Developer: Novik & Co/Nival Interactive
Release Date: November 1, 2005
The Salad Days of the War on Capitalism…
About a year back, a critically acclaimed tactical role playing game came out by the name of Silent Storm, a 3D semi-real-time tactical wargame where you controlled a team of OSS commandoes behind Axis lines during World War II. Silent Storm filled a niche created by the likes of X-Com: UFO Defense and Jagged Alliance, and it did so very nicely. What began as a mod for Silent Storm is now its very own game entitled Hammer and Sickle, produced by German publishing haus CDV and developed by Russian design house Nival Interactive. HS takes the gameplay formula that Silent Storm refined and expands it into a new setting and with a special focus on stealth. While HS’s mechanics are largely the same as Silent Storm, the storyline and setting are where things change dramatically.
In Silent Storm, you were True-Blue-All-American. In Hammer and Sickle (in case the title is lost on you), you are a Red-Blooded-For-Mother-Russia-Commie. This in itself is really fascinating, as there are rarely any games produced that take historical content from the "enemy's" perspective, let alone a role-playing game that depends on a deep narrative as HS will. As a hardened veteran of the Great Patriotic War (what the Russians call World War II), you will lead a squad of elite Russian agents in what amounts to be a pre-cursor to the KGB. Now, here’s the part that ought to catch your eye: you are trapped behind enemy lines, and by enemy, I mean American. Sounds odd, don’t it?
HS primarily takes place a few years after World War II ends and Soviet-American relations take a turn for the worse, and not only do both sides have atomic bombs, there’s little ole you caught right in the middle of the beginnings of the Cold War. The year is 1949 and NATO and the USSR are firmly head-to-head in central Europe and both sides are pointing nuclear weapons at each other.
If you’ve played Silent Storm, then you’ll be right at home with Hammer and Sickle. For those you haven’t, HS is built on a very deep system of turn-based combat and real-time movement. The way it works is genius. Before combat is entered, you maneuver your boys (and girls) around the map to locate objectives or targets. Use the shadows, sneak around or behind a sentry and take him down silently or loudly, whichever you prefer. All of this happens in real-time. The turns come in when shots start firing. Each character comes with a set number of Action Points and various tasks cost different amount of AP. The amount of equipment, stance your character is in and terrain will affect the amount of points actions will cost. Give your characters specific tasks to do, such as man a machine gun nest and provide suppressing fire while another character sneaks into a bunker to grab a set of maps. It’s a marvelous blend of dynamic and tactical gameplay where mouse clicking doesn’t supercede good tactical sense.
The tools of your trade are taken directly from real arsenals, and they look great as they are modeled onto each of your characters. Your inventory management will be a strategic element of the game as you can expect objectives to change mid-mission or unexpected circumstances to arise. After all, you are a KGB agent trapped in Western Europe, and your primary mission will be to get back over the Iron Curtain with Allied secrets intact.
Speaking of agents, you’ll be given a chance to customize your character from the outset which blends a good dose of role-playing into the mix. You can pick from among six character templates which will reflect what your character was during the war. The scout is naturally stealthy and focuses on the silent option, the sniper is a long-range master death dealer, the grenadier is a heavy weapons expert, and the engineer will allow you set traps and disarm bombs. The soldier is the happy medium jack-of-all-trades. These templates affect your skill sets and levels and your decision-making on what kind of gear to carry and how to best employ your equipment. Thankfully, you won’t be alone.
While initially you’ll be operating on your lonesome, you will also be able to accrue funds to buy new equipment and weapons. You can also hire out team members to help you round out certain skill sets and allow you to have specialists that will make up for your characters deficiencies. You can also use money to bribe your way through certain areas and bail yourself out of jail should you ever be caught. Interacting with NPCs will also play a crucial role during missions. You’ll meet informants, double-agents and prospective recruits to fill out your team of operatives. Be nice to who you meet and speak to, as every person could either betray you or jump in to help you out by adding crucial skills to your team. These gameplay elements will make for a wide open arena to play in, and they allow you to think laterally while working your way through each mission. Things will go sideways, shots will be fired and grenades will go boom, but in keeping with the secret agent motif, Hammer and Sickle will focus on combat only when things have gone wrong and you have to fight your way out.
What makes Hammer and Sickle so exciting is that it takes Silent Storm’s original methods and madness and really tries to open it up for a more dynamic and flowing gameplay. Rather than having you blast your way through each mission, you can finesse things and massage the situation to allow for a quieter and subtle approach to your objectives. Hammer and Sickle is aiming to allow you the latitude to think on your feet and make moves rather than take shots. A combination of strategic planning, tactical firefights, stealthy maneuvering, interactive role-playing and a whole new perspective on the Cold War are all things that will elevate Hammer and Sickle and evolve the franchise in keeping with the thinking man’s tactical role-playing game. I can’t wait to see the final build.
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