Published on June 5th, 2023 | by Richard Banks
Company of Heroes 3 Console Edition PS5 Review
Summary: Company of Heroes 3 may not always hit the right notes, but as far as RTS console ports go, it doesn't get much better than this.
Company of Heroes 3 is a strange beast. In some respects, Relic’s latest World War 2 RTS feels like an extension of its predecessors, but thanks to some fantastic new features, it’s one of the most impressive RTS’ to grace the genre.
Not that it has much competition, but with almost two decades of the Company of Heroes series being the premier modern-era RTS experience, it’s easy to see why other genre developers leave handling this particular point in history to the experts.
And once again, Relic has created an entry that boasts its signature tactical combat while successfully depicting the emotional weight of one of the most critical turning points in modern history. Across both campaigns, the level of destruction caused by the extent of WW2 brutally echoes – Italian villages lie crumbling, coastal towns along the Riviera suffer under the weight of constant bombardments from the sea, the dunes of Africa littered with the ghostly remains of both Axis and Allied tanks. Between skirmishes, letters from soldiers tell tales of their victories, defeats and everything in between, whilst both campaigns explore the cruelty of war from both ends of the spectrum.
Despite a traditional campaign providing a ‘true’, more linear, Company of Heroes experience, the Italian campaign features an expansive, dynamic map, combining the more familiar Company of Heroes experience with turn-based strategy elements more akin to Civilisation. For the most part, it works. Sweeping your forces across the overworld to free towns, destroying enemy roadblocks and intercepting German detachments before going toe-to-toe in skirmishes and scripted missions adds a new layer of tactical gameplay not seen in the series previously. For example, sending a squad of battle-weary paratroopers to free a critical town is often a recipe for disaster, so sending them for some R&R before returning them to the frontline makes more sense than risking a squad of soldiers. That said, you could choose to reinforce your troops with naval bombardments – or the help of British-Indian artillery – which could sway the battle in your favour.
Decision-making like this makes the 30-hour or so campaign an absolute breeze to play through, even if it’s not always a smooth ride. Perhaps my biggest complaint throughout this mode was how occasionally sluggish movements felt. In a game that prides itself on frantic RTS gameplay, it’s strange to wait so long for enemies to move their squads across the map, making for a sometimes cumbersome experience. Enemy AI doesn’t always seem to apply critical thinking to their moves either, and, especially during the first few hours, it’s easy to steamroll across the map without much challenge from occupied forces.
It’s not just the enemy that occasionally makes questionable choices. Allied commanders provide support throughout the campaign, and by completing missions for them, you can access bonuses and support perks. The problem is, most of the time, commanders will ask you to help in locations you have no chance of reaching before the time runs out. It wouldn’t be too bad if not completing these challenges meant you just didn’t get rewarded, but ignoring requests can negatively affect your relationships, making unlocking new perks much more difficult. All that aside, when the dynamic campaign is good, it’s really good, and for a series that’s rested on its foundations for so long, it’s great to see Relic try something new with the Company of Heroes formula.
If the dynamic campaign sounds like too much work, the North Africa campaign offers a traditional Company of Heroes experience. Despite being much shorter, taking around 6 hours to complete, the scripted missions boast some of the best gameplay the series has ever offered. The campaign, focused on German commander Erwin Rommel, offers plenty of mission variety, with tank-heavy combat and great map design taking centre stage. It also highlights some of Company of Heroes 3’s best new units, with the Deutsche Afrika Korps recovery vehicle a standout, bringing life back to destroyed tanks across the battlefield, allowing you to quickly amass an army of vehicular superiority.
Of course, it doesn’t matter how good either campaign is if missions aren’t up to scratch, but luckily for Company of Heroes fans, this is as good as it’s ever been. The basics remain the same, with missions usually requiring you to either build up an army to take enemy sectors or limiting you to a set number of units to, say, take out a specific target, but there’s a reason that the series has such lasting power – it’s simply fantastic stuff. While other RTS’ are happily playing it safe, there’s always been a more complex dynamic to the series that sets it apart, and the same goes here. With a feast of troop types, all with their own unique abilities and upgrade options, you’re never short on ways to gain the tactical advantage – and with plenty of new perks available to help turn the tides of war (like the ability to request immediate reinforcements or airstrikes) – Company of Heroes 3 feels more in-depth than ever.
Luckily, Relic has introduced another new feature to make the often chaotic gameplay more manageable. The tactical pause function makes issuing instructions even easier, allowing you to stop the action at any point to line up orders for your troops. It’s an especially useful tool on console due to the constraints of the controller, so allowing you to take a breather and better plan moves is a welcome addition.
Although, to Relic’s credit, Company of Heroes 3 is a surprisingly decent console port. Of course, it’s never going to be a like-for-like replacement to playing RTS titles on a PC, but mostly it’s a transition that works well. It takes a little getting used to, and more than once I sent troops dashing back to base in a hasty retreat in error, but once you’ve worked out the quirks, it’s a perfectly serviceable system. It’s relatively bug-free too, and despite the occasional blip where a fallen soldier’s body would awkwardly jolt around the floor, I rarely experienced any issues that took me out of the moment. Even the framerate kept up, which was especially impressive when hundreds of soldiers were dodging bullets and grenades all at the same time.
The smooth transition is something I was especially grateful for when playing online. Company of Heroes has always been best when played against other humans, and the series’ third title is no different. The sheer diversity of strategies available, coupled with the stellar level design, makes going head-to-head with fellow players incredibly exciting, and one of the best multiplayer RTS experiences I’ve ever had. That said, although there are 14 maps available at launch, Company of Heroes 3 online could do with another couple of modes, but there are still endless hours of fun available here for players wanting the ultimate test.
All in all, Company of Heroes 3 is an absolute blast. The dynamic map may not reach its full potential, but it’s still a fantastic inclusion to an RTS already at its best elsewhere. Whilst the genre may be past its heyday, titles like Company of Heroes 3 make it clear that good quality RTS games are here to stay.