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In Company of Heroes 2, the upcoming real-time World War II strategy game from THQ, the weather is likely to be your worst enemy. A new preview of two new levels of the game shows that soldiers in the snows of the Russian front are not likely to survive blizzard conditions unless they have warmth. That makes the task of managing a battle a lot more complex for a player, who has to monitor enemy forces as well as the ever-changing weather conditions.
Simon Watts, a spokesman for THQ and its Relic Entertainment division, recently showed us two new levels that illustrated the extremes in weather conditions. One was part of a winter campaign along the Pripyat River, while the other showed a spring scene from Operation Bagration, the 1944 Soviet offensive into Belorussia which resulted in the complete destruction of Germany’s Army Group Centre. It was the worst defeat of the war for the Germans, and by the end of it, most of the Western Soviet Union had been taken back by the Red Army.
Company of Heroes 2 is a sequel to the PC game that debuted in 2006. That award-winning game pitted the Americans against the Germans in the battle for France after the invasion of Normandy. This game is set over a longer period, depicting the war on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1945. Relic aims to make this game a much more cinematic experience, where you can watch company-level strategy unfold and still witness the bravery of individual soldiers who can turn the tide of battle.
The game features an in-game weather mechanic made possible by Relic’s Essence Engine 3.0’s ColdTech system. You can play on the same maps in springtime weather when the terrain is green and brown or in the heart of winter when you have to deal with deep snow (which slows infantry down) or brutal sub-zero winds. At any given moment in the Pripyat level, a blizzard could start or stop. The snow has depth, and it can accumulate, blocking your view of what’s ahead. You can melt it and reduce it or get stuck in it. Rivers may freeze over, but they may crack under the pressure of heavy vehicles. The blizzard obstructs the vision of your soldiers. That’s bad, because you only see what your soldiers can see.
When you start a battle session in Company of Heroes 2, you have nothing but a camp site for training engineers or rifle soldiers. As you claim more territory, you get more resources for building. Then you select the kind of soldiers you want to train. When training completes, they march onto the map and you can dispatch them to the front. The graphics of the game are beautiful, and you can zoom in on the action from a soldier’s point of view.
At the start of the Pripyat level, blizzard winds were blowing. I marched my rifle soldiers toward the river, but they very quickly started suffering from the severe cold. Left alone, they would die from hypothermia. I sent engineers to join them so they could light a campfire to keep them warm. This kind of babysitting kept them alive, but it tied up the valuable engineers. The soldiers can stay warm if you pack them into vehicles, but then the vehicles become a prime target. You can also have soldiers take shelter from the cold in a building. But the blizzard conditions come and go. When things warm up, you can send your forces across the river.
But in this case, the Germans had machine gun nests waiting for me. To deal with them, I had to send vehicles into the river. But the ice will crack if too many try to cross. I sent snipers into the river to serve as spotters for my mortar crew. But the Germans counterattacked, and eliminated my snipers and rifle crews. If I had the time, I could have laid a trap by blowing up the ice underneath attacking vehicles. My engineers were quite vulnerable until I upgraded them with flamethrowers.
With the seasonal warfare, you can play the same maps in good or bad weather. The Bagration map depicted a river crossing where German armor was seeking to cross through a narrow bridge in June, 1944. The skins on the tanks and the uniforms of the soldiers were all different, as was appropriate for warmer weather. The changes make it seem like you’re fighting in an entirely different place.
On that map, I was able to build some medium T-34 tanks and a Katyusha rocket launcher truck. The latter makes such a screaming noise that the German soldiers’ morale suffers upon hearing it. A barrage from the Katyusha is just enough to take out the enemy’s anti-aircraft Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind vehicles, which are exposed at the top.
But the enemy kept on creating new vehicles and sending them across the bridge. I discovered too late that I should have created as many armor or antitank units as possible and concentrated their fire on the bridge. In the single-player battle, I had one partner player who was controlled by the computer. My partner and I squared off against two artificial intelligence players. They were aggressive enough, but if I had figured out how to cross the river in flanking maneuvers, I’m sure I could have defeated the enemy.
Company of Heroes 2 is a PC-only game slated to launch in early 2013.