D-Day: June 6, 1944 or September 15, 2006?

Such a pretty box...

That’s right, today is June 6, the same day 64 years ago when hundreds of thousands of brave Allied soldiers stormed the sands and tank traps of Normandy. But D-Day also brings back memories of the glorious birth of COH. It’s one of those games that just stands out instantly, requiring only a few minutes of gameplay before you say to yourself, “Man, this is something special.” For me this moment came in August of 2006, when I signed up for the COH multiplayer beta with my best friend Steve. We were both RTS veterans from way back in high school, when Warcraft II and C&C Red Alert and later Starcraft reigned supreme. But we both knew COH represented a level of innovation none of those games had. I preordered the Collector’s Edition of COH, which was one beautiful package. I know many current COH players don’t have any idea how beautiful it was, because they have bought the game in one of its cheaper, standard incarnations (plastic box, manual, DVD).

On September 15, 2006, a very tidy little package arrived at my door. Inside was this very attractive, slick DVD case, which shines in very different ways depending on which angle the light is hitting it. It is made of a kind of soft steel that feels like tin, but is of much higher quality because it’s got all kinds of art and logos painted on it.

a poster and map, a large detailed invasion map, vehicle fact cards, manual, camouflage document circa 1944, and game DVD plus bonus DVD

Inside, in addition to the game manual, DVD and bonus DVD, was a treasure trove of prizes: a full-color reproduction of the D-Day invasion map, showing the bottom half of England and the coast of France, plus a pack of eight nifty vehicle ID cards, a COH poster with a map of the Normandy coastline, and several reproduction pages from a 1944 U.S. Army Field Manual on camouflage. This last item is particularly amusing, and a favorite of mine (don’t hide behind a tree, Goddammit!). A sniper fires from the back of any room he’s in, unlike pretty much every movie you’ve seen. Check out the detail:

Make sure you give one of these to each of your Snipers.

But that’s not all. Read on for my initial impressions the game, plus the opportunities Relic missed!

The vehicle ID cards were also very nifty, showing polished concept art of eight different, iconic COH units (in my case, the Nebelwerfer, Goliath, Quad Halftrack, M8, Sherman, Panzer IV, Panther and Tiger). The back of each card had real-life statistics on each unit, such as number of crew members or maximum range.

How many wheels are on a Tiger I?

Lastly the map is very nice-looking as well, it’s a reproduction that’s been weathered to look old, and it looks EXACTLY like the kind of invasion map Allied Supreme Command might’ve given a general. I was instantly tempted to circle key landing areas with a red felt-tip pen.

Can you find America on this map?

I remember examining each of these cool little items (which probably cost Relic a pittance to include with each Collector’s Edition of the game) and thinking how the extras and the tough steel case were worth every penny of the extra $10 I paid over the regular boxed game.

It didn’t take me more than a week to play through COH’s single player campaign, which was somewhat underwhelming. Despite the highly polished technical elements, the Normandy campaign’s dull, utterly one-dimensional characters did little to engage me. Relic staffers clearly watched Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers many a time; they hired top-notch voice actors; but they still have much to learn from Blizzard when it comes to crafting a memorable single-player campaign.

Still, the missions were memorable enough to make up for the completely flat “character” commanding Able Company, Captain What’s-His-Face, and his tough, loyal, order-barking sidekick, Sergeant Conti (also the narrator). Who can ever forget chasing down that jet-black Tiger Ace?

Music in COH was also sadly lacking, a point Relic seems to have noticed, as Opposing Fronts includes a much-better (but still not top-notch) soundtrack. The best soundtracks for World War II games continue to belong to the first-person shooters, with the Medal of Honor series taking grand prize. Truly, I don’t know why Relic didn’t hire someone like Michael Giacchino (who did the MOH music) to compose the COH soundtrack.

Just take a listen to this stirring theme and tell me you’re not ready to storm Omaha Beach with Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore!

Or how about this jazzy number, perfect for relaxing to after you and your partner jack up those lousy Krauts in a 2v2 AT match?

Well, for all the opportunities Relic missed, there’s always next time. Besides, the overall sound design and the voice acting of the units in particular, is outstanding. More than outstanding, which I’ll touch on in another D-Day post. For now, we’ll just have to settle for one fantastic game with a tolerable single-player component and a magical multiplayer one.

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