nowhere disk 88.
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Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, a standalone expansion DVD in English by Relic Entertainment for THQ, distributed with a 20-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Atari-Israel, requires Windows XP or higher and a Pentium 4 PC or better, for ages 18+, NIS 199.
How can software developers create anything new in World War II games, when that horrendous six-year conflagration is the theme of more games than all the other wars in human history combined? Most of them have been of the first-person-shooter genre, in which a war is seen through the eyes of a single commander who seems to have the whole battle on his shoulders. But these two games are of the rare real-time strategy genre, in which gamers have to think and manipulate their troops as a group and use strategy to come out on top of the enemy.
The first game was released last year, but I received it only now from the local distributor, just a few days before getting the "standalone expansion" disk. That term is really a misnomer, as an expansion disk is usually a cheaper one that you install along with the original disk to get more; if it's a standalone, it requires no other disk. The second game is more a sequel than an expansion pack. But Relic Entertainment - which previously established its good name with Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - apparently intended Opposing Fronts as more of a good thing or, in fact, a great thing. Both of the games, based on historical battles, are outstanding, albeit with a few shortcomings.
In the original game, there are only the Americans and their Axis enemies on the battlefield. The action focuses on Able Company as its soldiers participate in the beach landing in Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and proceeds through the the destruction of German defenses. In one play mode, you must annihilate your opponents, while in the other - point capture - you vie against them to take over strategic manpower, ammunition or fuel points all over the map; both demand improvisation and strategic thinking, but the reward is a deep sense of enjoyment (if one can say that war is entertaining). Your goals are defense, conquest, encirclement, search and destroy, and you have more than a dozen missions, such as wiping out Nazi headquarters or holding a position until relief comes. While you must use your head, you are not required to spend a great deal of effort on housekeeping chores such as construction of bases.
You will inevitably lose many of your own troops, and as each soldier seems to have a unique identity, you will be sorry to see them killed. You will run the gamut of emotions and behavior - from fear and agony to comradeship and bravery. A breathtaking graphic engine that depicts the ugliness of war and the beauty of the European countryside in great detail makes the game look like a movie. It is accompanied by superb voice acting (albeit too much cursing and spilled blood for my taste), lighting, shadows and sound and superior artificial intelligence.
The newer program, Opposing Fronts, highlights the sluggish British 2nd Army during the heroic liberation of Caen in France by bloody house-to-house battles and the flexible and quick-moving infantrymen and armored vehicles of the German Panzer elite; you command each of the sides in turn. Be forewarned that the German side is not demonized, but focuses on the personal story of two German brothers - one a commander and the other of lower rank - who have no choice but to defend their evil regime.
Like the original game, the sequel offers cinematic-quality cut-scenes, excellent sounds and striking visuals. The most significant shortcoming is that there is no way to play even the single-player game without Internet access; every time you want to use your purchased DVD-ROM, you must first go on-line, type in a user name and password along with the game key, so the Web site can make sure you own a legal copy. If you forget your particulars, you will be barred from playing both the singleplayer and multiplayer versions.
Do the two Company of War games leave anything about World War II undone? Relic Entertainment, which savors strategy in battle, will still find a fertile field on the Pacific front and by adding the Russians to the picture.