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Perhaps it is the history buff within that immediately finds games about World War II interesting, or perhaps games are just better when there is something to base it on rather than trying to make it all up. Whatever it is, Company of Heroes is another good game for World War II and real time strategy fans alike.
To wrap this game up in a nutshell would be to take Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and replace the setting with 1944, or imagine Sudden Strike from many years ago with an updated engine. The units in Company of Heroes are controlled in squads rather than individuals (for people, not vehicles), they automatically take cover and use it pretty well and resource control is based on the amount of the map that you control, not your ability to strip the countryside of its natural resources.
Company of Heroes adds to the resource equation by introducing three types of resources -- manpower, munitions and fuel. Gaining each is dictated by the different points on the map linked to a particular resource.
The single player campaign is fun and varied. Missions are won by achieving particular objectives such as taking certain areas of the map or holding an area for an allotted period of time. Units refresh after each successful mission, so there are no "persistent" troops that grow and evolve with you throughout the campaigns. There was, however, an unexpected exception to this in one mission. After defending a hill with very unit I had and sacrificing them to hold it within the specified timeframe, I found that the next mission was nearly impossible because it was the only mission to carry across what survived previously -- in my case, nothing.
As you battle throughout the missions your in-game commander gains experience points. Upon reaching 100 experience points you can use them to improve your company commander. The company commander has three branches per side -- Airborne, Armour and Infantry for the Allies; and Defensive, Blitzkrieg and Terror for the Axis. Each strand give you special abilities -- for instance, the Blitzkrieg and Armour branches allow you to requisition an armour group whereas the defensive and infantry branches give you access to artillery strikes. Choosing a particular branch improves the longevity of the each battle as it allows you to take completely different tactics to each your objectives.
Do not expect to see large armoured battles in this game. As the title suggests, the game is focused on the infantry company. Towards the end of battles moderate numbers of tanks may be present, and similarly, aircraft are only used to support ground units, and are thus restricted to strafing and bombing duties.
The single player campaign ends up feeling incomplete. After successfully leading your troops across Normandy there is no German equivalent campaign to become familiar with the units and successful tactics needed to play them well. This means that once you move into the multiplayer realm, the Allies have an advantage simply due to experience.
But that is the least of the problems for multiplayer gaming. While multiplayer is fun, it is only fun when you can get a game started. Too often players drop before the game starts or once it begins, and the server list contains servers that long since stopped serving games.
Graphically, the game is impressive without breaking much new ground in terms of wow factor. The authenticity and detail in the units are quite good, and the close up camera angles are great screenshot material (but who can play at such angles to enjoy the game?).
This game is fantastic in the short term. Gameplay is well executed. But the longer you play this the more frustrating it becomes -- the single player mode is one campaign only and multiplayer is more frustrating than enjoyable. This leaves the only long term alternative as solo skirmishing, but AI is still a long cry from the challenge that other people should and do provide in multiplayer mode - if you can get beyond the annoying qualities it presents.