Relic are on a mission. A mission to shake up real-time strategy gaming by injecting a little character, a little intimacy to proceedings. So it was with Dawn of War II, and so it is here.
But while Dawn of War II's changes - namely dropping army sizes and increasing RPG elements - worked wonders for the Warhammer title, it was an all-new game. It could afford to experiment. Company of Heroes, on the other hand, is an existing title. And one of the most loved RTS games of all time at that.
Isn't messing with that formula a little dangerous?
Direct Fire: One of the expansion's hot new features is something called "direct fire". It means that, for tanks and heavy weapons, you can take direct control of the turret or gun and do the aiming yourself. Sounds great! In reality, it's rubbish. It's used extensively in one of the three new campaigns, but outside of that, it just doesn't work. It's too cumbersome to do both the movement and aiming yourself, and switching between units and control schemes takes far too long in the heat of battle.
Short Stories Of Valor: The game's previous expansion, Opposing Fronts, brought some excellent campaigns and two new factions to the game. Tales of Valor brings nine short missions spread across three short campaigns. It's so short, in fact, that I finished the whole thing in a single sitting. Right between morning tea and lunch. What's more, the missions are not only short, they're simple, mostly involving only a handful of units (only the last campaign really gives you big battles). This worked in Dawn of War II because you swapped units for characters. In ToV, they're still just units. Only, you have less of them.
Cutting Corners: Whether it's because the expansion was rushed, that Relic were busy with Dawn of War II or just don't care about Company of Heroes any more, Tales of Valor feels rough. There are more AI glitches in the campaign than usual. The art and cutscenes - normally a strongpoint of Relic games - aren't up to the company's lofty standards. And the singleplayer scripting and mission design is basic, thin, stripped of the bombast and timing of previous levels.
Oh Relic. Company of Heroes wasn't broke! So you shouldn't have "fixed" it! Because when you consider "fixing" to be removing the complexity, polish and pacing of one of the best tactical RTS games of all time, and replacing it with micro-campaigns and misguided notions of arcade action, it makes us upset.
If you're new to the series, though, don't mind the fact this micro-review is all "hated". It's just this expansion that's not up to scratch. Despite the addition of some new vehicles for multiplayer (which are disappointingly just "replacements" for existing units), some new game modes (including the enjoyable "stonewall", which is basically a Horde mode) and a few new maps, you'd be far better off investing your time and money in the original title and first expansion, which are two of the finest games to ever grace the PC. This release, however, goes straight in the "nice try, but no dice" basket.
Company Of Heroes: Tales Of Valor was developed by Relic Software and published by THQ for the PC, released on April 9. Retails for $29.99 USD. Completed all three campaigns.
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