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Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday

Score: 85%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Strategy/ Turn-Based Strategy/ Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Hearts of Iron 2: Doomsday is the stand-alone expansion to the earlier title that bears the same name. This game is one of the deepest, most complex strategy titles on the market today - and itís pretty dang good. Developer Paradox Interactive meets the demand for a meaty, war-themed title, perfect for armchair generals wishing to rewrite history.

First, this game will not win you over with itís visuals. Most of the time, you will be staring at a zoomable world map, going over various functions of resource management, troop action, and so forth. In other words, get ready to read a LOT of text. Beyond that, there isnít much to be excited about. Thankfully, the various menus and general interface are rather clean, just enough so that cluttered images donít bog you down. Little touches like the portraits of famous politicians and generals, also add some credibility to the title and strengthen the concept that you are indeed transforming virtual history.

Soundwise, there is a decent backdrop of war themes, making it feel like you are indeed in some grand strategy to take over whole nations, or defend your homeland. More importantly, it doesnít annoy and after hours of intense strategy, this is always a good thing. The effects are somewhat more subdued, matching the graphics in this regard. Without any flashy polygonal warfare scenes, there donít have to be resounding explosions either.


Gameplay:

The basic gameplay is based on the mid-20th century military, economic and political strategies of major nation states, as they interact with each other during years of conflict. You can choose from several eras to launch from, ranging from a wide variety of nations, including Russia/USSR, United States, Canada, Great Britain and more, from 1936-1953. If you are a true diehard, you will go with the pre-war period of 1936, where Hitler was quickly becoming a force to be noticed, yet the world powers still turned a blind eye to his increasing strength. Or you can begin in 1945, entering the Atomic age of the Cold War standoff, facing down the Soviet Union and itís allies. There is also a vast scenario editor, lending itself to the expansion of player-made and shared events.

I personally took the role of the good Ďol USA in 1936, and set about strengthening ties with allied nations in trade, war material and so forth, as I prepared for an inevitable conflict to immerge. At first, taking over an entire country may seem a bit daunting - and it is - but thankfully there are several nice tutorials that explain everything from resource management, to research and combat. Speaking of the latter, your military might will make up the bulk of the game and is deeeeeeeeeep. You have a full array of ships, airplanes and ground troops at your disposable - all able to act on a variety of automated tasks and missions. Often, you may want to lead in an assault by softening up the area with some pre-planned bombing runs, taking out the runways and hangars so your airpower can further dominate with a blanket of fighters. Once that is taken care of, you can send another rain of shells from artillery or off-shore naval guns, before sending in the grunts and vehicles. The sheer magnitude and variety of unit types is staggering and authentic. Shermans, Tigers, B-24s, Spitfires, airborne troops, submarines, aircraft carriers and more round out the vast arsenals. Later on, you can even toy with nuclear weapons and lay waste to whole stretches of land. Each is given various ratings based on ability to kill soft or hard targets, movement speed, resource consumption and so forth. The ever-important morale function is also modeled, so you wonít be able to just fling troops into the meat grinder. The layer of strategy involved in combat is truly magnificent and brings a welcome freshness to a genre clogged with so many ďdumbed downĒ RTS games. Thankfully, you can also pause the game at any time - or speed it up - so you can play it like a faster RTS type of experience, or go with the methodical and often more favored turn-based style.

The maps are subdivided into hard to recognize provinces and districts, so that each area requires multiple acts of invasion, rather than a drive to a single city like Moscow or D.C. Basically, it acts similar to the classic game of Risk, on a more complex scale. As you take over more and more parts of the globe, you will accrue points, adding to your ability to build up an ever-expanding nation.

Be warned though, you still have to pay close attention to diplomatic and economic affairs. Knowing whom to trust, and who to be wary of is just as important as who to bomb or invade. Which brings us to the aspect of intelligence, a tool that is given new life in Hearts of Iron 2: Doomsday. Your cadre of spies can infiltrate foreign governments, stealing information and plans for new technology, or even start rebellions, sabotage and assassinate key officials. If you like to be more up front with your dealings, there are always a wealth of options to set-up, things like negotiations for trading, armaments, non-aggression pacts and more. The enemy A.I. is rather smart too, always a good thing in this cerebral-emphasized game. They will hound you with the latest technology and try to usurp your power base at home with their own double agents. Overall though, through the steady hand of resource management and systematic military build-up, you should come out all right.

If the singleplayer grows old, you can always launch into the realm of online play via the built in Valkyrienet servers, but you will be saddened to see the relative lack of action in this area - not to mention the somewhat cumbersome interface. Best to just find a person to play with via forum connection, through a direct IP link. You might actually be able to write this off for a history projectÖ itís worth a shot. Heck, you might find yourself playing against a legitimate history professional, someone who can directly quote Churchill and Stalin, as they masterfully take over your provinces.


Difficulty:

Like I said, at first, it is rather daunting to consume so much information. My first thought was ďI have to manage all of this?Ē While in some respects, there is indeed a lot of micro-management, but the main tasks you have to focus on are production and military, while the economy and diplomatic relations are secondary and tend to take care of themselves with a few slight nudges. It helps to be able to automate trade, as well as a few other aspects, letting your A.I. ministers tackle the number crunching, while you can focus on leading your military endeavors. Thankfully, there are some healthy tutorials that explain everything from land warfare, to enacting embargos on hostile nations. Occasionally you may be a tad lost in the interface, but just take a deep breath, consult the excellent manual/tutorials, and recognize that depth in videogames is sometimes a good thing. Overall, after a few hours of understanding the set-up, you should be a world-conquering despot in no time.

Game Mechanics:

As I noted earlier, the interface can appear to be a tad clunky, but Paradox Interactive really does a marvelous job of fitting so much intricacy into a virtual system, one that doesnít drive the average person insane with frustration. After all, we are supposed to enjoy this game, right? Of course, this title wonít test your twitch skills anytime soon, and relies almost exclusively on the mouse, one of the real joys of any strategy game for the PC - the two go together like Russia and snow.

Hearts of Iron 2: Doomsday is a solid strategy game, rich with layers upon layers of tactical gameplay, that will immerse you for months, even years, especially considering all the user-made content that is springing up. Couple this with the fact itís only a mere $20, and that makes this title a real steal for the history buffs out there, and may just make some new fans of the genre to boot. Better yet, you may just learn somethingÖ


-Tybo, GameVortex Communications
AKA Tyler Whitney

Minimum System Requirements:



AMD/Pentium III 800 MHz or better, 128 MB of RAM, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, DirectX 9.0, 4 MB of VRAM, 1 GB of HardDrive Space, Keyboard and Mouse
 

Test System:



Windows XP, Intel P4 3.2 Ghz, 1GB of RAM, ATI Radeon X800 XL 256MB

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