BATTLE EUROPE! (part four): the RTS branch

This final post regarding WW2 and videogame portrayals of European battles is the least relevant as these Real-time strategy games present a rather detached view of the action, and certainly don’t put the player in the soldiers shoe, but morelike puts the player in the shoes of the highest commanding officer who for some reason has the viewpoint of God. But the way they’ve handled historical accuracies I find semi-interesting, and I’d like to talk about it.

For the first of the two, Company of Heroes for PC. This is one of my favorite games, and I still have fits of playing it at least once every two months. If I’m not replaying the campaign, I’m trying out different strategies in skirmish mode. It’s really fun, and what makes it so is the combination of extremely customizable gameplay and an adept graphic presentation.

Company-of-Heroes

I’ll start with the graphics… When running on the highest settings, I’ve never been anything but perfectly content with the textures, reflections, lighting, etc. As far as RTS goes, what more could you ask for, this game looks perfect. But the more interesting part is the attention to historical details in the weaponry. The German flak guns for example, are fascinating to watch because every part of it is moving mechanically, and each soldier manning it is doing their complex job to make it fire. I could imagine in some games, the gun would just show up mostly as a symbol or representation of the gun and not have that level of detail, but Company of Heroes allows you to zoom whenever you want a more cinematic view of the action, so they had to make sure all the pieces were in working order so it would be a more immersive experience. It really does add a lot of visual interest which turns into a large factor in making me want to play the game.

Company of Heroes (2006) SS 4

The other thing I like about it is you can do pretty much anything you want to get the job done. You can methodize a way to bomb or snipe the crap out of distant targets, you can emphasize your armor squads and roll in with like seven tanks, you can get a bunch of rangers with bazookas and weave them through small hidden areas, you can fix machine gun and mortar fire on a specific location while a rifle squad charges in, you can set up tank traps and barbed wire in a way so the enemy forces have to run through a maze to get to you, you can blow up bridges so the enemy forces are are funneled in a certain way, you can designate somewhere for paratroopers to drop in to enemy territory and attack from the rear, and (my personal favorite) you can just build up defenses around your base and let the enemy exhaust themselves trying to attack you. So many options. So many that it has yet to get boring.

What I don’t like about the game, though, is how the campaign involves characters…. Why would it involve characters when the player has nothing to do with them? We only see these characters in the cut-scenes, but during the missions, all we see is replaceable little no-name troops. On top of that, the cut-scenes typically feature cheesy “war is hell” sort of gimmicks and crappy cinematography. This isn’t Saving Private Ryan, and there’s no reason to involve melodrama.

Because it’s sooooo replayable, I have to give it a great score. The negatives do no impact the fun.

My rating for 2006’s Company of Heroes for PC is…

★★★★

Now, on the complete other side of the spectrum, I’d like to talk about Command & Conquer: Red Alert. It’s another RTS but from way back in ’96. Way ahead of its time, and potentially still fun, if my computer was dumbed-down enough to run it. It is the first, it is the original great RTS experience.

OpenRA_screen_shot

It’s just like Company of Heroes, only the camera-angle is fixed, and the graphic presentation is dated. That’s the only difference in terms of gameplay though. There’s still the same amount of freedom!

But what makes Red Alert a truly great game is its plot. Basically it takes place in an alternate universe where Einstein has gone back in time to meet young Hitler, thus forcing a change in the course of history preventing Hitler’s reign of terror. As an unforseen result, Russia has become increasingly powerful and become the forefront enemy to the United States thus an alternate WW2 ensues. It’s pretty much the greatest plot to a videogame ever, and it’s completely ridiculous. What makes it even better is the LIVE ACTION cut scenes that the game uses to tell the story. Amazing.

Tanya-Lynne-Litteer

Along with that imaginative story, the game also includes pieces of fictitious technology like weaponized tesla coils and “mammoth tanks” that are like the size of a building. What’s also really funny, is along with recruiting rifle squads, grenade squads, and engineers, you can also recruit a unit called a “Tanya” which is just a single little woman named Tanya. lol. She has special abilities and you can have as many Tanyas as you want. (the character at the far right is the live action version of Tanya). There’s even a mission where you have to escort Einstein across a battlefield and not let him get killed.

This game is so great, because it’s a reminder of how free games used to be before the influx of modern gaming. Nowadays they are all building on what’s been already established as successful rather than trying completely new things. They are too busy trying to appeal to the masses and make money to try new things.

Red Alert is a classic with me, and it’s perfect as what it is. To think about how this compares to an actual soldier’s experience in WWII just makes me laugh! It’s an obvious failure for that purpose but a success in every way that matters.

My rating for 1996’s Command & Conquer: Red Alert for PC is…

★★★★½

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