Company of Heroes iPad Review
Although RTS games have been one of the most popular genres on PC, there’s been a lot of difficulty bringing those experiences to mobile. Where the titans of the genre measure skill partly in clicks-per-minute, it’s tough to imagine a solid RTS experience on a touchscreen. Improbably, this experience has arrived in the form of a port of a fourteen-year-old classic.
If you’ve got an iPad and you love real-time strategy, Company of Heroes might be the game for you. It focuses tightly on World War II tactics: you control a handful of squads rather than a whole army as they attempt to take back the hedgerows of northern France in the Battle of Normandy.. There’s none of the tedious resource-gathering and base-building that you’ll find in those games more directly influenced by Warcraft. You get more requisition points by taking objectives, you reinforce and upgrade your units in the field, and the Germans provide constant resistance.
There are a lot of ways Company of Heroes makes an ideal mobile strategy game. Just by being squad-based, giving orders using fat dumb fingers rather than precision mouse clicks is made much easier. You can easily handle your squads by tapping a few icons in the squad list rather than seeking out tiny gray-brown soldiers on a gray-brown map. For the mobile version, you can use a convenient popup wheel to make specific orders
The controls can be sometimes troublesome. For basic attacks, single taps suffice. Pulling up a selection box to grab more than one unit on the map requires a double-tap with two fingers followed by a drag. Aiming a machine gun emplacement is a double tap-and-drag. Placing landmines means bringing up the wheel menu, selecting mines one layer down, tapping and dragging across the area you want the mines, and then confirming the order in a popup box. It’s not totally unintuitive, and there’s sometimes different ways to do the same thing (you can multi-select squads in the squad list as well) but it’s definitely a kludgy version of the PC original left-click/right-click/double-click/drag controls.
As a mid-aughts World War II game, Company of Heroes begins with the requisite D-Day beach level, which isn’t the best showcase for its strengths. On Omaha Beach, there’s no opportunity for flanking, combined arms, armor, or much use of tactical cover. It’s a Saving Private Ryan-inspired meat-grinder, but not an interesting challenge. Better are the following several missions, which have your paratroopers setting ambushes and overrunning fortifications. A high note occurs early on in a challenging defensive effort on a map that you have spent the last couple missions slowly conquering. A massive wave of German armor arrives that will likely see your forces inevitably pushed back to the near point of destruction before your (scripted) reinforcements arrive. It’s thrilling, and later campaign missions become even more interesting, as the game constantly adds new units and tactics to keep you on your toes.
Like many games of that era that sought to portray themselves as grim and realistic, Company of Heroes features a desaturated brown and gray palette that while accurate is not too pleasant to look at. What is impressive is the level of detail wrapped up in all that brown/gray. Buildings and walls crumble realistically. Explosions scorch the landscape. Soldiers fall with puffs of blood. Vehicles lose control, flame out, and skid off the road to blow up.
The campaign story is told through highly cinematic cutscenes obviously inspired by Band of Brothers. Dramatic in their depiction of zipping airplanes, trundling tanks, and roaring anti-aircraft guns, these scenes are less successful when zoomed in to the blurry camouflage textures covering its soldiers.
Overall, the campaign does a good job of giving your participation in the overall Battle of Normandy significance, always tying your mission objectives to the greater effort. It’s not Oscar-worthy, but it does the job of keeping you playing for just one more mission. These missions are expansive, with multiple difficult stages spread over broad and detailed maps. In one minute you’re responsible for rooting a sniper out of a difficult nest, while in the next you’re securing a base or planning a multi-pronged assault. All these little tasks add up to an experience that is more than the sum of those parts, each street of the map hard-won.
The initial purchase includes only the base game, but devs report that the Opposing Fronts and Tales of Valor expansions could be made available later on. Opposing Fronts in particular would be a welcome addition, since it adds German and Russian campaigns. Company of Heroes’s Normandy setting was tired even back in 2006, part of a seemingly endless stream of media focusing on American heroism in the scorched fields of rural France. Another glaring omission is the multiplayer, which could still make it to the game later on. For a taste, Skirmish mode is available and may satisfy gamers who have finished the main campaign, or who want the option of playing as the Germans.
However, with such a great campaign, Company of Heroes is an easy recommendation for anyone with an iPad that likes real-time strategy. It’s an exciting and unique experience that’s a good fit for mobile play. Now, everyone put Dawn of War II on your vision boards!