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RPS Advent Game-o-Calendar: December 3rd

THREE FRENCH HENS!!!!

Another day closer to death Christmas. And another door opened on our RPS-approved Fairtrade advent calendar , though we almost forgot. Whatever could like behind the door? This time, it’s not chocolate.

Oh. It’s chocolate. Thanks, Fairtrade. Om nom nom nom.

But for you?

We never needed your help, Americans!

It’s Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts!

Alec says:
In 2006, the best RTS in the world was company of heroes. It’s 2007. Why is there not yet a better RTS?

Kieron says:
Thing is, I was chatting to Soren Johnson about this recently – his argument is that “RTS” should be the biggest genre of them all. And if you look at the prehistory, there’s all these sort of games which got written out of what a “RTS” really is.

Kieron says:
I mean, look at Introversion – their entire history is one of entirely atypical RTS. Darwinia, Defcon – even, if you squint – the real-time element in Uplink

Alec says:
You think Uplink was an rts? I always took it as RPG.

Kieron says:
(That’s kind of his point – “Real Time Strategy” is so big. I mean, Baldur’s Gate is an RTS.)

Alec says:
This way, “what is an rpg?” lies.
But yes. COH is definably an RTS as stereotype has it, but has the good grace to look for ways to make that stereotype positive.

Kieron says:
Putting aside the whole idea of what an RTS can be, in what people *consider* the RTS to be, Company of Heroes *IS* as good as it’s ever got. So there’s no shame in the genre not managing to uproot itself and go better in twelve months. After all, it was more than one year BEFORE Company of Heroes until you find the previous official Best RTS Ever)

Kieron says:
‘xactly.

Alec says:
Today I played or witnessed other gentlemen playing Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and Empire Earth III. At one point, I accidentally spat out “god, I hate RTS games.” And I felt terrible for it. Because clearly I don’t, as best evidenced by the glee I feel when I’m beating someone in COH.

Kieron says:
I had a similar moment. I’d played CoH by the time Dawn of War: Dark Crusade came out

Alec says:
But there are so many games that have no realisation of the necessary joys of commanding and conquering.

Kieron says:
So when I saw a mate playing it I thought “Christ, that looks a fucking mess compared with how elegant CoH deals with it”. I didn’t play it. I mean, I did in the last month, but CoH was so good it turned me off everything else.

Alec says:
COH works at the tiniest scale. You don’t ever direct a guy over wherever just to get him out the way, or to wait patiently next to a throng of other units. You have a purpose for everything you make, and thus you deeply care about whatever happens to them. In so many other RTSes, I’m just thinking “I guess I’d better make this now.”

Kieron says:
Exacly – that PRECISION. And – to use your ace line – command by dragging a box and conquer by clicking in a destination. (I.e. That’s what you think in any other RTS).

Alec says:
In Company of Heroes. each unit matters, and it’s amazing how much of a rarity that is in RTS games.

Kieron says:
Yeah. Each unit matters… and in a way which isn’t absolutely clearly faked. As opposed to most Rock/Paper/Scissors style interaction.

Alec says:
Aye. Much as Supreme Commander is better for feeling like a god of war, the inherent meaninglessness of each tiny robot keeps me from ever having a vested interest in why I’m fighting, It’s too clearly a simulation.

Kieron says:
But the humanity’s there in Company of Heroes. This is clearly THINGS fighting.

Kieron says:
My main reservations with the new one was… well, it kind of pushed a bit closer to a game in many ways. I mean,it’s still miles ahead everything else, but the two sides seem more artificial.

Alec says:
Yeah, they were specialist factions. The British were prescribedly Turtle Guys. Though you could twist them to an offensive path to a point. But they weren’t as representative of logically fighting a war as the more symmetrical sides of COH vanilla

Kieron says:
Yeah. They pushed to the poles, so making it feel less real.

Alec says:
Of course, they made up for it with The Year’s Best Swearing In Games.

Kieron says:
I mean, they weren’t REALLY turtle guys – they’re more slow moving. Passive Aggressive. It’s all about where you build your bases.
And, fuck yeah. Seriously, they’re the best Tommies in games.

Alec says:
Well, turtling always involves pushing back at your oppressor at some point. COHOF’s Brits did a particularly fantastic job of making that eventual push feel massive and satisfying, rather than simply “I have saved all my money and built lots of things.”

Kieron says:
And swearing.
Were you thrown by the Nazi Campaign?

Alec says:
Honestly, the campaigns just don’t work for me. Much as the 25% of my blood that’s Jewish wanted to object to playing as Nazis, their campaign is as far removed from the tension and adrenaline of multiplay as the Allied missions are. They still feel artificial and futile.

Kieron says:
It’s operation market garden. As I said in a review, it felt a bit like being a Texan, buying a game about the Alamo… and discovering you’re playing as the Mexicans.

Alec says:
Yeah. but it didn’t feel even slightly subversive (though Harvey Smith might well call it Super! Fucking! Subversive!) because it was hamstrung by the same artificiality as any other COH singleplayer mission. No sense of fighting an equal and attentive foe. Just crossing trigger points.

Kieron says:
Can I mention how sorry I feel for Harvey with that quote?

Alec says:
I don’t know how any game can tell a good World War II story. We know the outcomes too well. One of the reasons COD4 works well – its more fictionalised setting leaves it free to tell its own tale.

Kieron says:
Yeah. It’s the call of duty-esque waves of troops just running towards you…

Alec says:
YOU MAY.

Kieron says:
Poor Harvey.

Kieron says:
I dunno about telling a story in WW2… it’s more of a setting thing. Which is what CoH does really well, of course.

Alec says:
Though my concern with Opposing Fronts is, as you say, the artificiality of the new factions. They’re loads of fun if you know what they’re doing, but their complexity’s such a barrier to a total newcomer.

Kieron says:
I think I agree actually. Between that and the Market Garden disconnect is why I don’t quite love it as much as the first game. It’s still the best traditional RTS in terms of mechanics this year. But it’s not quite the 10/10 ultragame.

Alec says:
Well, COH’s best World War II stories happen when it’s you versus The Other Guy online, Really caring about that Sherman you’ve just built or those last two sappers you left in a trench by the besieged victory point. All the cutscenes in the world can’t compare to that deeply personal vested interest.

Kieron says:
And you can add your real swearing to the game’s swearing too

Alec says:
Yeah, it’s a validation of swearing as butch and manly, rather than nerdy teamspeak whining. It’s one of few games to give me a vague swell of patriotism. Yes, we Brits swear better than those nancy Yanks.

Kieron says:
Real Men Don’t Talk About Your Mom. Real men win wars on Corned Beef.

Alec says:
And validated by SAS hunk Captain Price in Call of Duty 4. Ooh, dishy.

Alec says:
But yeah, much as Opposing Fronts is the most fun I’ve had in an RTS this year, there’s that slight dissatisfaction of the holding pattern and bundling in more of the micro-management complexity that the original did a good job of throwing out.

Kieron says:
Well… except the one we’re posting about in a few days, perhaps? Clearly this is a better game. But the other one… has a certain charm…

Alec says:
I feel bad even comparing those two games, in all honesty. But their co-existence is a necessity for the continuance of real-time strategy.

Alec says:
(we’re on quite a lot of words. have we said anything worthwhile yet?)

Kieron says:
(Unlikely)
(Let’s stop now with a nob gag)

Kieron says:
Er… penises?

Alec says:
Don’t you mean “C-NET senior management?”

Kieron says:
Are you trying to do a John Walker, Alec?

Alec says:
I’m merely commenting that there’s every chance senior management employees at C-NET might possess male genitalia. Unlike us RPS androgynes.

Kieron says:
That’s very true. We are smooth, like nullo.

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