Sept 28, 2007
Company of Heroes was one of those games that utterly exceeded our expectations. Not only did it manage to recreate the visceral brutality of warfare, it also succeeded in striking that ever-elusive balance between accessibility and strategy.
Opposing Fronts introduces two new factions into the WWII meat grinder, each starring in its own campaign. First up are the plucky Brits, a defensively stout faction specialising in anti-tank weapons and artillery, and possessing some of the game’s most versatile foot soldiers. These grunts have the ability to build battlefield emplacements (such as machine-gun nests and mortar emplacements) and call in additional support, which is spewed onto the war zone from passing gliders. Brit officers are also no slouches, possessing valiant abilities such as Heroic Charge, which counters suppression and maximises the amount of damage nearby troops inflict on the enemy.
Sadly the compelling plot and clever character development of Company of Heroes’ cutscenes seem to have been replaced here by hackneyed stereotypes. Luckily, the German campaign’s story is rather more thoughtful and convincing, revolving around two brothers battling as part of the Panzer Elite against the allies during Operation Market Garden. The German faction is quite simply the most awesome faction yet seen in the Company of Heroes series. A wrecking ball on caterpillar tracks, a division of Nazi armour can trounce almost any enemy force in a head-on confrontation, while staying highly mobile. This is offset by the German’s relatively small infantry squads, which can be easily overpowered by the larger Allied platoons.
But what are these two campaigns actually like to play, hmm? Well, here’s the thing. You see while Opposing Fronts clearly likes to make a big fanfare about not being an expansion pack, it has that distinctive, unmistakable whiff associated with an add-on. While many of its missions are brutal, tactical and fairly entertaining (especially the larger tank battles) they’re also all too often overly linear and predictably designed, leading to a lack of freedom that reduces potential replayability.
Another quibble lies with the lack of proactive attacks from the opposition, which often feels somewhat stagnant: a problem given that Opposing Fronts is a territory-based game. With your foes rarely venturing out of their comfort zones to retake the territory you’ve just prized out of their grasp, victory can sometimes feel rather inevitable.
Conversely, some other missions are too taxing. Throw in some suspect pathfinding and the fact that troops often ignore your commands to take cover, instead opting to run into the open and get pumped full of lead, and you’re left with an unbalanced and unpolished experience.
Now, before you get depressed, let us assure you that there’s still more than enough here to recommend. The two factions are adequately varied and require their own unique style of play, with the Brits often bunkering down and pounding the enemy from a distance and the Germans employing Blitzkrieg tactics as they roll incessantly towards their foes in heavy, yet mobile armour divisions.
Also the sheer number of heavy weapons at your disposal is almost worth the entry fee alone. Once the big guns roll out, levels turn into brutal, armoured cauldrons of destruction in which men, debris and dirt fill the air in a thick blanket of death.
Some of Opposing Front’s missions are persistent, meaning that the destruction you inflict on the scenery carries over to the next mission (if it’s based on the same patch of land), although admittedly these can sometimes feel like developmental short cuts rather than masterstrokes of innovation (i.e. just another section of the previous level getting opened up).
Opposing Fronts provides a decent, frenetic and entertaining stopgap between the original game and the inevitable sequel. While it has its fair share of hiccups, the game’s fundamental quality manages to shine through and ensure that there’s plenty of entertainment to be had.