By Alfred Siew
|Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor
|» Price: $39.90 (PC)
» Genre: Real-time strategy
» Rating: 6/10
PLAYING the latest instalment in the Company of Heroes (COH) series is like being in a fleeting romance - sweet and heady but all too short.
COH: Tales of Valor retains most of the beauty and addictiveness of the 2006 World War II real-time strategy hit.
However, it is let down by the all-too-brief single-player campaigns and limited multiplayer options.
You get three single-player campaigns, where you control troops on the field as a German tank ace, a German army officer and an American paratrooper commander during the last desperate days of the Nazi war machine.
Things start promisingly: Like the original COH, graphics are top-notch.
Rivers of fire gush from flame-throwers while heavy tanks like the German Tiger drive through walls easily to engage in a dynamic battlefield in war-torn Europe.
Terrain is crucial to gameplay - a river crossing that is repeatedly hammered by artillery can have too many potholes for vehicles to cross.
Weapons, too, are awesome.
Do not like pesky infantry bugging you?
Order an incendiary strike, which instantly razes a large area to the ground.
Also, nothing beats the sheer terror of a V1 rocket.
You can hear it screeching over the sky before exploding on hapless enemies in a spectacular fireball.
Unfortunately, these great features are let down by a mixed bag of single-player campaigns.
At times, they let you manage your supplies and troops as you build up for epic missions, much like the original COH and the earlier expansion Opposing Fronts.
At other times, they offer fast-paced action without much strategy involved.
My favourite missions are on the German Wehrmacht Army campaign called Falaise Pocket.
The last mission in the campaign calls for you to desperately hold the Allied advance with carefully placed anti-tank artillery and machine gun nests, so that retreating German units can crawl their way to safety.
The action is so intense, I ended up resorting to "scorched earth" strikes from above, in frantic bids to annihilate everything at crucial road crossings.
However, the other two campaigns - with the German Tiger Ace and American paratroopers - seem all too linear.
For example, as a tank ace, you run a largely straight course to attack incoming American tanks and infantry.
There is no resource management, except to click on the Repair icon and gain almost unlimited repairs on the field.
Also disappointing is a new feature called Direct Fire.
This enables you to manually select a soldier or tank to fire at an enemy, instead of allowing the unit to engage automatically.
This is supposed to make things play more like an action shooter, but more often than not, the feature ends up unused.
Most unforgivably, Tales of Valor comes up with a bite-sized single-player experience only.
With each campaign containing only three missions, do not be surprised if you wrap up the action in a day.
Sure, there is multiplayer online.
In one of the modes, called Operation Stonewall, you defend against a horde of enemies attacking in waves.
This is fun and hectic the first time, but starts to feel repetitive soon after.
That feeling rather sums up Tales of Valor.
It is a strange title from renowned developer Relic Entertainment, one that is so fun, yet abruptly short: you end just as you get warmed up.
The tactics employed in the original Company of Heroes (COH) game also come into play in the Tales of Valor follow-up.
For starters, watch the back of your tanks.
That is where the most frail armour is and is usually where you will be weakened the most when an enemy shell hits.
Always face the enemy upfront; never expose your rear.
If you are defending a position, try backing your tank against a building.
You should also make sure that you manoeuvre your tank to hit an enemy tank in the rear.
Since you earn resource points by capturing locations on the map, make a grab for one of those far-flung, seldom-visited emplacements.
In the Falaise Pocket map, for example, there is a resource point to be captured at the bottom of the map.
To conserve resources, send a lone sniper to take the point, then hide in the adjacent building to fire at encroaching troops threatening to take back ground.
Also crucial to victory are the placement of your anti-tank 88mm guns as well as portable artillery pieces.
Again, in the Falaise Pocket campaign, place them near crossroads and river crossings and right behind a minefield.
That way, the enemy will find it harder to attack.
This story was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life.
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