Some games are like films, cinematic and all visual action. Other games are like an orchestra – complex and multifaceted, arranged meticulously, hundreds of individual elements working together in layered harmony. Hearts of Iron IV is the latter style of video game, and it is composed in the most compelling way. Paradox Interactive proves itself an excellent conductor, drawing together separate parts with practiced ease.
Here is a disclaimer ahead of abundant praise: Hearts of Iron IV has a steep learning curve that will only reward a patient desire to master it. It is in no way a casual game. Those who stick with it, however, will find themselves gifted with layer upon layer of tactical depth and tremendous replayability. The included tutorial is rudimentary at best, but by the time of writing, there is a lot of help out there from Paradox and the fan base.
HOI 4 lets you choose from a globe full of countries to rewrite the Second World War at your will. You aren’t in charge of a military force, but a nation, right down to national ideals and output of your factories. You must trade, form alliances, engage in diplomacy, research and produce weapons, train troops and plan your strategy while the world inches through a new, dynamic World War Two.
Playing our campaign from 1936 as the English, the scope of the game quickly became apparent. Building a trained army is one thing, getting it to battle is another. The logistics of destroying your enemies and thinking ahead on a global scale can be likened to chess with hundreds of men instead of just 16. You have to consider months of preparation, assign a commanding officer, then transport your military units, be they by land, air or boat. Add to this changing weather and the enormity of options available to the AI and you have to start thinking properly in advance. Time can be hastened or slowed down when you like it, and thank God for a handy ‘spacebar’ pause.
Thankfully, the abundance of information at your fingertips is brought to your eyes by an intuitive, straight-forward interface. As a grand strategy game, pretty graphics are not the essence here, but they are perfectly functional and effective. Everything is conveyed on the macro level, so you can’t watch your new light-tank division chew up the enemy. In fact, the sheer abundance of information makes it impossible to determine exactly what units are getting up to. This is the only disconnect we sometimes felt, but realise that it is more than likely the byproduct of playing other strategy games that simply don’t have the same scope. Performance wise, HOI 4 starts to get a little laggy in the late-game, due to the AI formulating so much stuff. It is noticeable but not game breaking on a medium-spec PC.
Hearts of Iron IV is a step up from its predecessor in every way. Paradox claim that they wanted to streamline things in this iteration. What they have struck is a great balance of fluidity and depth. If you want a fully fledged World War Two simulator on the global level, you have the best possible example. Yes, it presents a challenging amount to learn, but it rewards you generously in kind.
HEARTS OF IRON IV / DEVELOPER AND PUBLISHER: PARADOX / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW