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Herzog Zwei (Genesis) artwork

Herzog Zwei (Genesis) review


"HERZOG ZWEI REVIEW PART 1: THE CONCEPT "



HERZOG ZWEI REVIEW PART 1: THE CONCEPT

Back in the wee years of 1989, the term “Real-Time Strategy Game” meant little. Sure, there were some obscure games that could be called such, but not enough to make a genre.

'Herzog Zwei', itself a sequel to the obscure 'Herzog', joined the ranks of such games. After more than a decade after its release, it has garnered a bit of a cult following that none of its predecessors obtained. Perhaps it merits such praise, since 'Herzog Zwei' is definitely a unique game. To this day, no other game seems to have been built around its intriguing model.

As you start a match, you play as the Blue or Red player, and gain control of a appropriately-coloured fighter jet. Both sides are equal in all but colour. Your task is simple: kill the fighter jet that is not the same colour as yours!

A fighter jet can be destroyed by either getting too damaged or out of fuel. Yet, there is a crucial twist here: 'death' in this game means merely losing some time as the jet gets resurrected ad eternum at its main base. So basically this means that, to win the game and kill the opposition, you must take out that main base.

To do so, in true RTS fashion, you must muster troops to your cause. Press a button and a menu is brought up. It doesn't stop the clock, so 'knowing thy menu's workings' is a Herzog Zwei commandment. You choose the unit you want built and it's orders. Different units and orders cost different amounts of 'G', the game's currency (I suppose it means 'Gold'), so a footman with a 'attack enemy base' command is more expensive than one with a 'stand still until you die miserably' command.

Once you pay for the unit, it takes a bit of time to be built. When it is ready to be deployed, you get a signal that your order is ready to be picked up. You do so by manoeuvring your jet atop one of your bases and pressing a button. The unit then gets loaded aboard and you can deploy it by pressing a button. Upon deployment, it carries out on its own whatever suicide mission you bought for it. If you want to re-deploy one of your units, just pick it up and deploy it elsewhere.

Soon you'll find out that the enemy main base just so happens to be a bit far from your own, and ferrying troops near it is impossible due to your rather small fuel tank. After you die and resurrect a few times, you'll notice you need some sort of refuelling to get there. Then you'll notice the smaller bases scattered across the map, 9 in number. Some are yours, others are the foe's, and some are neutral. Whatever colour they have, you can change it to yours by getting 4 loyal footmen inside it. And getting a smaller base means you have not only a refuelling station ready to serve, but also a place for you to pick up ordered units that is a bit closer to the main enemy base. It also helps that captured bases supply you with free 'G' every second as well.

Thus far, it all seems like standard RTS fare, right? Build units, send them to the enemy base, capture valuable territory, bases and supplies along the way. The only difference here is that your “mouse pointer” is actually a jet fighter. This has some implications that deepen gameplay.

You see, in a traditional RTS, changing the battlefield you view is merely a case of clicking on the mini-map. Here, you have to fly your jet to where the action is if you want a say. Thusly, you really need to have plans that will not require you to be at two places at the same time. Do so by deploying the right units with the right commands so that they may repel enemy attacks on their own whilst you concentrate elsewhere. And remember that your foe faces the same challenges as you, so diverting his attention is an incredibly efficient tactic in this game.

Now comes the time that Herzog Zwei shows its true form: transforming! You see, your fighter jet is not just a fighter jet. Press a button and... presto! It turns into a giant robot! In this form, which you can change at will, you can fight alongside your footmen and tanks against the foe and kick some ass. You turn from commander to soldier, and get some nice shooter action straight from the creators of Thunder Force 2 (and later 3 and 4). Using the giant robot can easily turn the tide of a battle, it is a formidable unit. But it has one weakness: it cannot harm the enemy's main base!

So, to win, you must command your henchmen to their goals while you fight alongside them against the perils that pave the way to the enemy base. Meanwhile, you foe will be doing the same thing. Suppose you get the dreaded SOS signal ('base under attack') flashing on your screen whilst you escort your crack troops to the enemy stronghold. What to do now? Keep on your way hoping that your defending troops can ward off the enemy? Or fly back home and prevent the foe from winning as you turn into a giant robot?

With all these things in place, Herzog Zwei builds itself up as a very thrilling game, and every match certainly will have one or more variations of an iconic moment only this game can provide: when the enemy jet fighters or giant robots meet, they shall trade shots between each other. And after a raging gunfight, a victor shall emerge and smile, whilst his beaten foe curses the loss of precious strategic seconds as he is resurrected at this main base, seething for revenge.

HERZOG ZWEI REVIEW PART 2: THE EXPERIENCE

You might be asking why I have separated my review in two parts since this seems a bit pointless. In a way, it is, but I have a good reason for doing so.

You see, all the stuff you read in 'part 1' are things you'll find in pretty much any Herzog Zwei Review on the internet. Google for it and you shall find several 'perfect score reviews' of the game and the concepts it presents. And I have to agree with them: Herzog Zwei deserves much praise for its uniqueness and for presenting a thrilling game that has yet to be matched.

The thing is, the HERZOG ZWEI CONCEPT pretty much deserves a 10, but the HERZOG ZWEI EXPERIENCE is not so lofty. Let me explain why.

First of all, Herzog Zwei is clearly a game better played multiplayer with a friend. But since it is a Genesis 16-bit game, 'multiplayer' means another person by your side with a controller. The game lends itself nicely to this: it splits the playing screen in generous halves that do not hamper much your sight and gives both players balanced forces and responsive controls. However, I would bet that in this day and age you won't find someone willing to play Herzog Zwei with you.

Finding an actual friend and getting him to spend time with you is the easy part. I reckon you probably can do that. What I don't think you will be able to do is actually 'evangelize' to him the idea of playing a full game of Herzog Zwei with you. This isn't 'Spades' or 'Marshmallow Duel', it takes some time to learn to play it and even more to get good. I don't know any person in my life who would be willing to learn to play this game and spend the requisite few hours a full game would take with me doing this. Doing something else, maybe, but not this.

So you will probably play 'Herzog Zwei' only against the computer AI. And the AI is a bit non-shy of shortcomings.

It's not a complete idiot. But he is STUBBORN! When he sets his sights on taking over one particular base on the map, it will spend all of its time trying to get said base, no matter the odds of doing so and how many lives his ever-resurrecting self will have to spend.

Therefore, beating the AI is easy:
- Find out the base he craves.
- Fill the surroundings of said base with SAM units.
- Defend said SAM units with other units or using your giant robot.
- As the computer jet-fighter gets repeatedly killed by your missiles, conquer every other base on the map and then prepare for your final push against the stubborn AI's main base.

Granted, the FIRST time you beat the AI will be GREAT! It will be quite an epic match and it will be lots of fun. But from the SECOND time onwards, as you see how said strategy seems to work without fail every time, you'll feel less and less fulfilled in your RTS desires.

The game has 8 maps and each one, in single player, has 4 “difficulty levels”, in parentheses because the difference between said levels is just that the AI main base starts out increasingly better guarded each time. The real difference is that a game on 'easy' level takes approx. 30 mins to beat and on 'hard' takes 45 mins as you tackle tougher machines near the enemy main base whilst your stubborn foe gets repeteadly slammed by your SAM units.

By the way, do you know what you have to do to see one of the two of the game's single player campaigns (one for the blue player and another for the red one) ending? You need to beat the computer player on each one of the game's 8 maps, each one with a name in german, FOUR times, one in each 'difficulty level'. This means that, to finish the game, you must play THIRTY TWO MATCHES that play EXACTLY THE SAME because the AI always acts the same way. That's SIXTY FOUR MATCHES for the masochist who feels like seeing both endings. Mind you, both endings, if you allow me the SPOILER (get to the next paragraph to avoid it) , make pretty much very little sense in the game's context.

In the end, if you prove me wrong and get a friend to play with this game with you, Herzog Zwei should give you endless hours of interesting matches. If you have only the AI by your side, then the novelty should wear off in 3 or four hours.

Whoever gets to make 'Herzog Zwei Online' will be in for quite a few buckets of bucks.

Rating: 8/10

zanzard's avatar
Community review by zanzard (December 23, 2007)

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