Hearts of Iron III PC
Published by: Paradox Interactive
Developed by: Paradox Interactive
The previous two games in the Hearts of Iron series were both great games but it's fair to say that both were intimidating. The learning curve was immense and you really needed to put the effort in to appreciate what the games had to offer. Or course a lot of people must have put the effort in because both games were popular with strategy fans. In fact they were so popular we now have a second sequel. In some respects Hearts of Iron III isn't quite so daunting as the first two games in the series, although it's still far from being regarded as accessible. There's still an awful lot to get to grips with but you can offload a lot of the tasks to the AI so you don't have to drown in a sea of stats whilst you're learning how to play the game.
Hearts of Iron III allows you to take charge of one of the 100+ playable nations and guide them through the hazardous period of 1936 to 1948. As everyone knows this covers one of the blackest periods in modern history but whilst it may seem like this is a World War II strategy game, and it's possible to have the game play out in such a fashion, you aren't confined to the events of World War II. Want to play as Germany and offer Britain a peace treaty whilst allowing the press to say what they want? Well here it's possible as events are not set at fixed dates and you can exert some influence on how the period plays out rather than simply being limited by prescripted events. In fact you'll see the AI controlled nations do a fair amount of unexpected things making the game feel more dynamic and offering great replay value than most wargames could ever hope for. The game offers several starting points with the earliest being January 1st 1936 and the latest one starting June 20th 1944. There are also four quick start scenarios to allow you to jump right into the heat of the action. The game can either be played as a single-player game or a multiplayer game with support for both LAN and Internet play.
Like the other games in the series, everything plays out in real time. You can pause the game at any moment to take your time with decisions and you can speed up or slow down the pace of the game to find a speed that suits you. You can tinker with just about everything you could hope to tinker with in a war game and there are times when you'll want to use the pause function and take stock of your position. You'll get to enact laws, conduct around a dozen types of research, engage in espionage, diplomacy and politics and not forgetting production, of course, where you'll make the most out of each of regions natural resources. There are around a staggering 15,000 regions in the game which is many times more than there were in Hearts of Iron II. Want to replace ministers or generals? Well in Hearts of Iron III you can. You shouldn't just head off to battle when the mood suits you in Hearts of Iron III. The game takes both the time of day, terrain and weather conditions into account so what should be a straightforward assault might be a complete mess if you don't take everything into consideration.
The learning curve in the previous two Hearts of Iron games was ridiculously steep and Hearts of Iron III certainly offers more depth making this game potentially more of a headache. Thankfully this isn't the case however, although this is not due to the tutorials which I found to be pretty pointless. Sure they are delivered in a pretty humorous way but there's no way you could get to grips with the game by having just read a small amount of text. Interactive tutorials are definitely needed for a game of immense depth such as Hearts of Iron III. The real reason the game is slightly more accessible is due to the fact that you can hand off as much or as little of your duties (Diplomacy, Technology, Politics, Production and Intelligence) as you want to the AI. In fact it's more or less possible to simply sit there and let the AI handle everything for you with you just dabbling in decisions every now and again. It has to be said that the AI does a pretty good job of things too, meaning you don't feel as though it's all going to go wrong if you let the AI look after certain aspects of your nation. As you become more comfortable with the game, you can begin to turn off the AI control and do more things yourself.
One of the key differences in Hearts of Iron III is the upgraded visuals. Like Paradox Interactive's other main series, Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron III now has 3D visuals and it has to be said that the game looks fairly good. Unfortunately the game is much more demanding than any of the previous Hearts of Iron games. Load times can be long when starting a game and it can be a rather laggy experience when scrolling around on the map. You can make things a little better by opting to use counters rather than the animated character models but you're still going to need a mighty PC not to experience performance issues which is something that's probably going to irritate those who don't upgrade their PC on a regular basis or who choose to play games on their laptop.
Hearts of Iron III shouldn't cause deaf gamers any problems. Information is given visually either in text, numbers or by the use of icons. The game's tutorials are in text so you'll be able to make use of them (for what they are worth). The game also comes with a text quick start guide and a comprehensive manual which are far more help than the tutorial. The manual in particular is very useful and uses screenshots, in addition to the text, to make things easier to understand.
The sheer amount of depth on offer in Hearts of Iron III is impressive and it's a game that's sure to be liked by a majority of wargamers. Whilst the learning curve isn't quite so steep as in previous games in the series, it's still far in excess of what you'd experience in 99.9% of games you'll ever play. As a result you still need to be a patient person to be prepared to get to grips with all that the game has to offer and it's not a game that will appeal to everyone because of the severity of the learning curve. That said, the ability to hand the AI as much of the work as you want to does help to make the learning curve smoother. A better tutorial system is definitely needed however and it can only be hoped a future update (or patch as they used to be called) can fix the performance issues so that even those with a less than stellar PC can enjoy what is a great wargame.