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Posted on Sep 16, 2005 in Electronic Games

Hearts of Iron II – Game Review (PC)

By Jeffrey Paulding

Conquer the world in this World War II grand-strategy game!

With Paradox Entertainment’s exciting new Hearts of Iron II, you can take control of nearly any nation on the globe during the period from 1936 to 1947. Whether you play as Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, Mussolini, Stalin, Hirohito or another leader, you are charged with making the political, economic, technical, diplomatic and military decisions that will determine your country’s fate. Although the task can be quite daunting at first, the game’s manual and its tutorial are good resources to get you off to a running start. Once you grasp the mechanics, the play is quite engrossing.

To lay the foundation for success in Hearts of Iron II, it is a smart idea to begin by familiarizing yourself with the cabinet of your government. Reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of each historical minister or secretary and selecting the right person for the job from the pool of available candidates is an essential part of the overall strategy. A photo and short biography is given for each candidate along with a statement of his potential impact. The ability to assign generals and admirals in this same manner – in all, 12,500 historical leaders are represented – is one of your keys to victory.

A political map filter presents each country in a unique color, revealing the broad extent of the Japanese empire. The status of international diplomatic relations affects game play. Here, Japan’s political leaders are identified.

Hearts of Iron II not only allows you to choose your leadership but also to build your army, navy and air force, taking into account types of production, weapons research and military doctrine. Familiar organizations such as Krupp, Mitsubishi or General Motors can be selected to head up technical development projects. Here, you have a chance to balance force management with strategy. Are you going to focus on the development of tactical bombers and a doctrine of close-air support, or do you want to concentrate on long-range power projection through the development of aircraft carriers and naval air strikes? This process of integrating technical development with force management and grand strategy is one of the most challenging elements of Hearts of Iron II.

Once you have decided what units are necessary for your strategic conquest, you will need the economic muscle to produce them. An elegant interface utilizes sliders to allow you to prioritize between "guns and butter" – i.e., is it more important to produce future military forces or supply current domestic needs? If a particular resource – oil, for example – is in short supply, you can turn to diplomacy to trade for your shortfalls. In the same production interface, you can see at a glance the convoys available to conduct trade and supply your troops overseas. The automated convoy system does a great job and thereby frees you to concentrate on other pressing decisions.

Players must keep an eye on the status of key resources, convoys and trade to monitor the readiness of their military units and infrastructure. The American perspective of the 1944 Ardennes short campaign scenario. An improved combat system and better graphics add appeal to the game.

Your diplomatic corps is ready to arrange trade deals, establish alliances, foment coups or influence allies. Again, a simple diplomatic interface allows you to implement policies or monitor relations with other countries. Your nation’s diplomacy is constrained by your type of government and historical ties. For example, as a democracy America cannot declare war on the Axis powers until they have established a high level of belligerence and aggression. On the other hand, as a fascist dictatorship Nazi Germany is freer to run amok.

In the end, Hearts of Iron II is about fighting. As strategic commander, you organize your country’s army divisions, air wings, capital ships and flotillas into corps, armies and fleets, and then you order them into combat. The world map is divided into provinces and sea areas, making it easy to plan objectives, avenues of attack and sectors of defense. Giving combat orders is easy. The combat resolution engine handles all the complexity and multifold factors modeled by the game – organization, experience, armament, leadership, supply and weather, just to name a few. Air and sea units are given mission-type orders and conduct individual sorties automatically, taking the burden off you, the player. Combat results unfold in real time as the hours click by on a world time zone clock.

A Japanese fleet patrolling off the Chinese coast provides air support for invading armies. Battle details appear on the left of the screen. The German army invades Poland. On the left are details from a Nazi air attack.

The scope of the grand campaign is immense, spanning 11 years; however, there are shorter campaigns that focus on combat operations such as the Battle of the Bulge or the invasion of Russia. You have the option of selecting a multiplayer mode or playing against the computer’s artificial intelligence. While the AI is demanding enough to provide a rewarding gaming experience, the multiplayer mode offers a freewheeling journey into what-if land. Playing this game may be as close as you will get to finding out if you have what it takes to beat Hitler.

Hearts of Iron II is a mesmerizing tour de force. It organizes an amazing amount of historical detail into a coherent simulation of World War II air, sea and ground combat. Both challenging and fun, it also offers a realistic model of diplomatic, economic and political relationships presented in an inviting interface. In short, it is a great game!

Released January 2005
Rated E for Everyone
Developed by Paradox Entertainment
Published by Paradox Entertainment
MSRP approximately $40

Hearts of Iron II home.

Originally published in the September 2005 issue of Armchair General magazine.

Author Information

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Jeffrey Paulding is a lifelong student of military history and science. He has been playing wargames since he was nine years old.