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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

Click to enlarge

It's possible to spend most of the game simply staring at and tweaking the production screen.

Boot Camp
There is an obscene amount going on in HOI2. The learning curve for the game is best measured in weeks, rather than hours, so it can be very daunting for a new player. This condition is aggravated for anyone who is not an active scholar of the war. Units are named accurately. Available generals and political leaders are historically modeled. Historical events that transpire in other nations are pointed out, but not explained, to the gamer. Knowing the ins and outs of the war and the mistakes that the nations made during its course are invaluable for playing through HOI2. Starting without that info is a decided handicap.

The manual for the game is improved over the original HOI, but is still a very dense 100 page document that is difficult to sift through (No table of contents?! Throw me a frikkin' bone here, people!). Tutorials do little more than acquaint the gamer with the interface for the game, and will not go into the numerous intricacies of combat. Combat is affected by the effectiveness of supply chains to the unit in question, the commander of that unit, how many other units that commander has, the terrain of the combat, the time of day of the combat, the weather at the time of combat, the units surrounding the unit in combat, the experience of the unit in combat...and all this says nothing about taking into account the same for the opposing forces. The game is complex, suffice it to say.

The best way to learn HOI2 is to jump right in and play and to make sure you have a friend to hold your hand when needed; the process can be arduous otherwise. HOI2 doesn't make it easy for the gamer to adjust, either. Fonts in the title are perpetually small, which is not a problem in and of itself, but they're horribly anti-aliased, inspiring a great deal of craning towards the display and squinting. The only way to get information on the specifics of a unit type (and there are hundreds, each named in the language of their country of origin) is to hover over the unit's icon, prompting an HTML-style mouse-over box of information to appear. A steady hand is required, because if the mouse is moved in the slightest, the box will vanish. It wouldn't have been difficult to include a small button that would prompt a pop-up with a detailed unit description.

For new players, the freedom that HOI2 allows is a great boon. It's easy to pick a semi-involved nation, such as Canada, and learn the ropes while watching the major AI players duke it out. Plus, never having to hit a deadline or accomplish a stated objective means gamers can play on their own terms and at their own pace. Once a gamer has learned the ropes of nation and army management, then the sprawl of a nation like the U.K. or USA or Soviet Russia can be attempted.

Veteran's Association
For those familiar with the HOI series, HOI2 has some notable improvements over its predecessor. First off is the much-touted "move is attack" change to combat. Now, as soon as an enemy unit attempts to breach your borders, the fight begins, giving gamers a better idea of where units are attacking and adding to the realism of combat.

Another advancement is the simplification and revamping of the technology tree system. Now, rather than researching individual component parts to create customized units, gamers are given more stock "heavy tank" and "advanced battlecruiser" style research options specific to each nation that lead to historically accurate discoveries.

There have been massive amounts of largely transparent changes made to the systems of HOI2, but the sum of these changes for the gamer is that HOI2 is largely a simpler and more user-friendly game. The interface has been tweaked, and the structure of the game itself has been altered to take some of the burden of minutia off of the gamer so that they can focus on the big picture of conducting their nation through the course of a world war.

Veterans will likely miss the classical tunes that permeated the original. There will be no more Wagner to bolster your spirits as you trounce the Nazi hordes. Instead, HOI2 is filled with music composed for the title. The sweeping classical compositions are still stirring and appropriately glorious and ominous, but they lack a bit of the "oomph" that only classics from the old masters can deliver.


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