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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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Diplomacy. Purely for wussies? You decide.

Aside from picking apart the many quirks and difficulties surrounding the game, HOI2 is a wholly engrossing experience. It's virtually impossible not to learn and evolve while playing the game and you'll discover expert strategists still adapting their style after years of playing. I found myself dazing out during my day as I ran various errands, wondering just what technologies I should develop and what my eventual invasion plans should be to stop Germany in its tracks (I eventually settled on port strikes to Wilhemshafen in the north coordinated with a consolidated push by my heavy armor and infantry into the south by way of Freiburg, in case you were wondering). The game had me hooked.

Any mistake made in the course of play should be logged and set for another playthrough—saving and reverting in HOI2 will make any game an unending affair. That having been said, perfectionists beware. There is simply too much happening in HOI2 to be able to manage it all in the "proper" way all at once. The amount of variety in the game is quite literally infinite.

An unexpected side effect of the game is that I started to learn not just gameplay, but actual, valuable history. There are a great many historical events that will occur to nations across the globe in the course of gameplay. These events, however, are only explained to the nation that they occur to. As the gamer, you'll only be notified that such and such event happened to a country. Sometimes these events were of little consequence to me (so Argentina elected the left in their elections, so what?). But when I learn that Germany has forced out one of its ministers or that the Soviets are starting to purge military officers, I want to know just what the subsequent impact of that action might be on my country. Sometimes I needed to find out what an event that had occurred to my country meant. The explanations and subsequent choices HOI2 gives players are at times very vague. More than a few are not situations with two clear choices, but rather an outline of a historical event followed by a "Yes" or "No" selection with little hint as to what the change in your nation will be depending on each choice. So I took a trip to the web, letting my friends Wikipedia and Google be my guide, and I learned. Voilà.

In the Trenches
HOI2 doesn't look to be a terribly intensive game, CPU-wise. It's all menus and maps, and gamers can go a very long time without ever needing to glance at their map and troop locations to play the game, but there's a lot being processed at all times. Consider that the game is tracking the actions of roughly 100 nations at all times. So, on my Powerbook G4 1.0 GHz with 768 MB of RAM, the game runs fine with the unit graphics set as Risk style counter pieces, and not actual animated sprites of soldiers or ships. Loading and saving are hefty actions that will take a bit. However, after a load has finished and the game has had a moment to process what's happening, everything runs fine.

Multiplayer for the game can take some mucking about with patches and file versions to make sure that you and your opponents are running the same file sets, but the experience is exhilarating. Pro gamers will have little problem predicting and crushing the AI. Human opponents are where the action is and gathering a group of friends to LAN-party Axis vs. Allies is chock full of good fun. The host machine sets the speed of the gameplay, determining when the action will be paused for more in-depth examination. The games can be very lengthy (as with all HOI2 gaming), but the ability to save game states alleviates that issue.

Hearts of Iron II is an impressive title. The authenticity of the game practically drips off of it and it offers endless options to the gamer for how they want to conduct their gaming. The level of detail and opaqueness of the gaming experience is daunting (even veterans often talk about totally undocumented quirks and benefits vital to expert players that must be learned through trial and error), but is very rewarding once gotten under control. The game is stripped down to run smoothly, but bears the signs of its bare bones feel. There isn't ever much to look at or listen to in the game, though it can be argued that that's not the point at all.

The final word is that this title is the bottom line for strategy gamers. Look no further than HOI2.

• Endless variety and replay value
• Massive historical simulation
• Simplified tech system, improved usability
• Sweeping classical score

• Interface still warrants improvement (fonts, unit info, etc.)
• Dauntingly complex
• Little to speak of in sound or graphics

Hearts of Iron 2
Publisher: Virtual Programming
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