Headquarters: World War II demo | Preview in 7 Screenshots!

Headquarters World War II demo: The banner for the 2013 movie Company of Heroes, featuring the logo on top and the most awful montage on the B-list cast below it. Also, that movie has T-34s disguised as Panzer IVs, laffo.

World War 2 tactics games are plentiful. Games set during the Normandy campaign are ubiquitous. But, just like years, they just won’t stop coming. Guess what the Headquarters: World War II demo, now available via the Steam Next Fest, is about!

Headquarters: World War II demo screenshot: a British rifle unit in the fuel depot on the left runs into my entire force on the right.
Headquarters: World War II demo comes with a tutorial mission where you control the brits and the first mission of German campaign. As the Nazis, you’re reacting to the Commonwealth landings, rushing to support friendly troops retreated from the bunkers to a seaside town. The full game will have three campaigns – for the UK, US, and the Nazis – of nine missions each.
Headquarters: World War II demo screenshot: cinematic camera shows a Kulbewagen gunner firing his MG at a far-off Firefly.
You will control a handful of units – vehicles, crewed weapons and infantry fireteams. Each unit can move amount, fire twice and have three reaction fire attempts. Notably, the reactions are depleted by firing – so if you use both of your shots, you’ll only be able fire overwatch/return fire once. Unit movement and fire are often shown via cinematic camera angles – mercifully, you can turn down the frequency. Unit HP is actually their crew: 1 damage means losing a crew member, which negatively impacts the unit’s performance based on their role. Morale also makes an appearance as even non-damaging shots cause some disturbance to the target.
Headquarters: World War II demo screenshot: a suspected tank contact suffers overwatch fire, taking 1 Graze and 19 Morale damage.
The damage system is probably what I dislike the most about the Headquarters: World War II demo. Part of it is definitely presentation: attack results have names, going from Miss (0 damage) to Critical (5 damage). But if they represent nothing more than damage, why not just have damage numbers? “Graze” would imply to me that the unit escaped any real damage, but you’re still losing a crewman or a rifleman. And sure, it impedes the function of the unit a little – driverless vehicles are slower, for example – but it also means that there’s no organic system damage.
Headquarters: World War II demo screenshot: five commandos, each armed with a Bren, rush past a white windmill.
A Hellcat can target a tank’s treads to immobilize it. But a Graze, Hit, or Crit never will. It’s just HP depletion! And the fact that one of commander powers to instantly restore a unit’s crew doesn’t diminish the impression. Tanks also explode when they run out of crew. Damn it, even baby arcadey games like Company of Heroes 2 understood that tanks aren’t symbiotically attached to the squishy humans driving them. Men of War, a positively ancient game at this point, had a more sophisticated damage model!
Headquarters: World War II demo screenshot: unit purchase screen where I'm attaching some Nazi hero to an infantry unit.
Plus, the units are nonsensical. Infantry fireteams are always armed identically – including five Commandos with five Brens – while MG sections always have two MMG and two crew. Plus, as far as I can tell, they’re identical in stats between factions. At the same time, you’ll also be controlling units that have no business being on the tactical field. I had a Priest engage in an open-sights firefight with a Hetzer. But it all clicked once I saw the unit management screen: this is just tactical-level Panzer General. The mix of core and non-core units. The unit statlines. The random heroes. The unit purchase screens where you “upgrade” a rifleman squad by swapping it out for literally any other infantry unit. I have been tricked!
And I don’t even know who the Headquarters: World War II demo tries to fool. Look at the menu above. Don’t remind your players of a better game! Company of Heroes 1 was a supernal achievement, so you have to have a really good reason to copy the menu style. Headquarters: World War II doesn’t. I can’t compare TBS to RTS gameplay, sure. But when it comes to authenticity, attentional to detail, faction designs, visuals, audio, or writing, it comes up short in every category. Especially when you consider that Company of Heroes is a world class on unit barks – which are absolutely absent in Headquarters.
Headquarters: World War II demo screenshot: a bit of town gets hit by a perfectly square artillery barrage
But you don’t need to compare Headquarters: World War II to Company of Heroes. It already has plenty of superior relatives. Just for this paragraph, I downloaded the demo for The Troop. I had played ages ago and wanted to check if its as superior as I felt it was. And yes, it seems the better game. It may be equally as ugly, but it’s immediately more pleasing in all other ways. There’s also The Second Front, made by a single mad lad, featuring mixed weaponry at squad level and a lot more charming visually. On the extreme end, there’s Lock ‘n Load Tactical Digital. Oddly fitting, too: I felt it was the superior hex-and-chit title when I had to review the much-new Valor & Victory. So to paraphrase how I felt reviewing the later, why play Headquarters: World War II when The Troop already exists?

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