Every time that a PC-centric game series makes the jump to console, I approach it with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. How will it handle the jump from mouse and keyboard to gamepad? Will it make sacrifices along the way? How hard will I need to squint to make out the UI from across the room? Company of Heroes 3 is the latest game to make the leap, the popular WW2 RTS series promising a fully rethought interface for consoles.
Unfortunately, first impressions when playing on Playstation 5 are of mild bewilderment. You’re almost unceremoniously dumped into the tutorial mission, and then taught concepts in a slightly higgledy-piggledy fashion, starting with how to retreat a unit back to base. Things do become more coherent as you go, with a mixture of dialogue and quick pop ups explaining controls and Company of Heroes 3’s specific game mechanics for capturing outposts, using cover in combat, and the like.
The control scheme on gamepad takes a little getting used to and threw me off with a few key elements, specifically that ‘Circle’ is actually an attack move instead of deselecting a unit, and that the radial menus that you bring up require the left analogue stick to highlight options. This makes sense when you need the right face buttons to select things, but it’s odd to not let the right stick also be active, and that you’ve a mix of a unit command menu that needs a trigger to be held, while building commands are toggled with Up on the D-pad.
The UI is generally clear and visible from a distance, but that’s because the key interactions you have are attached to the immovable central cursor, context sensitive icons matched to the face buttons that trigger them. At times, dialogue and tutorial tooltips clutter things up a little a bit carelessly, though this all becomes less important as you get to grips with different unit abilities and the overarching controls.
Truth be told, these are the usual kinds of quirks and oddities that you invariably find when strategy and management sims make the jump to console and gamepad. The main saving grace is the Full Tactical Pause option that is triggered with a left stick click. This totally halts the game and lets you issue strings or orders to your units and base, queueing up movements and attacks that will then play out once you unpause. I might have preferred a super slow-mo option when you bring up radial menus, keeping a little more of the flow and feel of an RTS (real time is in the genre name, after all!), but full pausing is certainly the better option for accessibility and allows you to keep up with even the most frenetic action.
You’ve a wealth of game modes to put all of this to use in. The main campaign follows the Allied invasion of Italy and blends together the ground battles with an overarching campaign where you manage the entire theatre of war, pushing resources and units around and choosing how to tackle the axis defensive lines before you. Alongside that is a more straightforward campaign that puts you in command of the Afrikakorps in Rommel’s North African campaign, and that lives alongside the traditional skirmish and online multiplayer modes that allow for head-to-head against other players or co-op battles against AI.
We’ve only really scratched the surface of what Company of Heroes 3 offers across all these modes so far, but the campaign promises an interesting blend of player and narrative led moments as you push companies across the map, choose which objectives you want to take (with “loyalty” bonuses if you stick with one sub-commander’s suggestions), and your approach to overcoming defensive strongholds.
Company of Heroes 3 often looks great, particularly when battling through an Italian town or city, dealing with the confined sight-lines of urban warfare, and with the dynamic destruction affecting the environment. However, I feel that the game could be pushing the PS5 hardware further.
By default the game uses the Performance mode, with 1080p and 60fps, while the Resolution mode swaps that for 4K at 30fps. These overarching options are fairly logical, but the Performance mode also steps down the quality of shadows and some texture detail, which is surprising when equivalent PC hardware is able to stick with maximum settings and keep above the 60fps mark at 1440p. An update planned for the end of June notes enhancements for audio, visuals and UI, so hopefully this bumps up the visuals a notch or two, because there should be plenty of headroom within the latest consoles.
Company of Heroes 3 Console Edition gives a somewhat clumsy initial impression, but once you’re past the opening tutorial and dig deeper into the experience, you’ll becoming accustomed to the quirks and oddities that it’s picked up on the way from PC to console. It’s still fundamentally Company of Heroes, and there’s a reason why this is so highly regarded as an RTS series, with this third game featuring a wealth of options for different campaign styles, co-op and multiplayer.
We’ll be back with a full scored review of Company of Heroes 3 Console Edition soon.