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Publisher: Virtual Programming    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 500 MHz    RAM: 256 MB

Hearts of Iron 2
April 17, 2006 | Michael Scarpelli

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Notice how much smiling is going on here? Getting a sense of mood?
I thought I was terrified by the threat of soccer hooligans hunting me down and beating me senseless for not liking Man U quite as much as I should (Football Manager 2005, anyone?). That was nothing.

What has haunted my every waking moment these days is the thought that I might be forced to say something bad about Hearts of Iron II (HOI2). For those not in the know, the Hearts of Iron series from Paradox Interactive is basically the end-all of WWII strategy titles, unrivaled in accuracy, experience and variety. This is quite a reputation to be writing a review against, as I can be virtually guaranteed that the lion's share of individuals reading it will be devoted fans checking up to see just how their baby is doing.

An example: I spoke to my good friend Alex at a friend's barbecue just last week. Here's how that conversation went, verbatim:

Me: Hey Alex, do you ever play Hearts of Iron II?
Alex: Are you kidding? I was playing it this morning. I can't get away from that game.

This is a powerful statement when one considers that the game was released almost 16 months ago. The gaming world moves fast, but Hearts of Iron (HOI) stands as something of a lighthouse in a world of often wishy-washy quality.

Some background: Hearts of Iron II is a full strategic recreation of World War II covering the years from 1936 to 1947. The gamer can pick virtually any country in the world during that time to play as, whether they be a major player or Luxembourg. Seriously. You could play through all 11 years of the game as Chile and just not do a single thing related to the war. It might not be the best use of your time, but if you have the inkling, go for it. Live your weird Chilean dream.

After almost a month of obsessive gameplay, I'm pleased to announce that HOI2 fans shouldn't need to hunt me down and give me wedgies until I submit to Paradox's strategic masterpiece.

Gaming Paradox
I refer to HOI2 as a game and those who play it as gamers, but that's a very loose description. HOI is a game in the same fashion that a chess match against Kasparov is a game. Technically it is, but for the most part the experience is deadly serious. It's also hard to call it a game as there is no direction or requirement placed on the gamer. If your nation should be overrun by either the Allies or the Axis powers, you're done playing, but in the mean time you can do anything you'd like that the people of your country (depending on the type of your government) will allow.

As the controller for whatever country they happen to have picked, gamers manage all facets of production, technology research and diplomatic relations. Nations are eerily accurate avatars for their real-life counterparts as well. National resources, political tendencies, global relationships—all these things will be spot-on accurate and the world will react to changes from the player-nation in a very organic, realistic fashion.

The stated goal of the game is to have the most victory points when the clock runs out. Territories around the globe have an assigned victory point value and controlling them grants those points to the holder, similar to games such as Risk. However, even the instruction manual prompts the gamer to feel free to play with their own set of victory conditions if they wish to. In fact, my first "campaign" in the game involved my playing as Poland and trying my hardest to resist the German advance past the historical date of the fall of Poland: October 6, 1939. For me, lasting well into 1940 was a decided victory even though I fell, inevitably, in the end.

These sorts of "what if" arrangements are the bread and butter of HOI2 and lead to a massive amount of replay value. What if Germany didn't turn on the Russians for Operation Barbarossa? What if the USA jumped into the war before Pearl Harbor? What if Poland never fell? It's difficult to describe the thrill felt by historical enthusiasts as they explore these scenarios, carving them out of the history presented by Paradox Interactive, but the sense is palpable.


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