You gotta feel a little sorry for THQ. The company is strapped for cash to such a degree that it’s not going to have a presence at either E3 or Gamescom. It’s downsizing studios, trimming back its games, and generally doing its best to keep a head above water in very troubling times.
What the company is doing, however, is spread of global ‘pre-E3’ events to talk up its big games. We attended one last week, and it was a pretty sombre affair at Bar 100 on George St.
It’s amazing to think that, last year, the publisher’s E3 stand was packed with developer talent, life-size Space Marines and Orks, amazing installations and zones based on its big properties, and even a real life MMA superstar in the shape of Royce Gracie doing signings.
Last week, though, it was pre-recorded demos and patchy Skype calls to developers in the bar’s back room. There were consoles set up for Darksiders II and Lost Planet whatever number they’re up to now, but the main attractions, for me at least, were the demos of Company of Heroes 2 and Metro: Last Light.
Last Light is still under embargo, so I’ll keep schtum on that for now, but Company of Heroes 2? That’s looking pretty fine. It’s probably sounding pretty fine, too, but the pre-recorded demo kept going drastically out of sync with the action. I guess good sound guys cost money.
Anyway, the game itself, as has already been revealed, is set on the Eastern Front, and the demo took little time to introduce us to some of the unique facets of the setting. Snow is going to play a big part in the way battles unfold, and Relic’s gone to great lengths to make sure that the many winter battles of the theatre have an incredibly realistic feel. Infantry struggles through deep snow, for instance, but things like explosions and vehicles can tamp it down or remove it altogether from the environment, making for what looks to be an engaging and dynamic experience. As a commander, you’ll be faced with choices such as sticking to roads, and opening yourself up to ambushes, or going off road and being significantly slowed down.
The cover system is essentially the same as previous games, with friendly and enemy AI making a beeline for walls and trees as soon as combat starts to heat up. However, much of this is now much more destructible, and buildings, in particular, are a double-edged sword; on the one hand, they provide good cover and shelter, but on the other... well, a wooden building when you’re faced by units equipped with flame throwers is a BBQ waiting to happen.
Is that pork I can smell...
One thing I noticed in the demo was that there were no real objectives being captured, so it remains to be seen whether ammo dumps and all the other points of interest from the original remain. Instead, the game seems far more fluid, much more about defeating the enemy through a combination of well-timed firepower and classic fire-and-movement tactics. Soldier AI again plays an important part, here, as units can break, get pinned, and then subsequently caught by artillery strikes.
One thing that was pointed was the importance of knocked out vehicles. These can actually be captured and put back into action. Perhaps Relic’s taking the whole principle of dynamic conflict even further, by letting objectives come up during play in this manner. And, yes, vehicles like tanks are wonderfully titanic on the battlefield, rolling over any terrain, rocking on their tracks when they fire, and mowing down entire units with machine gun fire. You will want to fight for these behemoths.
The impression I got of the game was that it’s effectively Close Combat in highly detailed 3D – and, if you’re unaware of that game, I really can’t think of any higher praise for a WW2 simulation. I don’t think Company of Heroes 2 is going to hit the same level of simulationist detail, but the way combat flows, the way real tactics work, and the way terrain heavily influences combat outcomes, all makes me think of the classic titles from Atomic.
The game’s set to release in 2013, and it’s looking like Relic’s going to come up with another hit. Now to wait for Dawn of War III...