Hearts of Iron
by KOCH Media
Grand strategy games really came of age with the release of Europa Universalis. Paradox gave us a strategy game so huge and detailed that even the mighty Civilization series looked shallow, when compared to it. The game allowed you to understand, and to some degree control, the political and religious complexities of your nation. Wars were something you had to think long and hard about. Disease and general poor health took their toll on your men as attrition played it's part. You couldn't just take your forces across the globe and expect them to be fully fit when they arrived, especially as the game was set between the years of 1492 to 1792. Europa Universalis II was ultimately a refined version that improved almost ever aspect of the gameplay. Fresh from their previous two successes, Paradox decided to tackle World War II and Hearts of Iron is the result.
If you haven't played any of the Europa Universalis games then you might be surprised to learn that Hearts of Iron is actually a real-time strategy game. From the looks of the screenshots you'd think that it was a turn-based game, almost like the Risk board game. Paradox successfully blended all the depth that you would find in a turn-based game into a real-time experience. The game can be paused at any time and decisions can be made whilst paused. You can even configure the game to pause when a message appears, which is very useful as otherwise you can end up with masses of messages appearing all over the screen.
Usually World War II strategy games concentrate on specific battles or campaigns but you just know with Paradox that this was not going to be the case. Just like in Europa Universalis I/II they've gone for the big picture. Instead of focusing on specific scenarios, Paradox have given you the chance to consider the whole global state. You can play as Brazil or the Ukraine if you so wish. Most of the countries are represented and should you not fancy playing as Germany, France, Britain or the US then you can always opt for one of the countries that didn't have a direct involvement in World War II. This might seem great but in actual fact it can lead to very uninvolving game. Playing as one of the key countries you are in the thick of the action. Take Germany for instance. If you play as the Germans there are so many options. Do you play it historically and annex Austria and push into Czechoslovakia, or do you try to win them over through diplomacy and gain extra allies. Just like Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron is built around historical facts and if you play the game according to history then the global response will also be similar to historical events.
Although this is primarily a war based strategy game there is the opportunity to exert some diplomatic influence. Each country has a Diplomatic Influence (DI) rating. The higher the rating the easier it will be to exert your influence. You can increase your DI by conquering key points and winning large scale battles. The amount of diplomatic options is rather impressive. You can even attempt to overthrow the government of a nation in order to establish one that is more to your liking. Each of the countries in the game will be part of an alliance. There are three alliances in Hearts of Iron. There's The Axis, The Allies and The Communist International (Comintern). A country can also be neutral but if attacked it will automatically side with an alliance that is closest to it's philosophies, therefore removing it's neutral state.
Of course eventually, no matter how good your diplomacy skills are, it's going to end in war and Hearts of Iron again gives you plenty of options. There are over 100 different ground, air and naval forces available in the game. There are a huge amount of actual leaders, who all have their own characteristics such as having a defensive doctrine or being a camouflage expert (i.e.. Rommel). When considering operations, it is crucial to pick the correct leader for the job. Say you're planning to send your ground forces in Stettin to move on Danzig. However, you would like to soften up Danzig with a bombing raid just hours before. Well you're in luck because the game allows you to set the day, time (will your attack be more effective in the dark or in the daylight?) and nature of your attack. This gives you tremendous control in co-ordinating attacks and gives the game a tactical depth that is missing from other titles in the wargame genre.
As well as battles and diplomacy you also have the option to research new technologies that will help you during the war. There are 14 different branches of research ranging from Infantry research to Naval Warfare Doctrine. The speed of the research depends on how many resources you allocate to it. If you are going to really change the course of history then you're going to have to come up with something special in order to give your country/alliance that extra edge that they didn't have during World War II.
The countries are split up into regions. Each region will have different economic aspects and obviously some regions are more valuable than others when it comes to resources. Production is monitored for Rubber, Coal, Steel, Oil and Manpower. For each region you can build Anti-Aircraft Batteries, improve fortifications, build more industries and improve the infrastructure. Of course you'll have to keep your citizens happy and make sure they have a good standard of living too. The last thing you want is your own people turning on you, when you're about to wage war. You also have some control over your politicians and have the option to replace individuals who are not suited to your way of thinking. Each minister will have various traits that can be both beneficial and harmful to your plans. Wilhelm Frick for instance, the Minister of Security for Germany, adds a +5% chance of dissent. You could replace him with Heinrich Himmler if you wish but damage manpower by -25%. It's all very intriguing and very, very challenging attempting to get the right balance.
There is little to say about the graphics really. Just like Europa Universalis I/II, Hearts of Iron resembles a board game. It doesn't look particularly impressive but it doesn't need to. It's clear to see what's going on and the look of the game allows you to carry out your actions with the minimum of fuss. The minimum resolution the game can be played in is 800x600 and the screen isn't cluttered at all at this low resolution. You can also increase the resolution up to 1280x1024 but on the 17" monitor we used the maximum we could comfortably gait without the text being too small was 1024x768.
Hearts of Iron is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. Every detail is given in text and with the option to pause the game at any time you can take as long as you like to read the text. As we mentioned earlier you can setup the messages to pause the game when they appear. You can even set messages to not appear if you find some of them redundant. The text is clear and easy to read providing you don't set the game resolution too high if you are on a 17" CRT monitor or less. The tutorials are easy to follow and the game comes with a helpful manual and general guide to the origins and conclusions of World War II.
Hearts of Iron is a brilliant attempt at a global scale World War II strategy game. The game doesn't quite have the depth of the Europa Universalis games but as it only covers the years between 1936-1948 this would be difficult to do. Hearts of Iron will take some time and patience to fully learn though. After a week playing the game I'm still finding out things and I'll be completely honest here and say that this review mentions only a fraction of what's to be found in the game. The game can be played over a LAN and Internet, something I haven't experienced. What I've seen though I've been very impressed with. What I will say, is that you may have read reviews of the US version and comments about the game being buggy. The version I reviewed was the UK one (version 1.03) and it was perfectly stable and hasn't given me any problems at all. I wonder what the chances of a 1848 to World War I game are? Now that would be great.
Game Rating: 8.8/10