The M18 Hellcat: A glaring inaccuracy

April 29, 2009
Does this look lighter, less-armored and faster than the M10?

Does this look lighter, less-armored and faster than the M10?

My reporter sense started tingling when Relic let it be known that the M10 Wolverine would be replaced by the M18 Hellcat (optionally) in Tales of Valor. Relic has largely preserved the basic historical strength of the tanks and vehicles in COH; for example, the M4 Sherman is less powerful than the M26 Pershing in terms of armor, cannon damage and penetration.

This simple concept of translating real-life units into the game goes by the wayside with the M18. In the current game, the Hellcat has more armor, a better cannon and slower speed than the M10. It’s like an American version of the Hetzer, particularly since it can cloak and gains first-strike damage bonuses when firing out of cloak.

But historically, the M18 was much lighter and faster than the M10. To make this possible, it had far less armor. The only thing Relic got right was the M18’s superior cannon. Both the M10 and M18 packed .50 cal machine guns, though the M10 lacks this option in-game.

A much better choice would’ve been to ditch the M18 and instead add the M36 Jackson, yet another American tank destroyer similar to both the M10 and M18. The Jackson had an open top, an optional .50 cal MG, and the same 90mm gun used by the Pershing. It was roughly the same weight and size as the M10, but had much more armor — double the armor of the M10 in some places. Does this sound like the unit represented by the “M18” in the game right now? Sure does. For balance reasons the 90mm gun on the M36 could be made less powerful than the Pershing, but this doesn’t change the fact that the M36 — not the M18 — should be in the game.

NOTE: All data below comes from Wikipedia. Who has no reason to lie about World War II armor specifications.

M-10 Wolverine tank destroyer.

M-10 Wolverine tank destroyer.

M10 Wolverine
29.6 tonnes (65,000 lb)
Armor: 9mm to 57.2 mm (0.3″ to 2.3″)
Primary armament: 76.2 mm M7 gun
Secondary armament: .50 cal Browning M2HB machine gun
Speed: 51 km/h (32 mph)

M18 Hellcat, post-war.

M18 Hellcat, post-war.

M18 Hellcat
Weight: 17.7 tonnes (39,000 lb)
Armor: 5mm to 25 mm (0.2″ to 1.0″)
Primary armament: 76 mm (76.2 mm) M1A1 gun
Secondary armament: .50 cal M2HB machine gun
Speed: 88 km/h (55 mph)

The M36 Jackson, the lone American tank destroyer able to kill Tigers at range

The M36 Jackson, the only tank destroyer able to kill Tigers at range.

M36 Jackson
29 tonnes (64,000 lb)
Crew: 5
Armor: 9mm to 108 mm (0.35″ to 4.25″)
Primary armament: 90 mm M3 gun
Secondary armament: .50 cal Browning M2HB machine gun
Speed: 50 km/h (30 mph)


COH audio strategy series: Mind of a Master, Volume I

April 26, 2009
Got questions? Get answers from a master.

Got questions? Get answers from a master.

With the release of COH: Tales of Valor and the latest 2.501/2.502 patches, we’re looking at the biggest changes to the game since more than a year ago. To help you step up your game, I’m pleased to announce a fantastic new concept, the COH audio strategy series, Mind of a Master. This will be a multi-volume series of podcast-style audios, primarily featuring Steven “Surprise” Uray. Calling on all of my professional skills as a reporter, I interview Surprise on tape, covering a huge amount of material, split into about a dozen or so tracks.

Volume I, which you can sample in streaming format below, covers the following:

  • A top-ranked player’s impressions of patch 2.501/2.502 and how it compares overall to 2.301, including faction-by-faction and army vs. army changes
  • A high-level take on the new ToV units, including detailed descriptions of each new unit and whether it’s underpowered, overpowered or just right
  • Deep discussion about COH psychology and how Surprise uses his opponents’ emotions against them, including a section on mind games and how they apply to RTS matches
  • Surprise’s American play style — which took him to #1 on the 1v1 ladder — carefully explained, featuring detailed, step-by-step explanations on his tech order and how he counters specific Axis strategies and units
  • Surprise’s opinion on controversial balance issues, such as whether the Blitzkrieg doctrine is underpowered and whether the perennial complaint about “free” super tanks is now dead

You will always get the first two tracks for free, to give you an idea of what’s in the entire volume. In Volume I, you’ll get the introduction to Mind of a Master and a bio on Surprise, plus his rundown on what ToV brings to the game and how army matchups have changed.″

For everything else, it’s $0.99 for any single track downloadable in MP3 format from, or a more economical $6.99 for the entire volume, downloadable as one album. Look for Volume I to be available sometime next week on Amazon — there’ll be an announcement here.

Meanwhile — let me know what you think! I realize charging a fee may seem to go against the community-minded Rifles Ready! spirit, but let’s face it. At $0.99 a track or $7 for the whole volume, it’s not going to break anybody’s bank and it’s going to give us a great incentive to produce high quality stuff. If you can’t give up the money for a footlong Subway sub, then don’t — just listen to the preview tracks. Think of buying the whole volume as a way to give back to us and get a fantastic extra out of it: a chance to get inside the mind of current COH masters! Later volumes will feature other top players in addition to Surprise.

Site Update: Something cool is coming

April 22, 2009

Sorry for the slow pace at Rifles Ready!, but Surprise and I are working on something cool and unprecedented here for next week. This weekend you can expect a new Advanced Tip, plus a preview of what’s to come next week.

I’m also hoping, key word “hoping,” to sneak in a new Battle Report based on 2.501. So stay tuned, sports fans! Patience is rewarded in life and on this blog!

Review: Tales of Valor

April 17, 2009
Gold lettering is cool.

Gold lettering is cool.

Overall score: 7/10
Graphical/audio proficiency: 9/10
New content: 9/10
Game balance: 5/10
Technical polish: 5/10
Price: 7/100
Value: 7/10

The U.S. Postal Service was on point this week, delivering my copy of COH: Tales of Valor a full day earlier than expected. Of course, they took an extra week to deliver my collector’s edition of Street Fighter IV, but that’s neither the here nor there.

TOV is essentially a lazy man’s add-on to the Company of Heroes pantheon, but that’s not to say it’s worthless. In fact, TOV is a lot of fun and feels almost like a deliberate attempt by Relic to get gamers away from the deadly serious issue of “balancing” highly competitive ranked play and back into blowing up Krauts and Yanks. My take on that? They blow up real good. If you don’t own either the original COH or COH: Opposing Fronts, TOV is a great buy for the money. Go get it now, you rookie. If you’re a COH veteran, keep reading.

TOV adds three short campaigns to the single player game, representing the Wehrmacht, Panzer Elite and Americans. Each of the campaigns — Tiger Ace, The Causeway and The Falaise Pocket — consist of three story-driven missions featuring wildly modded units and gameplay mechanics. You’ll encounter a Tiger that can fire smoke bombs and fire artillery shells, plus American Paratroopers sporting Kraut-mowing Thompsons and as they say in show biz, much, much more. These units have an absurd amount of health and their slew of overpowered abilities make every single mission relatively easy. As a result, each campaign — or “tale of valor” as Relic somewhat fancifully puts it — won’t take you longer than two or three hours.

Original artwork is always nice.

Original artwork is always nice.

Each campaign really shows how Relic is stretching the existing game engine to its limits. It smacks of the flavor that DotA (Defense of the Ancients) added to Warcraft III, which isn’t a bad thing in my opinion. Of course, that depends on how much you like DotA versus the original game.

The much-hyped “direct fire” mode is somewhat underwhelming, and usable only in single player and in the new multiplayer modes — you won’t be able to use it in regular skirmishes or ranked games of any kind. This video gives you a sense of how it works. With a human controlling the cannon, you’ll rarely miss even moving targets, but in general it’s not a major improvement over letting the AI fire by itself. It’s pretty entertaining to lead targets though — watch how I smack that T17 Armored Car right in the ass late in this clip:

Keep reading for a full explanation of my score, which essentially amounts to a low C — not exactly the kinda test score that’ll get you into Harvard.

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In-depth: 2.501, Tales of Valor and the future

April 13, 2009
Will the trinity expand?

Will the trinity expand?

With the release of the latest COH expansion and the winds of change blowing, I decided it was time to play weatherman and speculate on where our game and community are headed. Here’s my take as a former top-ranked player.

Larger community
Back in the stone age of the vCOH beta, it was rare to see more than 300 people online. I never remember seeing more than 3,000 online throughout all of regular vCOH. With the release of Opposing Fronts, the average number of players almost doubled. I was stunned to see 5,000 or 6,000 people online at peak hours. I was even more surprised to see peak numbers continue more than a year after the release of OF.

Yesterday, a new all-time high was reached: more than 10,400.  While it’s true that single-player users are forced to login to Relic Online,  they only account for about 30% to 40% of users online at any given time. This still leaves yesterday’s 10,400 figure well above previous OF highs. Despite the cries from the prophets of doom on, the game does not appear to be dying at all, but is growing larger.

What does this mean? It means COH may have the numbers to support multiple community sites, more pro-level players, and larger, more frequent tournaments due to a larger advertising base for sponsors. Think PC hardware, software, gaming companies and even soft drinks and snacks targeted at the coveted 18-34 young male gamer demographic.

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In-game reflections on 2.501

April 12, 2009

I took the time this weekend to play a good four or five games of COH with 2.501 in full effect. Now, first off, I still don’t have Tales of Valor, nor did I run into anyone using the new units. Still, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.

interface2The new interface changes are stupid/unnecessary. I’m talking about the veterancy indicator changes and the infantry weapon icon change. Certainly this is open to debate, but I personally liked the American rank stripes and Wehrmacht dots. I also don’t see why Relic placed the weapon icons beneath the unit identification bar, though I’m more agnostic on this one. The real problem is with the veterancy change. It’s harder to notice the little white bar indicating veterancy, particularly when you’ve got multiple units running around.

interface1The interface changes also introduce some minor glitches. Two things I noticed in my brief play period were the manpower indicator and the sound effects for the American Medic Tent. As you can see in the shot to the right, the current manpower rate isn’t properly spaced anymore, as it runs into the +XXX figures for whatever reason. The Medic Tents make the same noise that Observation Posts do when you click on them. Random buggery, Relic-style.

Game balance
It felt pretty good to me. I know the issue that’s all the rage on is how effective the “new” units are, but as I said I can’t comment on that yet. Overall balance felt good to me, particularly in the U.S./Panzer Elite matchup. I didn’t really fight any strong players, so this impression remains tentative.

New/tweaked sound effects
On this front there’s good and bad, though more good in my opinion. The new Strafing Run sounds are a massive improvement, while the dull, punchy new Ostwind firing effect is much less intimidating than before. I haven’t really messed with the tanks yet, so no comment on that.

Look for more thoughts and a full review of Tales of Valor late next week. I should be getting the game on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Tales of Valor on its way

April 7, 2009

tov_smallMy copy of COH: Tales of Valor will soon be speeding to my house (as quickly as free shipping moves, that is). And so you may expect, dear readers, a comprehensive, unbiased review of the expansion right here on Rifles Ready! I really don’t know what to expect with this expansion. There aren’t any real “new” units, so to speak. There are units that replace existing ones and feel slightly different in flavor. But I withhold final judgement until I play the game, of course.

Also to come later this week will be the next installment of Surprise‘s WCG series. I know, you all have been beside yourselves to hear more from that grand old sensei of COH.