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PC Review - 'Hearts of Iron 2: Doomsday'

by David Wanaselja on June 23, 2006 @ 12:55 a.m. PDT

Hearts of Iron 2 is a dream come true for every armchair general and forces the player to choose sides when democracy, communism and fascism clash in the battles that changed history.

Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: April 11, 2006

World War II is one of history's most interesting conflicts, if not the most interesting. There was a bit of everything that makes a great story: treachery, heroism, heartache, excitement, adventure, and victory. The good guys won and went home happy, while the bad guys stayed behind and tried to pick up the pieces. Of course, where World War II ends, the Cold War begins, and that conflict also has a fair bit of treachery and heroism. While not nearly as pronounced as the Second World War, the Cold War was still an important historical event that played an important role in shaping many of the countries of the world.

So it is with enthusiasm that Paradox Interactive released their standalone expansion pack to Hearts of Iron 2, titled Hearts of Iron 2: Doomsday. Doomsday takes everything that made Hearts of Iron 2 a great game, adds some new mechanics and content, as well as seven more years of gameplay, and launches you into a fight for your country's survival against some fierce Cold War opponents. Of course, this fight isn't for simpletons or those who give up easily, or who'd rather twitch their way through a fight instead of think it out over a period of years. You've got to have patience, desire, and a bit of luck to make your way through a title as large as Doomsday.

Doomsday includes all of the old Hearts of Iron 2 scenarios, as well as adding one new one: the Doomsday scenario. This scenario opens with Moscow being the target of a U.S. nuclear weapon as the Soviet Union's troops start their march into western Germany. Although this scenario starts with a full-scale battle and can be interesting for those who are looking for instant action and a real challenge, the meat of the game is the grand campaign, which starts you out in 1936, before World War II even begins. The Doomsday campaign is too busy with thousands of units and tons of nuclear attacks to be immediately enjoyable to a newcomer. Throw on top of that the fact that the game runs in real-time, and you'll have yourself a headache in no time.

Taking advantage of the new espionage mechanic, the 1936 campaign suddenly becomes a whole new game from the original Hearts of Iron 2. While both titles still require a frantic buildup of infrastructure and military might, Doomsday adds a much-needed intelligence angle to the whole strategy. Now, you can send spies to different countries, have active counterespionage agents in your own country, and perform underhanded and dastardly tactics such as assassination and sabotage. This brings a whole new element into the rush for World War II and can change the face of the game considerably. Ever think about what would happen if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated before he even invaded Poland, and the aftermath? Put it to the test in Doomsday and find out.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Doomsday can be taking control of a relatively insignificant country, such as Estonia, and turning it into a pre-war powerhouse that's able to survive the war and the aftermath without being swallowed up by the Axis, Allies, or Comintern powers. It can prove to be a real challenge, and an exciting one at that. Any of the countries that were around during this time period can be controlled, from Nationalist China to Argentina, although some will obviously be of greater appeal than others. Nevertheless, playing a minor country in the beginning can give some much-needed insight into the intricacies of economic and industrial development, and simple battles with smaller nations can give valuable experience in planning the timing and support structures of war. There are also some tutorials that help you get started.

Doomsday is broken down into several levels, each of which requires attention and management. Intelligence, Technology, Production, and Diplomacy are all separate tabs on the menu that can be entered and tweaked. To give your country the manpower and materials needed to supply a massive war machine, you'll have to have a high Industrial Capacity, or IC. IC is basically the total number of factories that your country has, and the higher the number, the more you'll be able to produce, which takes up more resources, which require land, and so on. The mechanics are fairly simple; it's just the management of each aspect that can get tedious and just a bit confusing. Energy, Oil, Metals, Rare Materials, Supplies, Money, and Manpower all have to be watched as you build industry, infrastructure, and military might.

Graphically, Doomsday is exactly the same as the original Hearts of Iron 2, 1024x768 locked resolution and all. There's really not a whole lot to look at, except some brightly colored maps, basic animated sprites, and menus upon lists upon menus. There are some appreciated realistic touches, such as pictures of actual military units for the various countries as well as portraits of each of the leaders and cabinet members of each country. The map is where you'll spend most of your time, however. Thankfully, there are numerous filters for the map, allowing you to see what provinces are supplied and which are not, what countries you are at war with, what territory is yours, and many more, each displayed in a different color. It's simplistic, it's functional, and you really aren't going to get much more than that.

The only thing simpler than the graphics in Doomsday is the sounds. The music is well done and suits the theme and mood of the game perfectly. It's an orchestral score that sounds like something you might hear in a typical World War II action flick during the scene where the general is planning his attack or the hero is piloting the Enola Gay over Hiroshima. Unfortunately, the music does repeat fairly often, and the limited sound effects grow stale quite quickly. Thankfully, a game like Doomsday doesn't really require much in the way of audio cues, so listening to your own music while playing won't cause you any inconvenience.

There is a multiplayer mode for those who practically live online and never leave their house for anything short of a lack of pizza and soda or threat of a meteor strike. Since Doomsday plays out in real-time, it is tough to structure the time setting so the players are comfortable with it and are able to make decisions that they can act upon within that timeframe without rushing. Set it too fast, and they might not be able to counter an enemy attack in time. Set it too slow, and you might be twiddling your thumbs for hours on end. The shorter battle scenarios are much more manageable for a multiplayer game. If you have friends who you constantly play with online, it might be worth a try to get a game going, but otherwise, the single-player offers a much more rewarding experience.

Hearts of Iron 2: Doomsday is a worthy expansion to the Hearts of Iron franchise. If you never picked up the original title, it doesn't matter, as Doomsday is a standalone expansion. With Doomsday, you get the original game along with the improved mechanics and the extended Doomsday campaign. To top it all off, the game is bargain-priced and definitely packs a lot of play for your dollar. There's a steep learning curve that will no doubt turn off many, but if you're into strategy and want something that's deep and involving, Hearts of Iron 2: Doomsday will not disappoint.

Score: 8.0/10

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