E3 2006: Company of Heroes first impressions

You have to love it when the guy demoing his hot new real-time strategy game to you begins his pitch by listing off all the stuff that sucks about real-time strategy games. The battlefields are the same each time you play. Resource gathering and slowly learning new technology is boring. And most of your units, be they infantry or jet fighters, are flat-out stupid.

What's a gamer to do? Well, it looks like it might be a good idea to play Company of Heroes, a fast-paced, World War II-themed RTS that sets out to specifically correct these shortcomings.

First, let's cover that concept of the battlefields being the same each time you play. Not here. The level we saw demoed was a mid-sized French town held by the Axis powers, at least for now. The thing is, everything in the town is destructible and figures into your cover. We'll talk more about this after the battle begins in earnest; right now, we've just sent our scouts up to the town square to check things out.

Which brings us to the various unit's intelligence. The big, obvious thing is that they pay attention to their surroundings. Our scouts are hugging the walls, moving in and out of cover as real soldiers would. When they get to the town square and find it crawling with machine gun-wielding Axis, they quickly run to the shelter of parked cars, the corners of buildings, and so on.

The scouts, as it happens, aren't very good against the firepower being aimed at them, but about this time our Rangers show up, backed by a Sherman Crocodile - essentially a tank with a massive flamethrower instead of a big gun. This thins out the opposition (and looks damn good doing it), but doesn't quite overcome the machine-gun nest in the upper floor of one of the buildings. As it happens, you can tell your troops to garrison themselves in buildings, and they'll take up the best firing positions - smart.