Real-time strategy (RTS) games are in the DNA of Vancouver’s Relic Entertainment, and fans of the genre have been waiting for this sequel. For the most part, their patience is rewarded here, as Company of Heroes 2 provides the kind of refined experience that Relic established with the first game, released in 2006.
Set during the Second World War with players assuming command of the Soviet army starting in 1941 and following through to the fall of Berlin in 1945, there’s a lengthy single-player campaign and a wealth of additional modes. Players can engage in skirmishes, quick battles against real players online or against the game’s AI also co-op and battle challenges in the “Theatre of War” mode of the game.
For those unfamiliar with this genre, though, Company of Heroes 2 isn’t the place to start. Even at the easiest setting the game assumes that players have at least a passing familiarity with the control scheme of an RTS, and in the multiplayer modes especially the amount of information on the screen, along with the barrage of sound, gets overwhelming rather quickly.
And while the game certainly isn’t factual – even if it is historically based – Relic put itself in a precarious position by having players in the single-player campaign control the Soviet Red Army and by having the narrative told by a Soviet soldier imprisoned and facing a death sentence in Siberia.
In the first game the American forces that players controlled were portrayed unambiguously as heroes. In this game, which takes place on the Eastern Front, things more brutal: in some scenes Soviet soldiers are killed by their own officers while attempting to retreat.
Painting war in shades of grey may be de rigueur, but treating this set of soldiers so markedly different from the “heroes” of the first game opens door to criticism of pro-Western bias. All sides do unspeakable things during conflicts, Relic might be on safer ground if in future it also designed the American forces with more flaws and nuance.