Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Company of Heroes: The Battle for Hill 314

I've been working my way through Company of heroes for about a week now and I have hit a particularly bastard level where I am struggling to defend Hill 314 near the town of Mortain.

I mentioned before that the enemy AI in Company of Heroes is poor. In fact it is often non-existent and most of the enemy actions in the game seem to be nothing more than responses to preset triggers.

The computer starts off most levels with a huge superiority of forces, territory and resources. While an intelligent player in the same situation would throw everything they had at the fledgling opposition to wipe them out before they even got started the computer in CoH is happy to wait for a certain triggers before acting. This allows a player who knows the system to play a very defensive game. If you know that the computer will send a dozen panzers at you after you take a certain point then it is easy to put off taking that point and slowly build up your resources and army until you are strong enough to win.

This sounds like I am complaining but oddly enough I quite enjoy a slow defensive style of play. I generally try to build a strong well defended base before making forays into the country side. In order to give myself some kind of challenge I am playing through on Hard setting and I often set my own private goals. For instance on one level I force myself to play through with infantry only while on another I only use vehicles. A major strength of the game is that it is possible to play and win in such diverse ways.

Some levels have an initial assault or a countdown timer forcing me to change my normal defensive approach but generally I muddle through.

The Mortain level is all about defending a hill so you would imagine that my defensive instincts would work to a tee but the problem is that the hill is virtually indefensible. At the start of the level the game asks you to reinforce a number of outposts which are all remote from the central hilltop and remote from each other. Sending men to these points seems to be a suicidal waste. There is nothing to stop these points being flanked and they cannot be easily reinforced once the enemy attacks.

To make matters worse your headquarters isn't even on the hilltop - it is sitting at the base of the hill on the other side of a road along which panzers will soon be coming. If you try to defend the hilltop and lose the heaquarters you don't immediately lose the game but you are at a severe disadvantage because many abilities depend on having a functioning headquarters.

As if that wasn't enough they game then asks you to defend a town centre which is also disjoint from both hilltop and from the headquarters.

Oh and did I mention that you cannot use tanks in this level even though the computer has a large army of panzers.

My first attempt was to split my forces and try to defend everything. I was annihilated. On my second attempt I abandoned the hilltop and built a reinforced position around the headquarters. This worked well and I was able to hold off anything the computers German army sent against me. Unfortunately I was unable to retake the hilltop before the countdown timer ran out so I still lost the level.

The only saving grace is that the medal (a kind of bonus objective) for this mission is a cinch. You just have to rescue a bunch of rangers pinned down by a couple of German squads. One squad of grunts armed with grenades can do this within minutes of starting the level.

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