Company of Heroes: Tales of ValorESRB:
Platform: PC Games
Category: Real Time Strategy
1 player (offline)
2-4 players (online)
To be honest I had not even heard of Company of Heroes when this game landed on my plate. So it was interesting and enjoyable to play a game where I had absolutely no concept of what I was getting into. To that end, I must say Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor for the PC was a pleasant surprise. It is an interesting and realistic take on an RTS like I have not seen before. While it has a few weak points, which I will explain further below, it is a very solid game. Before I continue, I should also mention for those, like myself), who are unaware, this is not only an expansion but also a stand-alone game. So how does it play? Let’s find out shall we…
Overall, the visuals in the game are impressive which makes for a pleasurable visual experience. So many war games have a cluttered feeling to them as they jam as many war torn elements on the screen as possible. This is not the case with Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor as the developers did a nice job paying attention to every detail while not muddling up the gameplay area(s). If the goal was to create the closest thing to realism an RTS can manage, I will say they succeeded. In comparison to most RTS games already on the market this game is just plain beautiful.
As far as cinematics are concerned, I found them to be a tad strange. Most of them are actually paintings with a narrative read aloud. This is not a bad thing as the art design is fairly good; however there was something of an odd feeling to these scenes. The colors in the game are well chosen with muddy-reds and browns for inside the tanks, and the war-torn winter fields are just the perfect air for what the game tries to convey.
There are 3D animated scenes in the game as well. While these may not be astounding to the mature gamer by any means, it is actually pretty impressive. In terms of character design, the characters do have bland faces (it helps to turn the graphical options up if you can) and other unrealistic features. While I must say the cinematics in general were not particularly impressive to me they did do a fine job making this a game that can stand on its own as it ages.
In terms of the games audio, Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor features a nice blend of orchestrated music and I quite enjoyed the majority of it. Additionally, the sound effects were not overbearing either and are actually well done. Typically, war games have a tendency to ruin the music with an overkill of explosions or vice-versa. Fortunately, this is not a in this title. As for the sound effects they too are effective but they are nothing we have not heard before. The guns sound appropriate and the explosions pack a punch. All the sound effects are attractive to the ear. For instance, getting in control of a pack of tanks and raiding the enemy’s base was fantastic in this respect as a delightful little ballet of sound depicted the carnage that occurred on screen.
For the most part, Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor is predictable. However, THQ deserves some credit in the way they approached this genre. Tales of Valor is the next standalone chapter in the award-winning Company of Heroes franchise. It includes three single-player campaigns, new multiplayer modes, additional maps and units. I should also mention that Tales of Valor is fully compatible with Company of Heroes and Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, allowing players who own the entire series complete access to the epic battles of World War II.
But before I get into any of the single player or multiplayer modes, I will first review and examine the controls. For those new to the franchise, including myself, the basic controls are easy to understand. Panning is accomplished by moving the mouse along the edges of the map. The left click is a special move and the right click is the default action (move/attack). Your goal is to build units, assault your enemy, and in general just kick some serious butt. Sound simple enough? Bottomline, the controls are simple and the in-game tutorial is very helpful. If you skip the tutorial you will likely be in trouble, so I strongly advise against it. The more interesting aspects of gameplay, are obviously the ones you actually need to do the tutorial for.
In terms of the multiplayer modes, you have access to either a new format of fighting, or the original. The latter involves gaining resources by capturing sectors and setting up an outpost (or whatever your faction happens to have). Secondly, you use a unit unseen that is basically a construction unit made at your HQ to build barracks and this subsequent unit produces buildings. Your command points (the first time you go to spend them) will make you choose from one of three commanders instead of being stuck with just one to select from. Also, given the variety of units you will command in even further detail, battle becomes an entirely different experience. This is a major point as the new method of handling the duties/controls is better than older RTS methods, and therefore this expansion (despite being a tad short) is certainly worth it on every level. I am hesitant to say this is genius or revolutionary, but it is certainly a solid expansion to a solid series and nothing to scoff at.
I have been avoiding the next subject in this review because honestly I don’t know exactly how I feel about it. I do not normally care for multi-player as most communities are full of grief and pain and just not worth it. Let me explain. Online gameplay for the PC World (sans World of Warcraft) seems to be on the decline these days, and this game suffers from this issue. About 80 games were running while I was looking for one to join. A good 10-20 of these were locked, so that left a fairly small number of games to find exactly what I was looking for. Not to say that it isn’t possible, but it is difficult at times. So in that manner you have the smallish community to deal with. The first game I actually connected to proved to be an experience that was not an enjoyable one as some people were just plain rude. If you can’t handle this, multi-player games in general are not for you. Still this was only one of the handful of games I connected to like that, so don’t think that it will be this way in every game that you may connect to. This fact is also why you see so many of the online games locked as it allows for 'friends' or online associates who may game together to stay that way as they are enjoying those who are online with them.
One thing to keep in mind is that you can not control the difficulty of other human players, or even know what level of skill they may be until you make your first attack, or fend off their first one. This is one of the main reasons I prefer skirmishes. However, you do get someone to chat with and victory comes with a greater sense of accomplishment knowing you played a real person.
Online games will run just a little longer than a campaign mission at about an hour to an hour and half unless you are severely outmatched in skill. You will usually get the chance to see your highest tiers come to fruition as well. Sometimes it is more interesting than others to get there depending on your taste in the factions.
The single player experience is very short only offering up a few short missions. Some enjoyable elements are present but at the end of the day the focus is on the multiplayer aspects of the game. That being said, the most pleasant aspect of the game, in my view, is the experience points. Whether it be killing something, or levelling a building, in Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor you gain experience points, also referred to as commander points. You spend these points (gained by maxing out the experience ‘bar’) towards special abilities in your commander tree. The points give you the ability to use camouflage, use paratroopers, or employ a massive artillery strike. All in all, the special abilities add to the gameplay and add lots of enjoyment to the game. A nice little side-amusement is that each campaign has medals that you can unlock by doing various heroic things in battle. This adds to the gameplay and gives the game some replay value. Personally, I compare these medals to Xbox 360 achievements which have always been a personal favourite of mine.
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