Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: Darkest Hour: a Hearts of Iron Game (PC)

Darkest Hour: a Hearts of Iron Game is, without doubt, the most complicated strategy game that this writer has played.

Looks like a big game, right?

Set during the great wars (World War I and II), it has a truly global feel as you take command over your choice of country as it attempts to stamp its influence during these turbulent times. It is extensive and you can take your choice in patriotism from the major players – Germany, Japan, Soviets, UK, through to the most minor such as Australia and Albania. The game has a large scale approach, and is very intricate as each country is broken down into a great number of provinces – akin to a game of Risk on steroids. However, the game should be scolded for its lack of research at times. Melbourne for instance, is NOT, nor ever been, the Capital of Australia.

One of the great strengths of this game is its complexity – one feels as though they genuinely are juggling the affairs of their country. This comes to the fore as the player has the ability to influence things as varied as economic policy, domestic industrial policy, scientific (on an Government, corporate and individual scientist level) as well as political policy (the constituents of your eight man government cabinet, each one with a number of roles and having a influence, interchangeable with many other options). This influences the availability of troops, the ability to create reinforcements and the level of technological advancement – basically your ability to perform as a strategist.

The battle modes are interesting. They feature a large number of units and choices in three basic categories: infantry, naval and air. Each country features its own flavour reflecting its national strengths – for example England has naval superiority. Your troop availability is markedly dependent on all the complicated segments and features written about above.

Nah, it scales much bigger than this


The game offers some great tutorials that provide an excellent summary of what to expect. Through six steps, of enjoyable length, you are taught in a very clear and concise manner the various segments that are required to influence the game, even including, as a final step, teaching some of the more complicated actions that can be taken. However, these tutorials do not teach everything and the true intricacies are hard learned through trial and error, patience, as well as that great humbler and teacher, mistakes.

Essentially, all these aspects lead to the idea that this game is for the modern history fan – the many quotes that fill loading spaces appeal greatly as well as the dedicated strategist or those who like complicated, all encompassing games. If you want to feel like a dictator, here's your game and ideally, this should not be your first game in the genre.

With that said, a number of problems come to mind. The speed settings for the game are, sadly, woefully inadequate. Time progresses at a set progression, one hour at a time, which is useful admittedly during war time but painfully tedious in between. One feels that the slow periods are too slow and during the heavily intensive periods you just don't have enough time to react (which is remarkable considering it has a complete pause function, yet it's a problem nonetheless).

NOW we're talking


Additionally, as with every game this intricate, finding the right fit for the artificial intelligence is extremely difficult. Sadly this game truly does suffer from this, where the inexperienced player is prone to being destroyed and overrun quickly, and the experienced players can exploit the mechanics to make mince meat of even the most fortified foe. Winning a World War because of Argentina's involvement sounds odd, but it is a possibility for a pro.

The music for the game is, like most games in the genre, of instrumental modality but largely unremarkable and easily forgotten. The graphics are decent – prioritising function over form, and feel a throwback to an earlier time. The game does run smoothly.

Overall, it is an interesting attempt at an intricate, all-encompassing game set around World War II with campaign settings for other arenas like World War I. However, the design of designing a games of this scope is extremely challenging and one feels the developers may have bitten off a little more they could chew. With a little work, this game could be truly remarkable.

- Review by Owen S




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