Hearts of Iron 2 Review (PC)

The largest conflict in history was the Second World War. For six years, the armed forces of dozens of nations fought a war on land, in the sea, and in the air, that had not been seen before or since. Before the war was over, millions of people would be killed, Europe and Japan would be reduced to ashes, and the world would be left with only two super powers, the Soviet Union and The United States of America. The old great powers, Britain and France, as well as the axis nations of Germany, Japan and Italy would never again determine the shape of world events. As such, this war has been a very popular topic in computer gaming, and the latest entry into the field is Paradox Entertainment's Hearts of Iron 2.

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Hearts of Iron 2, or HoI 2, is a remake of the extremely popular HoI of a few years back. Like its predecessor, it is based on the EU game engine, but this game is far different from that ground breaking title. In HoI 2, players may select any nation on earth, and guide it through the 1930s into the late 1940s, with the backdrop of World War 2 for players to cope with. Players will set the production of weapons, equipment, formations, aircraft and ships of any belligerent or neutral of the era, while also guiding the civilian aspects of the nation, research, and the manufacture of consumer products. With such a large scope to cover, HoI 2 is a quite complex game, but within that complexity is a smooth flowing game, that is both fun and to a large extent, historically accurate.

Depending on the scenario chosen, players will have the at start forces available to the actual country, including named historical civilian and military leaders. From that point on, players take over the destiny of their nation, and they must make decisions of both a strategic and tactical nature. The game is based around the individual ship, division, and air wing level, with attachable brigades of support forces also available. The scenarios include an early start in 1936, through the last gasp of the war, and includes battle campaigns like the Spanish civil war and battle of the bulge. Since you can play as any nation, each scenario seems completely different.

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To those familiar with HoI, the game retains many of the operations of the previous title, units can still be grouped into armies, fleets, and air wings. Historical leaders, many with special traits, command these formations, and their abilities, weather, and terrain, as well as enemy leaders all can effect the outcome of battle. A new concept called combat movement is introduced, where units fight from the moment they attempt to enter an enemy area. Also new is the ability of other units to support the attack from nearby provinces, without actually having to move, which can prevent holes in your line while attacking. Also new in the concept of reserves, forces which can react to attacks in nearby areas, making the proper use of armies far more accurate in the game system.

Many will recall a major flaw in HoI was the naval forces, which never seemed to act properly. This is corrected in HoI 2, now, unbalanced fleets, those that lack destroyers, will pay a heavy price in combat. Also, aircraft carriers are no longer plane ferries, they now have an intrinsic CAG (Combat Air Group) assigned to each carrier, and cannot carry land planes. Carries on missions will automatically use their CAG, reducing some of the minutia of the old HoI. Also new in the way missions are conducted, units can now be assigned to patrol large sea areas, instead of a single zone. Ships can re base anywhere on earth, no matter their combat range, but can be attacked while in transit, and will fight at reduced effectiveness if this happens.

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Another new element air buildable seaports and airbuses. You can produce these on the production screen, and you must deploy them, or islands cannot repair and refurnish your combat forces. There is also a new automatic convoy system, but players still have to produce convoy ships and escorts for this to function properly. Players may no longer transfer old destroyers and transports to convoys, they need to be produced separately.

The research of new technology, weapons, ships and planes is completely different from the previous game. Unlike HoI, where you often had to chose between research and production, HoI 2 uses money for this. Money is produced by your civilian economy, and added production there can produce additional sums. Players can research up to five things at once, as long as they can afford it. A new sub system has historical companies and famous scientists and military men, who actually conduct research. These companies and men have an effectiveness rating, as well as specialized traits which makes them more effective researching certain techs over others. You can change a research team any time, but if you do this during research, all accumulated work is lost. Before or after projects, you can replace these freely. Players can actually have Krupp research submarines, or Boeing research heavy bombers, just as in real life. The companies also include historical logos and photos, adding a nice touch to this section.

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Production now has a screen all its own, where players can see everything currently being produced, and they can access the production sliders, as well as convoys on this screen. The sliders include another new feature, upgrades. Unlike the old game, players can upgrade old equipment in place, by allocating Industrial capacity to this. The game has a number of tradable commodities, such as oil and supplies, and these can be stockpiled and traded as the players desire.

Diplomacy also has its own screen. Players can find nations by alliance, geographical position, or alphabetically. On this screen, a number of ministers can be change if players so desire, and the leaders of other nations can also be viewed. Players can only trade technology between allies, but these are only blue prints, you still have to do the research, but it is done much quicker with blue prints. The screen also shows the relationship between your nation and others, and any agreements you may have with them. Diplomatic actions require money, so poor nations can do little, while rich nations can trade and influence as much as they like.

The game's interface is revamped, and much easier to use then in the previous game, but the type face is still quite tiny. This is also the case with the very well detailed game manual, which covers all the basics of play, and includes helpful illustrations. I really wish Paradox would include the ability to enlarge text, it is very difficult to read the small type the game designer has used in every Paradox game since the beginning. Also new in this game is the increase in the number of provinces, so there is more to attack and fight over. One thing I had trouble with, was joining infantry formations, you have to be on the correct screen when grouping, something I missed completely in the rule book, and had to ask about on the Paradox forums, much to my embarrassment!

The game includes several tutorials to help players understand the very complex game play. Unfortunately, I could not complete the combat tutorials, the forces provided just couldn't complete the object layed out for them, but it really doesn't matter, as you will still learn the basic concepts involved. Another thing that I found a little disappointing was that HoI 2 suffers from the same thing all Paradox games do, the unexpected crash to desktop. When playing, I advise you set the auto save to monthly, unless you enjoy replaying large time periods of the same game.

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Overall, this is the supreme effort of this game company. Hearts of Iron 2 includes such astounding detail, and this attention to detail will amaze history buffs and laymen alike. Weapons include historical photos, leaders have real life portraits, even the weapon systems and upgrades are logical and accurate. The game sprites and also quite nice, and are sure to be improved by the many excellent game modders on the Internet, as Paradox makes it's games modable friendly for the game players. This game will not appeal to everyone, but if you have an interest in WWII, or just love well thought out, complex games, be sure to pick this title up.

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