Company of Heroes 2 Benchmarked
War is taxing. With their new title Company of Heroes, the Canadian developer Relic wants to reach the top of the real-time strategy game charts. Alongside the pure gameplay, the title's visuals are also supposed to enchant the senses. Has the developer stepped up the hardware demands too?
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It's been just under seven years now since the real-time strategy experts at Relic (Warhammer 40k) released their first installment of Company of Heroes, highly praised by the press and gamers alike. Now at long last the wait for the next title is over. While the first part took place in the west (France, etc.), part two is set in the east, in the land of the Soviets.
As soon as you see the main menu, you know Company of Heroes 2 offers a whole lot of variety. Campaign, Multiplayer, Skirmish, Challenges, Co-op, Army Customizer, Broadcasting: It seems like an inexhaustible range of possibilities. Due to time constraints, we're going to stick to the single-player mode in this article. In this mode we tested four missions.
For an RTS game, Company of Heroes 2 is very heavy on the narrative. Unlike some of their rivals, the developers try to tell a genuine story. The initial situation can be easily summarized - Company of Heroes 2 revolves around a Soviet army lieutenant named Isakovich, who is being held captive and interrogated by some of his fellow countrymen in a Siberian internment camp (did someone say Black Ops?). Through flashbacks the player can take part in past deployments.
Though the story isn't mind-blowing, you always feel motivated to fight the next battle. Based on our experience, the narrative quality falls somewhere between Command & Conquer and a Blizzard production (StarCraft, Warcraft). Unfortunately, the figures in the video sequences are somewhat stiff and long-legged.
On the battlefield, Company of Heroes makes a very good impression. The first mission already scores points for its high "ka-boom" factor, which sets the stage for the rest of the production. Everywhere you look things are booming and banging, much like in Call of Duty.
Still, anyone dreading a brainless brouhaha of an action game can breathe freely. At its core, Company of Heroes 2 is surprisingly tactical and challenging. While many competing titles just bring out one tank after another, eventually enabling the gamer to simply roll over opponents, in Company of Heroes 2 you'll have to pay attention to every little detail. Of course the Russians are notorious for their cannon fodder tactics (quantity before quality), but blindly storming forward often turns out to be a mistake.
As is fitting for a good RTS title, a brutal rock-paper-scissors principle permeates the game. For example: 08/15 soldiers, who aren't within range of grenades or Molotov cocktails, are torn to pieces by an MG nest in the blink of an eye. Fortified units have to protect themselves from engineers, who are equipped with flame-throwers. The cover system, which is useful for flanking purposes, plays an especially important roll. The quality of a cover is represented by points and indicators in various colors.
Combined with the nerve-wracking mission design, all of this makes for an intense gaming experience. Relic obviously put effort into designing the missions to move at a good speed. Thanks to the changing and/or secondary mission goals (sometimes with time constraints and on various fronts), the player is never allowed the opportunity to take a breather. Nice details like freezing soldiers who have to warm up by a campfire, or tanks that break through ice, enrich the game even more.
The sound is also incontestably magnificent. Such a powerful, realistic and complex sound is a rare find (ex. in Battlefield 3). The explosions and gunshots sound extremely realistic. Add to that decent AI and well thought out controls.
Company of Heroes 2 has its own integrated benchmark. Although the sequence only lasts a little under 40 seconds, the benchmark is highly suitable for determining the game's performance demands. Since we're talking about a title played from an aerial perspective, unlike ego-shooter games, Company of Heroes 2 doesn't necessarily need to run at more than 30-35 fps. At an average refresh rate of 25 fps the game should be reasonably playable. Relic included in their benchmark an extra pair of computationally intensive scenes that demand a lot from the hardware.
In terms of graphics, there's little to complain about. Aside from the ground textures, Company of Heroes 2 performs very well. Thanks to modern DirectX 11 features like tessellation, depending on the quality level, you get a banquet of options to control the game's visuals. Included in that list is the option to show deep tracks that sink into the surface of the white snow. The developers also deserve respect for their excellent effects. Whether snow, ice, water, fire, smoke or any other particle: Company of Heroes 2 definitely meets our expectations for graphics quality in 2013.
It should be noted that you'll need a DirectX 11 GPU to get the most out of the game's visual atmosphere. Not all graphics improvements can be implemented with an antiquated DirectX 10 GPU. We should also mention the good physics simulation (Havok), which does a spectacular job of showing houses collapse and soldiers skidding around.
A disadvantage of the great visuals is the huge hardware demands. Even powerful gaming machines (whether notebook or PC) can buckle under the pressure. As our benchmarks show, in some places Company of Heroes 2 requires more hardware performance than Crysis 3.
We also consider it a bit of a shame that you can only change the settings in the main menu. The "Graphics" tab only offers a handful of settings options. There Relic permits the player to tweak the brightness, resolution, image quality, anti-aliasing, vertical synchronization (prevents unpleasant staircase effects), physics and snow/texture details. Provided the system isn't too slow, the ominous "Gameplay Resolution" should always be set to 100%, otherwise the picture will be visibly distorted.
Nice: All changes are adopted without needing to restart the game. At the medium detail setting, Company of Heroes 2 looks quite respectable, though the graphics only reach their full potential at the highest settings. The image quality is far worse at low or minimum details (no shadows, weak textures, dropped frames, etc.)
As we've already indicated, Company of Heroes 2 demands a lot from a computer's hardware. While the processor is sometimes the limiting factor in desktop systems, the performance in notebooks is primarily dependent on the graphics card. Intel's processor chips hit their ceiling even at low settings. Even the brand new Haswell HD Graphics 4600 doesn't exceed an average of 15 fps in the integrated benchmark. Users of older mid-range GPUs like the GeForce GT 630M are likely to be unhappy with Company of Heroes 2 (unless they reduce the "Gameplay Resolution").
To play the title somewhat fluidly, you'll need to have at least a GeForce GT 650M installed in your notebook. For normal details and 1366x768 pixels, we recommend a graphics card that crosses the border into the high-end arena (GeForce GTX 660M). For high details and activated anti-aliasing, you'll need a full-blown top-class card like the GeForce GTX 675MX.
A mixture of maximum details, high anti-aliasing and 1920x1080 pixels overtaxes all current notebook GPUs. Only today's top models from AMD and Nvidia (Radeon HD 7970M and GeForce GTX 780M) approach the 25 fps mark. Speaking of manufacturers: Overall, AMD is in the lead.
Real-time strategists will have difficulty keeping themselves away from Company of Heroes 2 this year. Despite minor weaknesses, like the unimpressive story presentation and general lack of innovation, CoH 2 is a high-class RTS game that deserves to be played. Provided you have a potent gaming system, of course, as the hardware demands are rather steep.
A big thanks to Schenker Technologies (mysn.de) for the following test devices:
- XMG P502 (Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 660M, GTX 670M(X), GTX 675M(X), GTX 680M, Radeon HD 7970M & HD Graphics 4000)
- XMG A502 (Core i5-3360M, GeForce GT 650M)
- Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M & HD Graphics 3000)
- Each with 8 GB DDR3-RAM (2x 4096 MB @ 1.600 MHz), 160 GB SSD (Intel 320 Series) & Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
GPU drivers: Nvidia 320.18, AMD 13.6 Beta 2 & Intel 126.96.36.19962 and 188.8.131.5265. The Beta-ForceWare 320.49 unfortunately arrived a few hours too late (besides the GT 640M and GTX 680).