Keeping your eyes open in the cold of Company of Heroes 2

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Keeping your eyes open in the cold of Company of Heroes 2
Keeping your eyes open in the cold of Company of Heroes 2
After navigating a troubled road alongside former owner and publisher THQ, developer Relic Entertainment has found a new home for its library of titles with Sega. Though shifting to a new company with different policies and directives could hurt a studio's progress, a recent mission playthrough at E3 tells us that Company of Heroes 2 has not suffered in the transition.

Last December, Relic previewed the seasonal combat on show in the multiplayer mode (which has been in open beta for most of June), its E3 demo for Company of Heroes 2 focused on a single-player mission, one based on the historic Battle of Leningrad between the Russians and Germans in World War 2. In addition to Relic's RTS design expertise in action, the mission had a new technology on display: a feature known as "TrueSight." Using this new system, darkened areas of a map only become visible based on the realistic line of sight a soldier has on the battlefield, with terrain and objects able to obstruct their views to the dangers that lie in wait.%Gallery-191374%TrueSight is a mechanic designed to make those choices as interesting as possible. "We've updated it so that objects that would block your line of sight in the real world will also block your troops' line of sight," says producer Greg Wilson. In other words, if your troops can't see behind a wall, you can't either, which means you might miss the mess of enemies hiding behind there when you walk around a corner. "It makes reconnaissance much more important," says Wilson, and that's true – more than a few times during the mission on display, it was easy to get caught off guard by walking into a trap that could have been easily spotted with a bit of strategy.

The mission itself was inspired by a trip the Relic team took to Russia, Wilson tells us. They visited a museum at the Nevsky bridgehead while planning out the single-player content. "We saw a giant diorama that was created to represent the surge across the frozen river," says Wilson, "and we were so inspired by it that we figured we have to find a way to get this inside the campaign." The mission itself is standard RTS fare – your troops fight up through a small encampment, and then defend a town square against a series of tougher and tougher waves until reinforcements arrive.

But Wilson says that Company of Heroes 2 isn't about reinventing the RTS genre anyway. "We wanted the experience to be familiar for our fanbase," he says, "so the moment-to-moment combat should be familiar to people right away if they're a Company of Heroes fan or an RTS fan in general." Instead, says Wilson, the focus of the sequel is expanding the choices inside that combat. Indeed, units in Company of Heroes 2 each have their own skills to use – one set of soldiers can throw a molotov into a crowded arena, cleaning out any enemy troops that happen to be lurking there, for example – and the game is all about choosing where and when to move up into battle and make those attacks.

Keeping your eyes open in the cold of Company of Heroes 2
The seasonal combat system in Company of Heroes 2 also helps with recon, in that you can now spot just-laid tracks in the game's snow in search of enemy combatants. "If you are getting sniped by a sniper and you don't know where he's coming from and you see a lone set of tracks going to into a field, you'll know how to follow him," promises Wilson. Vehicles also leave tracks, warning players of larger dangers ahead.

The end of the Nevsky mission brings in multiple waves of enemy armor, requiring soldiers to remain in cover as long as they can before airstrike can be called in for support. The wave-based timing on that battle might not be historically accurate, but Wilson says that's not all that matters. "Fun is the key factor for us," he says. "We love the realism and historical accuracy, but it has to be balanced with that fun factor."

Company of Heroes 2 launches on PC tomorrow, June 25.
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