occupying buildings and it doesn’t seem like nearly the strict rock-paper-scissors approach to units that can neutralize opposing units.

Basic elements of play

The game basically consists of capturing points of different kinds on the map which gives plus however many resources every so many seconds. There’s fuel, munition and personnel. Each time you produce a unit like rifleman or throw a grenade you use up some of that respective resource. So obviously the more points at a time you can capture and hold the more resources you’ll be able to spend to throw at the opposing force. The map regions do have to be connected to one another to get this benefit but you can also use this to mess with the AI by using them as a distraction.

I can’t tell you how many time I ended up running out of either personnel points or munition points. Fuel I ran out of maybe once in the whole but maybe that’s just me.

To aid in defending these captured points as well as a main base there are a few things to through down: barbed wire, tank traps, landmines machine and gun nests. Of the previously mentioned perks that can be earned allows for rifleman to join engineers in building out such defenses. I ended up using landmines relatively rarely because they take up munition points while barbed wire and tank traps seem to be unlimited and don’t take up any resource.

Now some negatives…

Maybe I’m just spoiled on modern “quality of life” features in games but it would be nice to be able to easily bring up a list of key mappings and even re-map. But even without re-mapping just a list of what different keys do and maybe a sentence about holding Alt and moving the mouse for angling the camera instead of making me go through the tutorial to find that out. And while we’re assembling a wish list, how about a quick save key?

I also had some issues with scenarios not triggering victory scenarios properly (on rare occasions). And I have no idea why I would have performance issues with this game considering I’m using an SSD several times fast than anything that existed in 2006 and 16 Gigs of RAM which is several times more than even close to required for the game (considering it was pre-Vista and therefore pre-64bit Windows and pre-games using more than 4 gigs of RAM).

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of real-time strategy games, don’t mind graphics from 2006 and World War II and can deal with the 2006-era level of quality-of-life features, this is a definite classic of an RTS.

The biggest stumbling blocks would be dealing with the stretched UI of the game, saving the game and learning how to angle the camera to see that much better.


Metadata

Method of control used Keyboard/mouse
Controllable via both one analog stick or digital four-way (“HAT”) yes
Hardware requirements: It’s from 2006, so pretty much everything
Supports 21:9 aspect ratio screens?in 5120×1440 (and/or any 16:9 res) the UI is stretched/warped but still playable
PCs tried on ~2019 era core i7 laptop/nVidia GPU
Works with 4:3 screens Optimized for 4:3
Initial setup required5120×1440 setup, subtitles
Time to complete~43 hours (just for Normandy campaign)
Steam UID228200
Random Meta data

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s