Before I can even begin this review, I must preface it by saying that Hearts of Iron III is not for 75% of gamers out there (maybe more). It is for the hardest of the hardcore strategy gamers. Thanks to a ridiculous learning curve and poor tutorial system, new comers to the HoI series should expect to put in a few days of learning before playing the game.
That being said, let me add that Hearts of Iron III is one of the most in depth strategy games ever made. If you are willing to sit down and try to figure out whats going on, you will have a very rewarding experience.
Players are thrust into the role of the President (or dictator depending on the country) of a nation of your choice. You’re are able to choose from almost every nation that existed during WWII, from Germany to Costa Rica. The whole goal of Hearts of Iron III is to manage your country from 1935 to 1947 and hopefully win WWII. This is accomplished by cleverly maneuvering your armies, managing your economy, researching apt technologies, developing good alliances, and utilizing espionage. Each of these aspects is controlled by its respective pop-up menu, which shows all the information in gory detail.
Gamers can expect to spend anywhere from 40 to 80 hours per game. This may seem a little extreme considering Hearts of Iron III is an RTS, but a majority of this time is spent with the game paused while you micromanage your building/supply/reinforcement/research/espionage queues. Time passes in one hour increments, with the player being able to increase and decrease the rate at which time speeds by. One cool thing about time in Hearts of Iron III is that it is given to you in GMT. You need to manually calculate time zones according to your preemptive attack plans, which actually impacts the outcome. If you decide to strike at night, your attack efficiency will be lowered.
In terms of visuals, Hearts of Iron III is nothing to write home about. The main map screen only shows a political outline. There are no geographic features like mountains or deserts, and units are represented by both sprites and markers. When controlling troops from high up on the map, they are represented by little boxes containing all the necessary information. If you zoom in close enough, the boxes will turn into little models showing what types of units you have. While this is a neat feature, it doesn’t add anything to the game, and to be honest, the models are nowhere detailed enough to warrant their addition.
Gamers who already have experience with the Hearts of Iron series will be able to jump in and start conquering. These veterans will be pleasantly surprised at how Paradox was able to keep the same gameplay and game mechanics while adding new features such as new units, a more detailed map, a more streamlined user interface, improved espionage control, and a new “Threat” feature. This feature makes near by countries more cautious when dealing with you. For example, if you play as Germany, don’t expect to be best friends with France.
What makes Hearts of Iron III so hard to learn is partially due to the poor tutorial system. Consisting of six chapters, each lesson focuses on one aspect of managing a country. While this doesn’t sound too bad on paper, I can guarantee you they are anything but helpful. Each chapter consists of text boxes popping up over the basic map interface letting you know what each thing does.
The problem with this is that the tutorial skips over some of the most important information. I was never told how battles are won or even what the terms of victory are. To make matters worse, there isn’t even a voice over to read the text to you. Some of you will just argue that I’m being lazy, but when you find yourself spending the better part of an hour re-reading the chapter about managing your economy, you’ll understand.
Another issue that adds to Hearts of Iron III’s ridiculous learning curve is the interface. It is impossible to start a new game without any prior experience with the HoI series and not be overwhelmed. Right from the start players can expect to be bombarded with pop-ups letting you know what’s going wrong with your country as well as your armies. The game offers no suggestion as to how you are suppose to fix these problems. It’s like having an annoying little brother who points out all your flaws without offering any ways to fix them.
Despite it’s shortcomings, the main aspect of Hearts of Iron III that really shines is the obscene attention to historical accuracy. As you would expect, all the weapons, vehicles, and available technologies are faithfully recreated. Each country’s political parties are populated with actual historical figures who were involved with them. If you play as Germany, you can expect to see Hitler as Head of State, Himmler as Minister of Security, and so on.
These political figures grant your country certain pros and cons. For example, if Wilhelm Canaris is your Head of Intelligence, you receive a 10% bonus to land and naval intelligence. If you don’t like Canaris, or don’t want those particular bonuses, you can replace him with a historically accurate contemporary. This intense adherence to historical accuracies play to Hearts of Iron III’s biggest success: realism.
Everything about Hearts of Iron 3 is realistic to boot. Your armies will move at an accurate speed; researching new technologies takes years to accomplish; there are accurate pros and cons to having certain political parties in power and even the cumbersome interface realistically portrays how difficult it is to manage a country and its military.
Another cool feature in Hearts of Iron III is the co-op. You and your friends are able to play as one country, with each person managing a specific aspect. For example, I can just focus on the economy and politics of my nation, while a friend takes over troop movement and espionage. This dividing of power also helps make Hearts of Iron III more realistic by making each player feel like a member of the presidential cabinet.
Hearts of Iron 3 is by far the most complicated and in-depth strategy game I’ve ever played. My big issue with it is that I didn’t have much fun with the game after delving through hours of menus: it wasn’t until I actually experienced some combat that the game stopped feeling stale. As a new comer to the series, I expected some kind of reward for spending hours upon hours learning how to play the game: all I got instead was a presidential simulator, which is great, if that is your cup of tea.
The graphics aren't going to wow you, and the in-game tutorial is lacking.
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While it may not be everybody's cup of tea, hardcore military strategy fans will be in heaven.
The sound effects and music are functional, but they're nothing spectacular.
With the option to play as any country in the world at the time, Hearts of Iron III provides plenty of replayablility.
If your idea of an RTS is Command & Conquer or WarCraft, you're better off skipping Hearts of Iron III. If you enjoy Axis & Allies, you'll have a bast.