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Hearts of Iron III

At this year's E3, GameOn had the chance to take a look at the grand strategy game, Hearts of Iron 3. Away from the sunshine of LA and the excitement of the expo, GameOn takes a closer look at the game to see how it's shaping up.

Hearts of Iron III

Firstly, it is entirely possible to draw comparisons between this and the popular Football Manager series. A strange conclusion to construe, of course, since one is taking the epic scale of World War Two, whilst the other is about managing a collection of footballers. That said, the ideology behind both is similar.

Once you begin a new game you'll be greeted with a 2D map of the world. You have a choice of many countries of the time, from the major powers such as Britain, France, Germany and Soviet Russia, or some of the smaller countries such as Poland, Denmark - even Luxembourg. This is one comparison to Football Manager, where you can choose the behemoths such as Manchester United or Arsenal, or opt for some of the smaller little known clubs. Just like this, choosing a larger, more powerful country provides benefits such as more available funds, but can also provide negatives such as being unable to keep control of the regions of your country due to civil unrest in wartime. A smaller country would provide a harder challenge, and anyone who's played Football Manager will know the fun in getting Dagenham and Redbridge to win the UEFA Cup. It is this sensibility that draws the enjoyment out of Hearts of Iron 3.

Hearts of Iron III

The world map is split up into continents, countries and provinces within those countries. So detailed this is, that each province (including ocean tiles) is named, provided with strategic information and even the weather and temperature of the area. This is all for tactical decisions, where it could make sense for your infantry to make a trek around a mountainous area rather than directly over it. It also provides you with information about how profitable a province could be for you to take it over. Needless to say, at over fourteen-thousand provinces, there's quite a bit of detail and thought to go through to play this game.

When you begin your game, you select a country as well as a time period. You could begin at 1936, and work through the build up to World War Two - constructing units, preparing your defences and collecting enough funds to tide you over. Alternatively, you could select a particular point in the war, historically accurate with the fighting powers and the situations they are in. Taking Germany from the period it begins to fall, rather than at the beginning of the war would provide an entirely different strategy and challenge. To combine this idea, at different points in the gameplay and dependant on the country you are playing, you are provided with objectives to complete that, upon doing so, will provide you with an extra bonus.

Hearts of Iron III

As an example, playing as Germany, if you remilitarise the Rhineland you'll receive a boost to your country. It's an interesting idea that takes the historical nature of the game and flaunts it. You may want to do something else entirely, but the temptation of the boost could mean you divert some of, or all, your forces to claiming that objective. It tricks you into reliving the war as it occurred.

As for the gameplay itself - there is just as much detail put into this as anything. It's an overwhelming game to begin with the amount of depth and detail put in that it will take more than the tutorial section and a bunch of games before you're comfortable with every aspect. The management of your troops is as simple as selecting one or more and right-click on their destination. Since it is real-time, a green arrow will appear that slowly fills as your units make their way across the land (or sea). This, naturally, will take a while since your units move realistically and therefore can't instantly appear in the next province at a time. This real-time is more ‘real' than most RTS games, and is noticeable when it takes upwards of a hundred and twenty days to build a unit.

Hearts of Iron III

It's refreshing to have this level of realism in a game, though it may prove a little too much for some players. Should you activate a plane or naval brigade, rather than just moving, you're offered an option screen where you can determine the type of mission they're set to - such as specifying certain targets such as airfields or basic ground attacks - as well as detailing the range that their attacks will involve. Every process of this game is options and sliders, to give you the greatest depth of strategy.

The combat is played out behind the scenes, based upon the stats of your units. It's all based upon chance and defensive ability, but the more chances a particular unit has the more likely it is to survive. As an example, an anti-tank infantry unit will have more hard-attack chances than a normal infantry unit, which aim at soft-attacks. There are a number of stats affecting each unit, which are benefited from your researched technologies that provide a bonus to a certain aspect. Each unit is useful for some reason, and you'll find yourself needing one as much as the other due to its usefulness - such as the military police which are generally weak units, but provide a lot more benefits to a provinces moral - a must for the larger countries like Soviet Russia.

Hearts of Iron III

Once your units engage the enemy, they will become embroiled in a battle - the progress of which is displayed in the unit's information bar. After the battle is complete, you are informed of the victory and the losses on either side. The same is the case of any bombing runs that are carried out on your units or vice versa. None of the action is played out for you, but considering the scale of this game that is hardly surprising. Leaving the game unpaused for a brief while will provide you with a series of pop-ups to let you know how you are faring on a number of battles.

To manage your country, there are a variety of option screens, from research and politics to unit construction and finance management. These, as with everything else in this game, are initially quite complex and difficult to become accustomed too. They are, however, well laid out and easy to figure out - it's just the sheer vast number of options that take some getting used to. If, however, you don't want to micromanage every aspect of your country you can leave that up to the AI. Each page has an option for normal control, or AI control, which will choose and adjust the best option for you. These are adjustable on-the-fly, so if you wish to concentrate on a rather important battle and let the AI handle the distribution of your finances then you can easily switch it on and off. This is useful, since the vast amount of options means you could be required to spend more time switching and sliding than actually commanding your troops.

Hearts of Iron III

All in all, this is looking to be a game that only provides benefits if you put the effort in to learn how it works. Just like Football Manager, anyone could pick up the game and play it, but it isn't until you learn the many screens and options will you truly feel the benefit. It'll be enough to put a lot of prospective players off, but the detail and depth of this game is something else entirely. There hasn't been a more realistic World War Two wartime simulator, and it is one people should look out for.

Hearts of Iron III

TimmyShire | 30th July, 2009

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