Game Over Online ~ Hearts of Iron

GameOver Game Reviews - Hearts of Iron (c) Strategy First, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Hearts of Iron (c) Strategy First
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II 300MHz, 64MB RAM, 120MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 80%
Date Published Friday, January 17th, 2003 at 02:46 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

It is tough to talk about Hearts of Iron without commenting on its lineage. Vis-à-vis Paradox's Europa Univeralis II, Hearts of Iron literally uses the same graphics, interface and underlying engine to tackle the tumultuous period from 1936 to 1948 when the world went to war and conflicting ideologies openly clashed with one another. It's evident that a lot of work has gone into Hearts of Iron. Every nation, great, middle or small power is playable and each comes with its own biography, a list of leaders as well as a technology tree that mirrors historical developments into the post WWII era.

For those who aren't familiar with Paradox titles, Hearts of Iron is a real time wargame. To the uneducated observer, it looks inspired from games like Risk, Axis and Allies, so on and so forth. In spite of that, it's actually fairly complex. Diplomacy between nations involves something other than simply declaring war on someone. You can annex a nation, setup autonomous puppet governments, demand territories and exert influence. Hearts of Iron splits the major powers into three camps: the Comintern, Axis and Allies. Britain, for example, is the leading nation amongst Allies and it becomes her job to influence and woo nations to the Allied cause. Democratic nations can't simply declare war on a whim. You have to have public support and that adds to the "problems" of being one of the good guys.

Most people will think this is a typical wargame when they see miniature military divisions displayed on top of provinces. Combat is a passive affair; events statistically churned out based on terrain, leadership and unit attributes. You can appoint different military leaders. You can loan armies out as expeditionary forces. You can execute co-ordinated attacks (each unit can move to a destination based on a timetable) and as befitting the nature of WWII, Hearts of Iron models the naval, ground and air war of the time.

Beside that, you also have a country to manage. Your military units won't get anywhere if they aren't supplied and they'll slowly wither away if you aren't in allied territory or supplied via ship. WWII was also known for its innovation. Hence, conducting industrial, military, electronics and theoretical research is crucial to staying at the forefront of the war. When you have to wield infantry wading around in boots in the Sudan and your opponent drives around all of Africa in halftracks, you'll know why you're at a disadvantage if you depend on Great War technology.

To maintain research and war, you'll have to put your nation's resources to work. Raw materials, attributed to each province you control, are used for industry but resources like oil are directly applicable to the war effort. Industry (ICs) is in turn used for building machines of war, fueling the population's basic needs, generating war supplies and acting as credit for research. You'll need to pay special attention in how you focus your industries. Too little attention to your population and dissent will foment revolts. Too few supplies created and you won't have much of an army anymore.

Paradox has spent a lot of time fusing real world events into the game. At specific junctures, historical events like Germany's Anschluss, or Stalin's officer purge will figure into the game. Having played through Hearts of Iron through varying difficulty levels, I can attest that this sometimes makes the game eerily realistic in that the powers actually perform on WWII timetables or it makes for alternate histories that are completely wacky. Often, some minor power will come over and annex a few territories or a perfectly sound nation will disappear off the map.

Much of this is due to the spotty AI in Hearts of Iron. Some nations are simply not aggressive enough while others are too aggressive. Decisions made by your fellow leaders can also be pretty dumb. In one game, the Soviet Union was almost driven to the Pacific Ocean by the German army. Yet a historical event where Soviet Union sues for peace will restore more Soviet possessions than German ones. Germany didn't get a good bargain at all in that. Another scenario involves some middle European powers. I spent a lot of time influencing the Low Countries and Denmark, hoping they would allow me to place troops there to help the French defense effort. The Low Countries and France were overrun but Denmark continued to remain neutral well into the 1940s. Add a few more weird things: Poland still holding on as neutral in the 1940s and France always crumbling far sooner than its six-week expiration date. This is an AI problem simply because if you play France as an aggressor and you take Blum and Daladier out of their appeasement dream land, you can easily fend off German advances into French territory.

There's questionable merit in including so many playable nations. Some, like playing Haiti or Luxemburg, is completely absurd. Your one province will not support more than one army. If you play the Netherlands or Belgium, you'd think you could retreat to your badly garrisoned colonial holdings but the fact that you can't move your capital and base of resources away to another province hinders you from performing well as a government in exile. Long after Amsterdam fell, my resources were still being deducted from the German held Amsterdam.

Most provinces, particularly in the colonial areas, have low infrastructure and industrial capacity. Because it takes up to a year to improve them by one point and because the entire campaign is only a dozen or so years, there's really no incentive to say, as Belgium or Netherlands, seriously invest in your overseas colonies. Extending the campaign would, indeed, promote more care in taking advantage of underdeveloped areas like Asia and Africa.

While Paradox has invested a lot of time in maintaining the authenticity of the era, there are a few hiccups in terms of realism. Macau, for example, is Portuguese territory in Asia. Its size on the map dwarfs the real significance of the colony. Then there's the fact that Hong Kong is owned by the British but the territories of Kowloon are classified as a non British possession. And in terms of other alliances, like the British Empire and Commonwealth, Paradox has loosely brushed over the significance of extra-Allied, Axis and Comintern relationships. According to the in-game fiction, the Commonwealth gained "independence" from the Balfour Declaration and Westminster act, which most certainly was not true as the Commonwealth members (save South Africa) were still bound to Britain. But Britain cannot really marshal the forces of the Commonwealth. Conversely, as a Commonwealth country, you basically can't depend on Britain's laissez-fare AI leader for shared research or a cohesive battle plan.

If Hearts of Iron sounds complex, it partly isn't. It's made complex because of the user interface, which is anything but logical and intuitive. There are too many instances where doing something simple can be needlessly complicated. Adjusting the percentage sliders for your industry, for example, should be easy. Double-clicking it to fix the percentage is tricky and even if you do it, it really isn't all that fixed. If your industrial capacity decreases overall, you won't meet your quotas and the game won't tell you that 20% of your IC dedicated to supplies won't foot the bill for your army any longer.

Hearts of Iron truly lacks an executive assistant. There should be a briefing by your ministers and secretaries to inform you of important events: whether your raw materials are becoming exhausted or whether an army is soon to be dissolved because it's out of supply. Simple things like these could be notified via an advisor panel, making it less a chore to manage.

There are other shoddy aspects of the game that need attention. Trading on the world market is fairly lopsided, particularly when the war begins and you have to trade two, three or more of your commodity for one. Setting up the deals themselves would hardly be called intuitive. Other jarring errors include the fact that you can't cancel production of military units; at least not without the addition of a patch.

In addition to intermittent supply problems, quirky air forces and paratroopers, you'll find a whole host of bugs discussed by players on the Hearts of Iron message board (which ironically, is listed under the Europa Universalis site). Europa Universalis II becomes a double-edged cause célèbre for Hearts of Iron. I'm not sure how patched up Europa Universalis II was but it couldn't be as rough as Hearts of Iron. If anything, Hearts of Iron should be more refined because of the Europa Universalis II experience.

When I first played this game, I thought the interface was so cumbersome, I just quit after thirty minutes. But those who know me know I have a soft spot for WWII so I came back to it, played through the insignificant tutorials and leafed through the vapid and meaningless manual. After a few hours, I was hooked. The visuals may be a little depressing. The interface may be a convoluted mess. The actual history may be off and three campaigns over twelve years may be shortchanging but I really wanted to like this game. No doubt, it is ambitious and at times, it can be fun but those moments can't discount the fact that there are long bouts of waiting around for your armies to train, as well as stints where you'll find yourself cursing at the game.

The amount of bugs out of the box (my suggestion: get the patch as soon as you crack open the shrinkwrap), genuinely makes this a difficult title to recommend to everyone. The soundtrack is a phenomenal compilation of who's who in classical music from Grieg, to Wagner, to Beethoven and Tchaikosvky. While it doesn't match what happens in the game, it is effortlessly enjoyable unless you bear a hatred for the genre.

Along those lines, Hearts of Iron and classic music aren't too dissimilar. You have to have an acquired taste to really appreciate it.


See the Game Over Online Rating System






Screen Shots
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot
Screen Shot

Back to Game Over Online