When Company of Heroes shipped last year, it proved that there's plenty of life in the World War II real-time strategy genre if companies take risks and innovate. THQ and Relic's superb real-time strategy game did that by blending in so many cutting-edge elements that it made the battlefield come alive like rarely before. Thanks to impressive artificial intelligence that made soldiers move and act like the real thing, as well as the tactical implications of a spectacular and fully destructible battlefield, Company of Heroes was a game that rewarded smart and quick thinking. With an excellent single-player campaign and thrilling multiplayer gameplay, it was also named GameSpot's 2007 PC Game of the Year. Now, just slightly a year after it was released, THQ and Relic have released Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, a fairly straightforward and satisfying follow-up that delivers more content for would-be Pattons to enjoy.
The Panzer Elite can hit hard and hit fast, and they're great if you like to go on offense all of the time.
Opposing Fronts is more of a pseudosequel than an expansion pack. You don't need the original Company of Heroes to play it, though if you do you'll be able to select from the US Army and regular German Army factions from that game in skirmish matches. Otherwise, you'll be restricted to the two new factions introduced in Opposing Fronts: the British Army and the German Panzer Elite. These factions both get their own campaign that, when combined, make for a longer single-player experience than Company of Heroes. Interestingly, the campaigns are staggered so that they're in nonlinear order. You'll begin with the story of two German brothers battling against the daring airborne assault of Operation Market Garden, and in the following campaign you'll leap further back into the past to participate in the British Army's lengthy and bloody assault on the French city of Caen.
The heart of the expansion can be found in the new factions. Both play quite differently from the US and German factions in the first game, and though you needn't have played Company of Heroes to dive into Opposing Fronts, it's hard not to shake the feeling that the British and Panzer Elite are designed for veteran players. That's because their mobile nature makes them a bit more of a handful to control than the prior factions. To clarify, the Panzer Elite is built around the idea of hard-hitting and fast-moving combat groups that can race around the battlefield, either to counter what the enemy is doing or to exploit an opening. To that extent, the Panzer Elite doesn't so much lock down territory as it bulldozes its way across the map. Thankfully, Panzer Elite infantry can repair vehicles during slight pauses, but you won't have a lot of time to hunker down before another situation needs putting out.
At first glance, the British Army seems to be built similarly around the idea of mobility and defenses, given that it has mobile headquarters units that can relocate around the map. However, the British also excel at building things: devastating howitzer emplacements, mortar pits, slit trenches, and more. As one might expect, the campaign missions highlight each faction's abilities quite nicely. In the brutal house-to-house fighting of Caen, the British can call in the dreaded "creeping barrage" that shatters enemy lines. Likewise, the Panzer Elite can punch through Allied defenses and raid around their rears to capture or destroy landing points for airborne forces.