Reviewed: January 17, 2005
Released: January 4, 2005
Paradox Entertainment has a wealth of experience in the strategy department, bringing us Europa Universalis 1&2, a massive space based strategy game; now gives us the the equally acclaimed Hearts of Iron II. Hearts of Iron II focuses on the period between 1936 and 1947, giving you the chance to lead over 130 nations to victory.
Hearts of Iron II features:
Unlike many strategy titles, Hearts of Iron contains a domestic as well as a military front. At home, each province generates a certain amount of production in the form of resources, e.g. fuel factories that generate industrial capacity, or IC points, that will supply production. You have complete control as where these IC points are distributed.
The construction interface, which has been centralized on one screen, provides sliders for you to spend points on military, domestic and on production of items, which can be everything from factories, aircraft carriers, radar installations or tanks. Having a reduction in any category of resource (coal, oil etc) can have a severe consequence on your output, but can be made up by taking over countries rich in materials or trading with others. Thus, it is important to keep a healthy defense on the homeland production sites, focusing on air superiority and anti-aircraft installations.
Specifically, you control the action on an hourly system, with a handy pause feature to issue major orders worth spending some time deliberating on. Combat is handled better than the original Hearts of Iron, with a nifty feature for your aircraft that stands out. You can set schedules and missions to set up air superiority over a given area and still have the hands on direction of bomber raids to lower enemy morale and production. Ground combat is handled by the roll of the dice, as you invade/defend from province to province; your men will fight until a victor is decided.
Pay careful attention to who is in charge, you don’t want a lowly 2 star general in charge of your crème de le crème of armor you just spent 2 years researching and producing. To some, the automated combat may seem boring, but the scope and grand strategy of the game is the real key for fun, not pretty explosions and massive amounts of frame lagging troops scrambling across the battlefield a la the recent Codename: Panzers.
Also included are real historic events and choices for each country throughout the 10 year campaign, allowing for many revisions of history. Personally, I always thought “What if Russia didn’t stop the German advance during the dreaded winter of ‘42/43?” “Would Germany push further east and eventually usurp Japan itself?” These are the kinds of things arm chair generals will thrive on, and any fan Harry Turtledove alternate history novels will be ecstatic as well.
If the grand scenario is too much for you will appreciate the multitude of smaller scenarios, designed for more streamlined and faster gameplay, and won't put such a strain on the 'ol noggin. These are localized conflicts that are separated from the world map. You can play USA vs. Japan or you could play Italy in aiding the Germans against the invasion of Africa by the allied forces, just to name a few scenarios. These are devoid of any domestic hampering though, and provide a respite for more casual strategy fans, but if you are one of the latter, you shouldn’t really be spending your hard earned money on this deep, complex masterpiece anyways.
The AI does a solid job of mimicking world leaders and nations, but at times doesn’t seem very aggressive to assert itself in certain situations. For instance, I invaded Poland with Germany later on in 1940 rather than in the historic ’39 blitzkrieg (which means “lightning war” and was aptly fitted to the German war machine of rapid tank flanking and air force support) but the neighboring countries still remained passive to my attack even after having several months to prepare and defend their ally Poland. I would recommend turning the AI up slightly until you find a nice balance of realism and difficulty.
Paradox improved the visuals from the last Hearts of Iron, and streamlined the interface for better navigation. The emphasis is all on functionality and doesn’t need to get bogged down by spending valuable developer time with flashy graphics, like so many other less complex RTS games out there.
I appreciate when a dev team realizes that ultimately it’s the gameplay that brings in rave reviews and rabid fans, not pretty vertex shaders or other fancy smanshy visual effects. Still, the jerky animations of troops and those very troops getting lost in the mass of armies if they share a country or area don’t score high points. The palette of colors serves its purpose for portraying the map screen, something that will be etched into your brain, displaying visions of it before bed if you get addicted like I did.
Sadly, the scale is stuck at 1024x768, a confusing failure in today’s age of multiple adjustments and preferences, but it’s livable, and from my travels in the gaming world, 1024x768 is usually the preferred resolution, thankfully that is what I use for most of my games as well.
Hearts of Iron II isn’t known for it’s amazing sound properties, so don’t expect much here. The meat and potatoes is the gameplay, rather than graphics or sound, so don’t feel too offended when the music starts grating on your nerves a bit.
The score is classical in scope, but it is under whelming at best. The usual assortment of battle sounds come stock, but those too don’t impress much. Just turn down the music and pop on the Saving Private Ryan soundtrack or other wartime revelry to set the tone.
This game is deep deep and deeeeeep, so expect to spend months going through many nations on your quest to be THE world power.
Online play for up to 32 players and the new ability to speed up or slow down time, allowing for more strategic placement and less nerve racking pace. There are some occasional crashes here and there but perhaps the most striking detail is that Valkyrienet support is lacking and at times void of players, so don’t expect much in the online department. My recommendation is to visit the forums for Hearts of Iron II and find a few people that also enjoy online action and develop a regular play schedule to meet your gaming needs.
With the scope of this title, the online support, the unmatched replay value-Hearts of Iron II should keep the most hardcore of strategy gamers satiated in fighting, researching and leading their respective nation to the top of the food chain.
Give the game a few hours, struggle through the tutorials, bugs, learning curve and you could be playing into the wee hours of the night invading France or Germany with a well honed military force painstakingly crafted through research and production. Those looking for lighter fare check out the Sudden Strike series, or the more recent Codename: Panzer RTS games, void of micromanagement but rich in hearty battles.