Regularly described as “grand strategy,” Hearts of Iron III is certainly not “diet” strategy - It’s not even “super-size” strategy – it’s full on "ask the manager to see the 'special stuff' under the counter" strategy. Taking control of virtually any nation on the planet, it’s your job to guide your people through the turbulent years of 1936-1948. Want to defend the British coast from Nazi assaults? Go for it. Want to turn Canada into an all-conquering global superpower, dispensing polite justice to the world? Do so.
Displaying both macro and micro views of the world, the game’s scope is dizzying: everything down to brigade level has to be planned for and requisitioned. Developers Paradox Interactive have split nation management into detailed menu screens, each covering an element of statecraft. From production to diplomacy, a skilled player can craft a well-balanced nation with careful planning and a few fat history books.
For the less brave, Hearts III has an AI toggle, handing control of sections of your nation’s interests to your PC. It's useful if you can’t be bothered recruiting new troops, for example. This support AI is a good match for a competent player, able to hold down one side of the fort while you focus on the bit you’re into. Enemy AI also appears much improved from the second game: it's now forced to stick to the same rules as you. Enemy nations are competitive and endlessly belligerent, forever snapping at your heels with inventive assaults. Combat involves moving troops into enemy territory, but once locked in, you can’t influence the outcome of battles directly – that’s about the only thing in Hearts III that can’t be micromanaged to a terrifying degree.
The switch to 3D for Hearts III isn’t a particularly pretty one - troop markers being the only real flourish. Mass movements of these armies can slow proceedings down to a chug; similarly, bumping the game-speed up adversely affects performance, even on the RAM-heavy machine we tested it on. The default view resembles classic board game Risk, as designed by a workaholic cartographer: fully zoomable, with a huge number of provinces, and masses of information can be ascertained from a quick sweep of the globe. A wide range of overlays helps in this endeavour, neatly detailing important information such as supply routes.
A couple of included campaign "suggestions" will help ease new players in, but be warned, a full session will tax you like few other games, and it’s certainly not for everyone. Serious wargamers will be able to forgive its occasional stutters and ugly looks - they'll find that there’s almost nothing with enough depth to rival Hearts of Iron III.
Aug 13, 2009