Hearts of Iron Platinum
Hearts of Iron (HoI) Platinum is by Swedish-based Paradox Entertainment, and comes on one CD with a nice depiction of American soldiers wading ashore during WW2. The game is rated E for everyone. Installation is fairly simple and is a typical Windows install screen and process. The loading up of the game is standard and done fairly quickly, depending on the speed and memory of your machine, of course.
The game is the same as when Hearts of Iron was originally released back in 2002, but it has been upgraded to version 1.06C and comes with a C.O.R.E. system, which allows the player to run the game from the C.O.R.E. icon. This system allows for a gameplay experience with different events. When installing and playing through XP, you might need to rename the .AVI folder under the installation directory. This causes a conflict with the Bink movie player and causes a crash of the movie. Just need to click out of it, but it is an annoyance.
The game manual comes with the CD in the form of a Adobe Acrobat reader file (.pdf), and is 87 pages long. The manual has been revamped compared with the manual which was available 2 years ago. It is well written and makes use of good grammar and describes the gameplay basics as well as an in-depth description of what the game does. This game has a slight to medium learning curve, therefore for first time players, I suggest reading through the manual at least once then start a game with the manual beside you. The manual itself has color images taken from the game but as I stated, it is in an electronic format, therefore in order to view the color images properly, a color printer is a must.
The game has a learning curve, no doubt about it. It is not a typical Windows drop down menu system but has it's own point and click interface. The left and right mouse buttons are used extensively and are fairly easy to remember. The left mouse selects and the right mouse click executes. For example, you select a unit using the left button and execute a movement using the right one. One annoyance I found with the game was that when you first play, the player receives numerous pop-up messages advising him of all sorts of events. When war is declared, these messages can become overwhelming quite quickly. The solution is to pause the game, then right click on these messages. The player then gets a menu with choices to stop said pop-ups from happening. When I played, I blocked off all pop-up messages except for the battle reports and movement reports. This made the game quite manageable.
This is not a 3D game, it is based on units depicted as a soldier, a tank, an airplane, a ship etc, moving on a world map which is divided into areas. The unit icons are of average quality but you can't fault the game for that, as the focus on these games is generally based on strategy much more than on looks. For the players used to playing games like Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron emulates the graphics and sounds of that successful title, also produced by Paradox. A nice feature of the graphics is in the combat phases. Although you see two opposing units fire at each other on the grand strategic map, you can click on the area of the combat and the player gets an actual view of combat units stacked on both sides taking losses.
The sound effects are that of combat; mainly of small arms fire, and I found that it lacked the explosive sounds that would accompany combat using artillery and tanks.
The game has background music that concentrates on classical overtures. One other nice thing about the music is the possibility to edit and include your own. What is required to do is quite simple. You need to copy a music file in .mp3 format into the music directory, and then edit the music.txt file and just type the title of the new .mp3 file and voila!
The action starts by selecting which type of game the player wants to begin, be it tutorial, single player or multiplayer (which will be covered later in this review). Assuming a single player game, this brings us to the scenario selection screen, where you have the choice of four campaign games, with one starting in 1936 and ending in 1948. Once the player chooses his scenario, the next step is to select the country. There you have the choice of selecting either the major countries or any other country in the world. Choose carefully, as I wouldn't want to play Luxembourg during WW2!! Then some options are selected like AI aggressiveness, game speed, and difficulty, which ranges from very easy to very hard. Once the selections are done, the game begins and you are set in the country you chose. For this review I played Germany at the hard setting and aggressive AI in the 1936 - The Road to War scenario.
Right away you are immersed in the logistical, political, research and production aspects of HoI Platinum. The game is real time but the player can pause it at any time. I can not fully explain all aspects of the game as it would be beyond the scope of this review. Suffice it to say that the player controls his country's production, research, logistics, diplomacy and manpower. Production is obtained from factories that run off of iron and coal. Other resources used in the game are oil and rubber. Don't let this scare you though, it is not a resource gathering game, but a resource using game. Resources are automatically collected from controlled areas. The game plays out, events occur, war is declared, battles are fought, units are produced and other governments are either made allies or enemies. All of this goes on until the end of the scenario.
What I enjoyed the most of the game play was the events which automatically occur and are historical, for the most part. For example, the Annexation of Austria occurs, Germany takes the Sudetenland from Chekoslovakia, Spain has it's civil war. The player really is in control of the game and momentum. You can declare war historically, (the game starts the war in September 1939 regardless as there is an event in which Germany gives an ultimatum to Poland to cede Danzig and this ignites the war. Or as Germany, you can declare war against any countries in Europe prior to 1939 and attempt to conquer Europe quickly.
When I played Germany, I stuck with the historical opening and went to war in 1939. Poland was a breeze to eliminate, and so were Luxembourg and Denmark, but I couldn't get my fleet of transports to take Norway as the Royal Navy was running interference. France was a tough nut to crack (remember I was using a difficult setting!) and I managed to take enough areas to install the Vichy Regime as a puppet state (another historical event).
The game also allows you to gain allies and even control their military, but I found that if you didn't, the AI was pretty poor. I found the Italian units getting beaten up pretty badly in North Africa and the British actually landing in Sicily in 1940!! When it was time for Barbarossa, well let me tell you, I didn't have the pushover battles the Wermacht actually did in the first few weeks of the operation. The Soviet Union troops put up a good fight and were actually counterattacking me at numerous places. I found out that Romanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian forces were no match for the Red Army without help from Germany. In any event, I won't turn this review into an AAR but hopefully you get the idea of the depth of this game. Units are armies and corps, squadrons and naval units. Historical leaders are linked to units and provide different attributes based on their historical leadership skills.
The game has loads of replay value. You can tweak the difficulty settings and/or choose any country which was in existence back then. Or you could play the same country but change tactics, like not attacking Russia in 1941 but in 1940 or 1942.
Hearts of Iron has a very loyal community and loads of fan sites, therefore there are mods and sprite packs available for download. Paradox supports it's game well and issues patches from time to time.
As previously stated in this review, the AI is tweakable and can be set from very easy to very hard. In general I found the AI of opposing forces quite good. It exploited several weaknesses of my Armies, like attacking a weak unit in an area or moving units into an area I left ungarrisoned. I also found that the AI allows for the major countries to develop research according to i's development capability, therefore the player will not see Panther tanks in Portugal.
For the player-allied AI, I found it was lacking. It launched attacks which had no chance of success, allowed itself to be cut off from supply and mounted inappropriate defenses. This was frustrating at times as I would have to send units to help the Italians fend off a Sicily invasion in 1940 as the AI only left one cavalry division to protect the beaches.
Hearts of Iron Platinum Edition supports multiplayer through Valkyrie Net. Players connect through the internet on the server, locate opponents and launch the game. Allowes multiple opponents to play against each other or as Allies and adds to the 'human touch' feel of a good strategy gaming experience.
The game has a solid historical base. It is set in WWII (or the years leading up to the war, depending on your campaign), has four scenario, tons and tons of events from the participation of Germany in the Spanish civil war to Stalin's purges, the Winter War, and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, just to give a few examples. The game can serve as a history lesson to events leading up to and during WW2.