Company of Heroes 3 (PS5) Review
SEGA and Relic Entertainment’s latest title Company of Heroes 3 launched earlier this year on PC, giving RTS-starved gamers a welcome reprieve over the barrage of action-adventure titles launched recently. Strategy games are few and far between, especially the real-time variant, so this release is certainly something of note.
World War II was at a standstill, as the squad of Corporal Joe Conti and company have not seen any action while stationed in North Africa. As the tide turned in the European Theater of War, he has been given orders by his superiors to return to Italy and bring the fight directly with the Nazis.
I personally still believe that PC is the perfect place to experience this genre, but RTS gaming on a console has progressed mightily over the years to go toe-to-toe against the preferred medium. Our PC performance review ensured a fun-filled experience, but let’s see how the console version of Company of Heroes 3 stacks up.
War In The Pocket
If you’ve played any RTS game before on the console, then you pretty much know what you’re getting into. If you haven’t, then all you’ll probably need to know is that it’s pretty tough to micromanage structures and units due to its constricting control scheme. Without a mouse to direct precise movements and a keyboard to handle multiple inputs at the same time, console gamers really have the short end of the stick.
Company of Heroes 3 on the PS5 played out as I thought it would but also surprised that it doesn’t go all out with the arduous micromanagement of base building and unit management similar to classic RTS titles like Command and Conquer and even Starcraft. While unit building is still there to a certain extent, as we’ve seen in our previous review, much focus is on the actual strategy and skirmish of combat.
The initial missions and prologue really get you entrenched in combat, so much so that it foreshadows the gameplay in later missions. You have your troop variety – from Engineers to Riflemen to Special Forces – that can be easily differentiated from each other with their emblems. With the introduction of various war machines from artillery to tanks, the excitement of RTS games is then brought to life on consoles with immersive and outstanding audio that bring the heat of battle right to your living room.
In Company of Heroes 3, you have a choice between the Italian and North African missions to peruse either solo or with a friend. It brings me back to the old LAN duels in computer shops, a really good feeling of playing something like this in a world full of action-adventure titles and FPS shooters, and RTS games like Company of Heroes 3 does not disappoint.
Unlike the PC version, which has multiple graphics settings to tinker with, console gamers have fewer options to consider when attempting to play. One main difference, I will say, is that playing this on a console led me to a different problem than I initially thought, apart from the frame drops during busier sequences and low-res texture issues.
Compared to playing on a PC, being close to the screen has its advantages, especially when reading the menu and captions. Playing on a TV is much different since you’re mostly playing farther away, where screen distance and small on-screen text can be a bit problematic.
In layman’s terms, the units and in-game text are just way too small for our comfort. Sadly, there is no option to actually enlarge the in-game text, especially during tutorial missions. I often had to get myself up from my comfortable couch and walk closer to the screen to read what I was being prompted to do.
For the most part, while the story text is narrated via voice acting, many of the text prompts are just way too small. While the subtitles could be enlarged up to 150%, I wished Company of Heroes 3 would allow me to just enlarge other text entries as well. Mileage may vary of course, but this really irked me in a way that I never thought it would have.
Company of Heroes 3 does its best to accommodate console gamers with a workable control setup. In a way, I believe that this is the best given the hardware, which is similar to how it all plays out with the Steam Deck minus the trackpads.
When building units, I like that you can easily use your trigger and bumper buttons to select the units you wish to build or the orders you wish to give. While I would prefer using hotkeys to speed up my micro, in terms of console gaming, it is the best we could hope for.
I understand that there have been HUD and UI modifications to make the control scheme work better for this console port, and for the most part, it does a good job. Thinking about it can be a bit of a headache, but once you’ve got a controller in hand, things do fall into place with a bit of practice. There’s a learning curve, but that can easily be overcome after a few missions.
Company of Heroes 3 offers two modes of combat, with the first being the Dynamic Campaign feature where you can annex towns and lay sieges on enemy bases on a macro scale. These are more turn-based and offer more of a high-level strategic approach, where you have specific moves until you end your turn, and is a great way to play the game using a different perspective that’s not your usual RTS fare.
Then there are the more focused Skirmish Missions where the troops are more broken down and you can command large-scale clashes while completing specific objectives. This is in real-time where the RTS interface comes to life, and will require more tactical advances that consider the terrain and other factors such as environmental destruction, all in real-time.
Unlike old-school RTS games, you don’t build bases in Company of Heroes 3, but you do take over territory. From there you can transform territory into a base camp where your troops will retreat to, or maintain it as a barracks and develop units. From a command wheel using the R1 and R2 buttons, you can select what unit to build: be it an engineer, a rifleman, or special forces.
You can alternatively use the same command wheel to give your troops orders. Engineers could plant mines and disable fences, and you can allow soldiers to hunker into a building to avoid damage when under heavy fire and the current cover is insufficient. It is also easy to group troops together to lead them to complete objectives. From a console standpoint, it’s surprising that the same frenetic RTS combat could be achieved on the controller after you get used to it.
Additionally, Company of Heroes 3 features a powerful tool called Tactical Pause, allowing players to gain a breather during intense sessions, regroup, and give units specific orders while assessing the situation. RTS titles can get messy when fights break out, and having the Tactical Pause feature at your disposal allows players to make more informed decisions with the resources available.
Alternatively, you can opt to plug in a mouse and keyboard to play through Company of Heroes 3 on your consoles, but it may be a bit excessive to do all this on your console instead of just playing it on a PC outright. The MKB setup is still a preferred option, but using a controller isn’t half bad if we’re being honest.
RTS gamers would definitely enjoy much of the conventions and mechanics seen in classic games come to life in Company of Heroes 3. One standout feature is how you ensure loyalties from the different generals of either American, British forces, or the Italian militia. Loyalties allow you to build up your playstyle and what bonuses you wish to secure from each military power, which is a great way to keep yourself involved.
The scenarios in Company of Heroes 3 are well written enough for this genre and it’s easy to relate to Joe Conti and his many letters written to his partner he left back in the US. It’s also really interesting to get an insight into the more overlooked parts of the European Theater, where most materials written about the war usually involved areas closer to Germany and France.
What We Liked:
- Fun scenarios and engaging battles
- Intuitive console controls that have a learning curve
- Interesting story beats involving Italy and North Africa.
- Tactical Pause is a powerful tool when used properly
What We Didn’t Like:
- In-game text is way too small and cannot be customized.
- Technical issues in both quality and performance modes
- Mouse and keyboard set-up is still the superior way to play RTS games.
Verdict: Buy It!
While the PC experience of Company of Heroes 3 is still king, the console experience is no slouch. We’re able to experience the tide of war turning almost equally on the PS5 with its performance mode and Company of Heroes 3‘s preference for actual combat strategy versus the arduous micromanagement of building translates really well to consoles.
Commendations go to SEGA and Relic Entertainment for giving console gamers a chance to experience Company of Heroes 3 without the need for a separate PC setup. Console gamers and RTS games used to be oil and water, but this is quite the valiant effort and quite a lot of fun even when using a controller, which can’t be said of other attempts.
*Company of Heroes 3 was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.
*Company of Heroes 3 Console Edition is now available for PS5 and Xbox Series. Check your local retailers for availability.