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Posted on Aug 2, 2010 in Electronic Games

Hearts of Iron 3: Semper Fi! – PC Game Review

By Robert Mackey

Hearts of Iron 3: Semper Fi! PC game. Paradox Interactive. $19.95

Passed Inspection: Needed fixes to AI, great additions to command and control, added ability to upgrade existing units, some minor tweaks to air and naval combat, the addition of strategic effects and other minor modifications gives depth to HOI3.

Failed Basic: Less like a major expansion and more like a major patch to fix problems that should have been addressed in the initial game release. The few additions to game play may not fully justify price of a separate expansion.

Thankfully, SF repairs the faulty AI code that directed the super-stacks, and does more as well.

I have been lucky enough, thanks to the fine folks at Armchair General, to review the initial release of Hearts of Iron 3 (HOI3), and now the newest addition to the series, the "Semper Fi!" (SF) Add-on.

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First, SF is not a stand-alone game; you must own the original HOI3 to use the expansion. And SF is less of an expansion than an “uber-patch” with additional game features added on. Consequently, if you didn’t like HOI3, then you most likely will not enjoy SF either.

Having said that, SF is a fine expansion to the game in that it adds/improves two features—a more logical and aggressive AI and substantive game additions that make HOI3:SF a much better gaming experience than the earlier HOI3 release. While some features of HOI3 that were the subject of heated debates on the Paradox forums still exist—a tough supply system, a somewhat less-than-stellar air-warfare model, and naval combat that leaves many players frustrated—there have been some real changes in the game itself.

The game’s AI no longer does the insane “super-stacks.” For those of you unfamiliar with this most frustrating problem, allow me to explain. The USA AI, for example, would leave nearly everything undefended, from Hawaii to Panama to most of the continental US. Except, that is, Fortress Washington, with its 1000 or so infantry brigades stacked and awaiting the Axis onslaught. The UK AI would do the same thing with the Channel Islands; literally dozens of armored and infantry divisions would happily stack up there, while the Axis AI would launch wave after wave of troops in a never-ending battle of AI attrition. Of course, the repercussions of this AI behavior would be little or no combat elsewhere, such as North Africa or the Pacific islands. When added to a poor Japanese and Soviet AI, it made little or no challenge to a single-player game, whether you played the Axis, Comintern, or Allies.

Thankfully, SF repairs the faulty AI code that directed the super-stacks, and does more as well. The Soviet AI, for example, now researches appropriate technologies (such as medium tanks, and not battleship tech), and tweaks to the manpower and reserve modes ensures that when the Germans invade they will be met with a bit more than a horde of understrength leg infantry brigades armed with 1918 technology and overly researched (and unnecessary) battleships. These same AI tweaks also apply to such powers as Japan—which will now actively invade Pacific strongholds (as will the USA and UK AIs) as well as launch a dynamic campaign against Nationalist China and against the UK in India.

For the player, several other key features add much to the game. My personal favorite was the ability to upgrade brigades to new types. For example, playing as the USA in 1936, I have several regular divisions, each consisting of three brigades (such as the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions and 1st Cavalry Division). Before SF, I would have had to either keep these divisions as their initial types or disband them to build better units later, losing their experience. Now, I get a pull-down menu of options—do I want to convert the Big Red One to Motorized, Airborne, Mountain or Mechanized brigades, or the First Cav to Light, Medium or Heavy Armored brigades or keep them as fast moving motorized cavalry?

The addition of “strategic effects” is something new to the series, as is the ability to modify (if the leader of a faction) victory points for specific goals. For example, having a 100-ship navy gives a country the bonus of “Grand Fleet,” which in turn gives bonuses to leadership (which supplies officer points for units as well as espionage, diplomacy and research) and to ship organization. The same concept applies to large armies and air forces as well. An interesting change is that not all the bonuses are positives; “neutrality” gives bonuses in spying and counterintelligence, but makes it harder to do research. The ability of a faction leader to set specific side-based objectives is interesting, as it rewards players to complete historical objectives, such as Operation Barbarossa for the Axis and Operation Overlord for the Allies.

Another great addition is the new command-and-control representation, which shows lines between divisions-corps-army-army group-theater headquarters and the ability of players to physically redefine Theaters. The graphic representations of headquarters connections greatly eases game play, especially in the late game as you could have hundreds of divisions, air wings, and fleets; few things were more frustrating than discovering your HQ for the invasion of Italy was sitting in Hawaii. The ability to define Theater borders and assign these areas to Theater HQs is a boon to players who use the "player" AI to assist in the game. While I rarely use the AI to assist my game (I prefer to micromanage … ) many players do, and the ability to assign missions, targets and objectives for Theaters, as well as the physical regions of the map to specific theaters, is a great leap from the poorly implemented model of the first version of HOI3.

Overall, "Semper Fi!" is a needed expansion to HOI3. It is not a game-changing expansion like Hearts of Iron 2: Armageddon (which added new tech and allowed the game to continue into the 1960s), but it does add greatly to game play and brings HOI3 closer to the promise of being a genre-defining game, as many wargamers had hoped it would.

Armchair General rating: 85% 

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.

3 Comments

  1. Just to point out to anyone who may have already purchased SF, there are still many flaws in the vanilla release, one should consider taking a look at the “Technical Support” and “User Modfications” subforums for the game, and using the 2.03 beta patch, Lothos’ LUA scripts and possibly also the community event fixes mod.

    Cheers

  2. I played Japan yesterday, and made a big mistake. I should have reacted to the Pusan Lake incident but left it till too late (1942). I am glad to say, that my numerically inferior Japanese Army was kicked out of the mainland, with Nationalist China,and Communist China doing a Che Guevara on me. My army was continually fooled into believing that no enemy existed, while also believing that they themselves were in full strength. That is the beauty of Guerrilla Warfare. The headquarters of the Kuomintang command(mine), was obliterated, without breaking into a sweat of fear, so beautifully were guerrilla tactics used against my Japanese Army in China, and Korea(I was kicked out of Korea, too). I was trading with the Guanxi Clique, and Communist, Nationalist China, when I should have been fighting them.
    The game is fantastic. I recommend it to all. Today, I am much the wiser. I am reinforcing my army, (playing a new Game, of course).

  3. Play sensibly, and the game plays sensibly with you. What happened to me was pure logic. I did not attack Pearl Harbour as Japan. I was looking to liberate Singapore, India, Ceylon, and Burma, with my marines, and I got an enemy far stronger than Britain. The patches of HOI3 make the game better by far than before. I purchased the new mod of HOI3 for when playing the German faction. The game makes you very involved. I am busy making a seven division army totalling seven armies in China. I’m not joking!. On second thoughts, I need two army groups, to conquer all of China. I leave the Soviet Union to Germany, which Germany defeated, with no USA in the picture. This strategy is the easiest way to win in HOI3.

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