Real-time strategy game Company of Heroes 2 will avoid the "sensitive issues" of the Eastern Front by focusing more on the soldiers on the ground than the politics of their leaders, developer Relic has said.
The Canadian developer hopes to make COH2 as authentic as possible in its treatment of the brutal battle between the Soviets and the Nazis.
In the game's campaign the player assumes control of the Soviet Red Army, under the command of Communist dictator Joseph Stalin, as it defends against Hitler's German invasion. You then lead the counter attack towards Berlin.
"We don't spend too much time on the sensitive issues of political ideology," lead campaign designer Jasen Torres told Eurogamer in an interview.
"Company of Heroes is an in close game. It's about the troops on the battlefield. It's about their stories. When you get down to it, they're regular guys fighting for their homeland and their family. They're not by and large a high up political leader with ideologies spreading to the masses. They're just the normal guy saying, if I don't guard my homeland I won't have a homeland. That's the story that's evident even in gameplay.
"It's these guys and how they act together. It's a squad. They're weakened when they get hurt. Those are the types of experiences we want to create."
"Company of Heroes is an in close game. It's about the troops on the battlefield. It's about their stories - lead campaign designer Jasen Torres."
During a COH2 presentation in London last week, game director Quinn Duffy said Relic "needs to be sensitive" in its treatment of the Eastern Front. "There are long term repercussions of this war and so we want to present both sides of the story in as sensitive a way as possible." He was at pains to stress the brutality of the conflict, and the sheer scale of the losses.
"Germany lost approximately 80 per cent of its total combat losses on a front of the war we've never visited until now," Duffy said.
"From the Western perspective, when we think of World War 2, it's the landings in Normandy, it's the fight in Western Europe, but if you look at the numbers - you can't necessarily qualify the effect and the heroism of the soldiers - Normandy ranks 23rd. The losses there were significant for Western nations but in the big scheme it was a relatively small battle. 13 of the 15 bloodiest battles of WW2 happened in the Eastern Front.
"This Total War leads to the kinds of mass casualties we really don't understand in the West. One in seven Soviet citizens - that's something like 14 per cent of their society. The numbers in the West were dramatically smaller."
As part of its development work members of the Canadian studio travelled to Russia on a research mission, getting a feel for real world weapons, vehicles and terrain. The designers have even included game mechanics based on some of the more shocking real-world tactics used. For example, throughout the campaign cut scenes show Soviet commanders ordering the slaughter of their own troops when they retreat - a directive sparked by Stalin's infamous Order 227.
"They're as cruel to each other in a way as they are to each other," Duffy said. "If you're as brutal to your own soldiers you can imagine how you're going to be to your enemy.
"War is not pretty, and we want to immerse the player at least for a little bit in the experience. We also need to be sensitive. There are long term repercussions of this war and so we want to present both sides of the story in as sensitive a way as possible.
War is not pretty, and we want to immerse the player at least for a little bit in the experience. We also need to be sensitive. There are long term repercussions of this war and so we want to present both sides of the story in as sensitive a way as possible - game director Quinn Duffy.
"We want to be judged on the authenticity, the accuracy and the tone."
Torres said shooting your own troops will form a part of the campaign, which is told from the perspective of a war reporter, and the hush-hush multiplayer.
"We've been trying various mechanics for something to work in multiplayer," he said. "Obviously in multiplayer we don't want to kick up a cinematic. That would be silly.
"But in the campaign that will absolutely be part of not just one mission but part of a theme. It made us rethink what we think about a loss condition. What does it mean to be in a loss condition? Is it retreating? Is it can't retreat? Okay, how do we change that in a way to make that interesting?
"We've come up with some things that I'm really excited to get people to play. It's going to showcase this really different tone of unit preservation and what that means for the Soviet Red Army."