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Hearts of Iron III (PC) artwork

Hearts of Iron III (PC) review


"I like numbers, I really do. Numbers can do all sorts of interesting and wonderful things. Numbers tell architects how tall their skyscrapers can be before collapsing. Numbers let you find your friend's house with a GPS when normally you'd be lost. Numbers govern telephones, crosswalks, and of course the INTERNETS. Numbers, and here's my favorite part, form the basis of our understanding of the universe itself. "



I like numbers, I really do. Numbers can do all sorts of interesting and wonderful things. Numbers tell architects how tall their skyscrapers can be before collapsing. Numbers let you find your friend's house with a GPS when normally you'd be lost. Numbers govern telephones, crosswalks, and of course the INTERNETS. Numbers, and here's my favorite part, form the basis of our understanding of the universe itself.

But do numbers make for an interesting game?

Take a piece of paper and draw a map. Then draw lots of little numbers on it and spend the next few hours moving them around, erasing and redrawing, and making PEW PEW noises. Inane though it may sound, it's actually kind of fun...unless you're the kind of person who craves goals and rules and things like that, in which case you're just moving numbers around a map and making sound effects. But for some, it's satisfaction enough knowing that once again Fibonacci's forces have triumphed over the evil Primes.

Now imagine that, instead of a sheet of paper, your numerical battlefield is a scale map of the entire world. Commanding your mathematics marauders seems a daunting task all of a sudden, but still achievable if you devote hours and hours to every in-game day. But suppose that this conflict of calculations doesn't last a few days. Suppose that, like, say, World War II, it lasts for ten years. Spending hours and hours on each day over a ten year period is a lot of time, isn't it?

Still having fun?

You're zeroing in on what it's like to play Hearts of Iron III. Compound this riveting gameplay with a clunky interface and up to three-second delay between clicking on something and the game recognizing it, and you're starting to really get the picture. In staggering defiance of logic, the delay is actually increased when using the handy-dandy speed-up-game-time feature. That's right; when the game clock runs faster, it actually takes LONGER to issue orders. In fact for what is really a glorified RISK board, Hearts of Iron III seems awfully CPU-intensive. What's all that processing power being used for? Presumably, to keep the little 3D models of each unit in memory, which is fairly pointless because you need to zoom way in before they even show up, and there's little point in that because they just stand there walking in place. It might also be there to render water and trees, which seem equally pointless for the very same reason.

Why, then, does a GRAND STRATEGY game bother rendering things that can only be seen when you're zoomed in so far that you can't see the GRAND STRATEGY unfolding around you? Bad design, perhaps. Or, perhaps it's hoped that players would be so busy drowning in numbers that they wouldn't notice. There's stats for every damn thing, right down to national morale – that's right, the thoughts and opinions of your populace are abstracted into ratios, presumably collected by legions of loyal Thought Police and cataloged at the Ministry of Love. Sure, you can delegate micromanagement of all these numbers to AI ministers and such, but where's the fun in that? It feels too much like cheating. Actually, it feels too much like every other game that was massive in scope and required the use of AI ministers to make sense of it – boring.

So given the choice between death by micromanagement, or extreme boredom and PEW PEW noises...which is the better choice? The answer is neither. While it can certainly be said that Hearts of Iron III accurately simulates the second World War, the unfortunate truth its developers overlooked is that WW2 was not a barrel of laughs for anybody involved (except maybe the Greeks). If you've ever wondered why, pick up this game.

Rating: 2/10

TheGrue's avatar
Community review by TheGrue (November 05, 2009)

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