by Jim "Bismarck" Cobb
Article Type: Preview
Article Date: November 07, 2002
Product Name: Hearts of Iron
Category: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Paradox Entertainment
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: November 19, 2002 (Released)
Sys. Spec: Click Here
Files & Links: Click Here
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Awe-InspiringAlways watch left field. When Strategic Command, a fun little game, came out, computer game industry wonks expected things to get serious for strategic-level World War II gaming with a re-make of Third Reich, Clash of Steel or High Command. Computer World in Flames might even appear, signaling Armageddon. Paradox’s announcement of using the Europa Universalis engine was seen as an exercise in pushing a good system too far and not as a serious entry in the genre. This dismissal may have set a new standard in bad prognostication.
Paradox’s Hearts of Iron represents World War II in awe-inspiring vertical and horizontal scope. The many different levels of scale don’t represent “thinking outside of the box”; it stands for rejecting the box.
Covering All WaterfrontsHearts of Iron as an incredibly detailed map. Every political sub-division, be it state, province, county, island group or postage-stamp nation is represented. The full scale of geography is there, from golden Bangalore to the sovereign state of Missouri to desolate Calgary*. Each entity has its geographical, economic and geographic status shown through five different kinds of maps and a fluid zoom system. If a player controls a province, the area’s industry, infrastructure and defenses can be improved. These areas are also rated for production of raw materials that are crucial to the game. Ports delineate all-important sea-lanes and terrain affects movement and combat.
|Central Europe can be seen easily at medium zoom. |
|You got the whole world in your hands. |
|The different ways to improve British counties can be seen in this province screen. |
Hearts of Iron is not expansive in area alone but also in time. The game begins in 1936 and ends in 1947. The usual 1939-1945 time span locks players into the mistakes of the 1930’s. What if Germany had rationalized research and production while recognizing that Poland could have become an ideological soul mate? What if the Western Allies had grown a backbone early? With the Comintern as a separate entity for victory purposes, Patton’s dream of extending the war beyond the defeat of Germany can be modeled.
Sinews of WarMilitary moves are not the first of the game. Hearts of Iron forces players to concentrate on the underlying factors of military operations. Economic considerations are the first area of concern. Industrial capacity runs off of four raw materials: coal, steel, oil and rubber. Not even the richest area has all four of these so every nation must gather these peacefully to build up for war. The two ways this build-up is accomplished are by establishing convoys from a friendly coastal area with the needed resource and to trade raw materials from a nation's surplus. Aggressive players may be tempted just to take over countries if those countries have what they need. Eventually, conquest will have to occur but will be fatal if done too early.
Raw materials and industrial capacity feed into four production areas: consumer goods, supplies, technology and military development. Not meeting the needs of consumers can cause civil unrest, especially in democracies. Military units will be less effective and will disband if not supplied. Technology is a critical element.
The tech tree has fourteen different tracks ranging from weapon development to advanced military doctrine. Each track is tremendously deep and detailed. For example, to produce amphibious tanks, the concept must be researched first, followed by the suspension, engine and chassis. All areas cannot be totally exhausted so players must settle on the kind of war they’ll fight before deciding where to put their tech points. Military production is easy to grasp but is still deep. The player creates divisions, ships and air squadrons. However, the incredible variety of types within each group grabs players’ imaginations. For instance, infantry divisions can be built with or without attached artillery, engineers, etc. As technology rolls on, more choices become available.
|Naval production is a high priority for Britain |
|Britain decides to use focus research on radar early in the game. |
These four production areas compete for limited industrial capacity. The production screen depicts the amount needed and the amount allocated to each area. A deficit in an area will not only cause the unfortunate events mentioned above but also stop production of a vital unit or allow an enemy to get an advantage in technology. Players will have to juggle those scarce industry points in order to remain viable.
The Paper WarImportant as they are, material factors are only part of a country’s strength. Government and diplomacy are crucial in the preparation and execution of a war. Hearts of Iron provides the national cabinet for each country. Each official will have unique philosophies and capabilities. If a replacement is available, the incumbent can be sacked for a better man. Envision 1938 with Churchill instead of Chamberlain.
|If you want to sack people, the German power structure is a good place to start. |
The diplomatic model also reflects the complexities of the era. Industrial developments and diplomatic success give countries more diplomatic points. In a friendly mode, these points can be used to influence countries, opening up ports and increasing the chance for alliance. Friends can share research, allow troop transit, send expeditionary forces and even command the ally’s armed forces. Recalcitrant neighbors can have coups to place more amenable governments in power or be stripped of territories through demands, not war. Naturally, war will be declared and any alliance system can go into high gear. During a war, a nation can sue for peace at any time. Peace can end in the status quo postbellum, gaining or losing territories and complete annexation.
The Ultimate TestWar is inevitable in Hearts of Iron. The game’s military model is complex and simple at the same time. The basic building blocks are divisions, ships and air squadrons but these units can be merged into corps, armies, army groups, fleets and air commands. The strength of these forces rises and falls due to supply status and the number of casualties taken. A key factor that can overcome weakness is leaders. The officer corps of all nine playable countries are portrayed and rated for skill and experience. From division level up, commanders can be promoted or sacked. At last, Rommel can go to the Eastern Front.
|The German officer corps is lined up and ready for work. |
Combat starts by selecting a force and right-clicking enemy territory. Things then become fascinating. The order screen comes up with battle choices (“move to,” ”blitz,” etc.) available through doctrinal research and windows to pick the day and time to begin moving out. Through this method, different forces can be coordinated. A slow infantry force can be ordered to move out two days early while a tactical air force can be ordered to support their attack but receive orders later. Combat movements include amphibious landings and paradrops. The entire gamut of naval engagements is also present.
|A German corps masses on the West against Belgium and France. |
|Germans get their marching orders. |
|Once again, German forces roll into Poland. |
Too Much Work?Players reading all the options may have nightmares about swarms of hotkeys and nested windows. Handling all these factors must require an octopus with an IQ over 250. Not so. The flow of the game can be moderated at any time. Orders can be given when play is paused. Orders themselves are simple clicks or slider moves aided by very clear and informative tables and windows. The interface is so intuitive that the many parts of this game fit together seamlessly.
These observations come from playing a beta without any manual. If the retail game features even insignificant improvements, Hearts of Iron may become an instant classic, ranking with Civilization.
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