Company of Heroes is one of the landmark franchises in the RTS genre. The latest installment, Company of Heroes 2 offers some interesting new features, but not much in the way of story driven gameplay or compelling multiplayer. From the standpoint of accessibility, the game struggles in certain areas while excelling in others.
The unfortunate thing is that players will absolutely have to distinguish between red, blue, green, and yellow to get any value out of this game. This is because Company of Heroes 2 places a high value on strategically placing squads of units in cover. Good cover is denoted with a green shield, while weak cover has a yellow shield. As a result, players need to be able to determine which is the best position to place their squads in and therefore will have to distinguish between colors. Even more disappointing is the fact that one of the game’s major new mechanics, the winter mechanic, requires players to distinguish between red and blue. If playing in a winter level, players will have to be conscious of the effects of cold on their troops. This is denoted by a thermometer hovering over a squad when they are in danger. The thermometer turns blue when they are cold and red when they are warm. And even though the text prompts in the game tell you when a squad is suffering from cold, the prompts don’t tell you which squad, and there is no way to determine which squad without being able to see color. Combine that with the fact that payers will have to be able to distinguish between red and yellow if they don’t want to run into problems in placing building on each base, and the picture gets even bleaker. Keep in mind that this is on top of the regular RTS barriers that one may encounter, such as small units. This, in particular, is aggravated because both the German and the Russian armies (the only two playable armies in Company of Heroes 2) look relatively similar and have to be zoomed in extremely far in order to tell the difference. Even then it boils down to the difference between sprites in brown uniforms and sprites in grey uniforms. If a player’s visual disability does not impact their ability to see color, it is still hard to see how this game could even be remotely accessible because of its emphasis on fine detail and precise perception of the battle field.
Company of Heroes 2 is perhaps a better choice of RTS game for players with fine motor disabilities than some of its fast paced cousins. Overall, the gameplay has a slower and more tactical feel than a title like StarCraft. As a result, players will have to rely less on twitch-based reaction and more on planning and foresight in order to progress through the game. And because squads are selected rather than individual units, players will have to rely less on precise mouse work. The one area where serious trouble may arise is in the placing of defenses such as machine gun nests or artillery. For some reason, it was very difficult to place an HMG exactly where it was needed and point it in the right direction because of the finicky aiming mechanic that would always overshoot the correct position when the player moved the mouse. That said, there are enough other options for tactics that Company of Heroes 2 is still worth a look, especially given the fact that it can easily be played with on hand. Be prepared, however—there is one final drawback for players with all disabilities. Don’t expect to practice this game by playing one-on-one matches with the computer. The only option the players have is playing either the Theater of War mode, which may task you with teaming with a computer ally, or playing multiplayer, which requires that you play with at least one other person when playing against the computer.
Company of Heroes 2 is a strange case when it comes to audible accessibility. Only the story mode has consistent subtitles. But there is a system of text alerts that will pop up whenever squads are under attack or other things happen that the player needs to be notified of. The problem is that, because it doesn’t allow you to click on a notification and go to the squad that it is talking about, players will have to pan over the battlefield until they find the right one. However, it is nice that all of your squads appear as icons on the top right corner of your screen, which allows you to click and quickly select them. Even nicer is the fact that there are little icons that summarize what each squad is doing. If there is a little crosshair on it, you know the squad is under fire. If there is a little green shield on it, you know it’s under good cover. The same is true of yellow shields and other icons. However, because this information is always at the edge of the screen, players will always have to be taking their eyes off the battle if they can’t hear what’s going on.
Company of Heroes 2 is fairly inaccessible, but I had fun playing it. And if you like RTS games or games with heavy historical components, you might want to try it out if you have a fine motor disability.
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The Bottom Line for Disabled Gamers: Company of Heroes 2
– Units are labeled using highly visible icons.
– Players will have to be able to see fine detail when moving and placing units.
– An inability to see the entire color spectrum would mean an inability to play this game.
– Slower, more methodical pacing.
– More forgiving nature than other games in the genre.
– Some of the game’s mechanics can be hard to deal with if the player is not very precise.
– Story has a full set of subtitles.
– System of text alerts tells players what is going on.
– Text alerts only tell you what is going on, not where it is going on.
– Player will constantly be looking at the edge of the screen in order to catch important information.