The sequel to THQ’s hit World War II real time strategy franchise is heading to the Eastern Front and bringing a whole lot of new features along for the trip, according to Rock Paper Shotgun’s Adam Smith and his preview of the game’s intricately detailed engine. Buildings burn realistically with fire, AI troops react dynamically to changing strategies, soldiers perish in varied ways, snowflakes fall and gather on soldiers and the landscape, and vision is limited to the perspectives of individual soldiers.
Moving from the famous battles of the Allied forces in Europe, Company of Heroes 2 will focus on the Russian front circa 1941, a time during which both sides suffered staggering casualties. Russian forces faced execution by their fellow soldiers if they attempted retreat and German forces struggled with brutal winter conditions. For the game, this means sluggish vehicle and troop movement through snow and ice. According to Smith, these unforgiving conditions will have an audible and visual effect on your troops.
There are sounds of distant slaughter and the machinery of warfare, and reinforcements arrive from offscreen, not as if from a drop pod or the training ground, but almost as if stumbling from a neigbouring skirmish, their nerves frazzled, their uniforms wet and stained.
Rather than sticking with the formula of cutscenes and scripted sequences, Relic intends to tell a more complicated story that highlights the intensity of Russian doctrine and address the political turmoil of the two nations colliding. “While individual missions follow history’s forgotten men, heroes by their actions in the horror of combat rather than due to their beliefs or the uniform they wear, the campaign itself will be told through the voice of a Soviet war correspondent exposing the truth of Communist ideology.”
As a RTS title, the game will employ the iconic fog-of-war mechanic, which darkens the unoccupied areas of the map. But, forgoing the traditional circle-of-perspective around troops, the fog of war will only peel back as far as individual soldiers can see. This means the possibility of ambushes and evading enemy soldiers, as infantry can hide behind obstacles without being spotted, provided opposing soldiers don’t inspect the area.
Anything from a branch to the smoke from a burning farmhouse can block sight, and as walls crumble, tanks grind to a screaming halt and trees splinter and collapse, every damaged element affects each individual’s view of the battlefield exactly as it should. You see what they see.
As with the first game, troops will react dynamically to the destruction of cover and dodge accordingly with incoming fire. This means soldiers will make use of the location you place them by occupying cover, going prone, and scrambling for safety under heavy fire. Infantry can even engage enemies crewing a vehicle and hijack it for their own use.
All of the historically accurate vehicles, locations, and infantry details are there, but Smith’s preview analysis makes it clear that Relic did more than check off boxes of tanks and outfits. The tone of the game is appropriately grim and desolate. “The bleakness and brutality are the main memories. If this is to be a game of details, of tragedies rather than statistics, then when the smoke settles in the air and the snow settles on the corpses, every battle’s aftermath should tell a story.”