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Posted on Dec 16, 2009 in Electronic Games

Hearts of Iron 3 – PC Game Review

By Robert Mackey

Hearts of Iron 3. PC Game. Paradox Interactive. $39.99.

Passed Inspection: Good strategic level of war with enough operational level to make it fun; division-building with mix-and-match brigades is a major step forward in the genre; tech tree covers wide breadth of era tech advancement but stays simplistic enough to grasp by most players. Industrial production, research and development work well. Unit graphics are passable, and map is easy to read and understand.

Failed Basic: Even at version 1.3, game is often buggy and crashes. Odd diplomatic processes result in strange alliances and unexpected results that will ruin a game. AI still needs tweaking on production, diplomacy and technology to create a historically accurate and balanced simulation. Heavy system requirements require a fast computer, fast graphics card and lots of memory. Supply system is confusing and poorly implemented.

Hearts of Iron 3 is a still-incomplete game, even after the third patch.

First, a confession. I’m a long-term Paradox junkie, beginning with Europa Universalis I and continuing through the Hearts of Iron series; I even adore the much-maligned Victoria. Consequently, I tend to buy whatever Paradox puts out on the first day its available, complain with the rest of the grognards on the very active Paradox Forums, and wait, like they do, for the inevitable series of patches that ultimately result in a excellent end product.

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However, fanboyism aside, I am getting more than a little weary of Paradox products that basically put the onus of beta testing on the consumer.  Hearts of Iron 3, sadly, is not an exception. When I picked up the game in version 1.0 for review, I decided to wait until the first patch or two came out to write this essay, as it is a rare thing indeed for a Paradox game to be ready to go at version 1.0. So I waited, and here it is.

 Hearts of Iron 3 (HOI 3) is a still-incomplete game, even after the third patch. All the parts are there-technology trees, unit organization, internal politics, diplomacy, industrial production, supply and espionage. The issue becomes one of how these parts-all functional and excellent on their own-come together to create a playable game that can satisfy both the historical realist and the alternate history wargamer at the same time. HOI 3, while entertaining, falls short of being the great World War II strategic wargame for the PC, a fact that becomes evident quickly as a player fires up the game.

Beginning in 1936, the game progresses in accelerated real-time at an hourly rate. This was the core problem with the early version(s) of the game as poor coding resulted in even the most advanced computers bogging down until a single month in 1940 would take 30 real time minutes to complete. That is, until the game crashed. Luckily, by the most current patch these problems have been somewhat resolved, but the gamer who wants to play HOI 3 should be clearly aware that it is a resource-heavy program that only those with very fast graphics cards, plenty of memory and a fast chip should attempt to play.

As to gameplay, the player has the ability to not only research technologies, but to select from all combat doctrines and other areas previously limited by nationality in Hearts of Iron 2. This is a big improvement, as it allows the United States, for example, to develop German-style blitzkrieg doctrines, or Japan to adopt Soviet-style mass army doctrines. Another winning point of the game is the ability to mix-and-match brigades within a division, with improved technology allowing for up to five brigades per division. Now, a player can form a fast-moving division of several motorized infantry, light armor, and self-propelled artillery brigades to exploit a breakthrough, while other divisions (a heavy tank brigade, several leg infantry brigades and towed artillery) attack and eliminate surrounded units. The number of different brigades is quite impressive, from military police brigades for suppression of guerrillas, to heavy/medium/light armor and airborne brigades. This is, in my opinion, one of the most enjoyable facets of the game, as it allows players to build ground forces to suit their style of play.

Naval warfare, in contrast, is much like it predecessors in the HOI series. Capital ships are designated by name (e.g., USS Arizona, KMS Bismarck, etc.), while destroyers, transports and subs are organized by flotillas. The major change to naval warfare is the use of carrier air groups as separate air units, allowing for their use in softening up beaches or in other traditional air missions outside of anti-ship strikes. While the system is workable, I wished that the naval system had the same level of detail the ground system has-being able to conduct major upgrades to capital ships or to build new ships at the same detail as ground divisions would have been quite enjoyable and a serious improvement over other games of the genre. Submarine warfare, at least as conducted by the AI, is never a serious threat. Rarely does the German navy sail a sub fleet out to attack British convoys; instead, the AI will usually attempt to send a large group of subs out to fight British or American surface fleets with predictable results.

Airpower, much like naval warfare, is given short-shift. General improvements in air technology, such as better engines or weaponry, are abstracted, and specific aircraft models are more like placeholders for improved tech. For example, the U.S. upgrades multirole aircraft as technology improves, from the P-40 to the P-51B to the P-51D. Other than the statistics and photo changing, there is really no big difference. I would have much preferred the ability, somewhat like Gary Grigsby’s strategic Pacific war simulations, to build specific aircraft types in my factories and then account for those planes on an individual basis. It would have been impressive to build 30 P-40D’s a month in a factory and then watch as the aircraft are filled out to active squadrons. It is much less exciting to build a counter called "Multi-Role Aircraft" and then to send it around the world to an new airbase.

Logistics is another major issue with the game. Much like previous HOI games, you can rebase an aircraft unit around the planet with little trouble, while supplying an infantry division with basic supplies in a size 10 seaport 30km from Great Britain can be a serious challenge. Add to this the fact that you cannot build supply convoys to go where you want them to go (e.g., if they are not on the list of locations, you can’t form them). You can suddenly run into massive problems trying to supply an invasion of France, much less an invasion of the USSR. The game will place your point at which you draw supply in often strange and illogical places. In one game, I was playing the U.S. and invaded German-occupied France. Landing at both Cherbourg and Brest, I drove toward Paris and Bordeaux, respectively, with two spearheads consisting of 3-4 armored divisions, 4-5 motorized and mechanized infantry divisions, and supporting Corps and Army headquarters. By the time the units had progressed 150km, they were out of supplies and fuel. The German AI, in contrast, appeared to have no problem at all supplying its forces, either in France or as it advanced to the Ural Mountains in the USSR. Basically, the supply system is a game-breaker that will hopefully be repaired in future patches.

HOI 3 has several game-breakers in addition to logistics. The diplomatic and alliance system is completely out of whack, with ahistorical outcomes being the norm and with so-called allies rarely taking part in either major conflicts or in combat operations. In one game, I watched Brazil join the Axis but never actually join in the war. Even worse, Japan and Italy both joined the Axis but never actually became involved in the war. In that game, Germany’s only active partner was the Slovakian puppet government. Normally, this alone would make the game too odd for my taste, but it is counter-balanced with the fact that AI allies are of little use at best. There is no way to coordinate or direct the AI. Playing as the U.S., I basically had to build up a large enough army to invade Europe myself. During the game year it took to do this, I watched the UK AI attempt to take Cherbourg, the Belgian AI land in Belgium and the Dutch AI land in The Netherlands. There was literally nothing I could do to stop this sort of thing, in contrast to HOI 2, where the player could assume military control of an AI-controlled ally’s forces. Hopefully this will be addressed in later patches, but my feeling is that the AI is such a part of the core programming of the game that the old option of a human takeover of combat operations will not be addressed.

Overall, HOI 3 is a disappointment in its current state. It is not a bad game, per se, but the differing parts of the game itself do not work well together. The diplomatic and military AI is nearly useless in single-player mode. Strange actions by the AI and an overly difficult supply system further hamper a rewarding game experience. Given Paradox’s past track record, I suspect that the game will emerge to be an excellent simulation around patch 1.6 or 1.7 … just about the time Hearts of Iron 4 comes out.

Armchair General Score: 70%

About the author:

Dr. Robert Mackey, LTC, USA(Ret)  is a member of the adjunct faculty of the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College and a former assistant professor of history at the United States Military Academy. He is the author of The UnCivil War:  Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865, is a regular contributor to Military History and World War II magazines and blogs on the Huffington Post.

6 Comments

  1. accurate review. sad it was released in such a state. although it is playable to some extent it is in no way playable to any type of historical
    outcome.

  2. Excellent review. If anything it downplays the issues with the diplomatic/alliance system. You think Brazil in the Axis is strange? Read the hoi3 forums about Japan in the Allies (routinely), Vichy France joining the Comintern, an Axis USA, and all sorts of other nonsense.

    What’s worse, the attitude of PI is that this sort of thing is perfectly fine and that to want or expect anything other is to desire (insert contemptuous tone) AN EXACT REPLAY OF WWII.

    The other immense problem is the generic AI assigned to each country. For example the USSR and Honduras will theoretically make the same strategic decisions and build the same types of units. If you look at an AI Japan you might see a mass of armor. The AI USSR often has a huge fleet of battleships in the production queue.

    Overall, an utter and complete mess even after 3 patches.

  3. The issue with Axis allies not joining into Germany’s war is actually a new bug in 1.3, it was working fine in 1.2 and previously. I’ve investigated it and resolved it to an issue with how the game tracks when a war has started (and left a detailed report in the bug report forum).

    I agree it’s still buggy, but ‘an utter and complete mess’ is a bit overboard in my opinion.

  4. Why can’t players move the time clock any faster ???? That part is very frustrating. I was really looking forward to this game and myself and an out of state wargame fanatic like me were both VERY dissapointed. This game sux, sorry guys cause I wanted it to be a fun game like HOI 2 but this is a BIG step backwards. Too much work and no control over the time clock

  5. Excellent and fair review. Nice to see something really in-depth rather the breathless praise the simulation has gotten from novice reviewers who seem overwhelmed by the detail of wargames in general and so tend to pretty much punt on the review: “Gosh – it looks, uh, really awesome for you wargamer types!”. Ugh.

    I have one question: How is HOI2 by comparison at it’s current state of development?

    I’m dying for a good, detailed, and playable grand strategic WW2 wargame with enough operational detail so it doesn’t feel like a spreadsheet simulator.

  6. HOI2:DD with Arma is great. I have both, and in fact, this weekend I’ve been playing HOI2. Having a ball as Fortress France holding off the Germans.

    I particularly enjoy the TRP mod for HOI2.

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