Being a Russian soldier in World War 2 could not have been fun. Generally, you were under-equipped, sometimes unarmed, poorly fed, badly led, and prone to getting shot by your own side if you even looked like making any kind of withdrawal from a fight. If you got captured, then ending up in a German prison camp was bad enough, but even when you were rescued, you were likely to end up in prison again for being morally suspect after so long spent with the enemy.
However, in 1943, during one of the coldest winters on record, it must have out and out sucked. We’re talking sub-freezing temperatures and perma-frost that turned mortar strikes into blizzards of ice; seriously deadly cold, enough to pummel the life right out of you. And it’s this exact kind of respect – or fear – of the harsh winter that Relic’s Company of Heroes 2 is trying to instil in players.
Relic’s calling this Cold Tech, and it’s a basic part of the updated Essence 3 engine behind Company of Heroes 2. We’ve all played games that feature snowy maps before, but now you’ll learn to fear the battlefield-changing power of deep snow, blizzards, even frozen lakes.
The real heart of Cold Tech is in the fact that all of your units feature a thermometer as part of their unit UI. In the hands-off demo we saw at a recent THQ event, we got to see what happens to a unit when you ignore this aspect of the terrain – it dies, one man at a time. Of course, if you’re playing around with cheap conscripts, you might think this is a worthwhile sacrifice. Lord knows a lot of real Russian officers thought like that.
However, there are ways to get around that.
For one, careful movement can keep your units out of deep snow, and avoiding obstacles that might slow them down, or hopping over them to get into clearer areas. More importantly, units like engineers can create bonfires to warm themselves and other units. Ducking in to a building can also protect you from the cold, as can finding cover, as you hunker down out of the wind.
This also adds a whole new facet to the game’s destruction engine, as denying cover and buildings to the enemy now becomes an interesting strategic decision.
During these harsh winters, many water features froze over, to such a degree that they often became impromptu – if highly dangerous – highways. This too is modelled into the Cold Tech, so that fights on or around frozen rivers offer whole new challenges. Heavy vehicles and weapons fire will damage ice, until it shatters, dumping unfortunate units into fatally freezing water, or sinking tanks entirely. And, even if you do make it across the ice, you’ve got the cold factor to worry about, and vehicles slide around like crazy things.
And once that ice has cracked – possibly blocking parts of a map, or creating new bottlenecks, it can slowly freeze solid again.
My hands-off demo showed a good portion of combat, too, and with all the intricacies of dealing with the environment, and with the improvements to AI that Relic’s claiming to have pulled off, this is seriously looking more like a traditional and detailed wargame, than just a cleverly designed RTS all about production and capture.
And one, at that, that I cannot wait to actually play.