+ Custom Game Mode opens up possibilities
+ New armor piercing makes WW II more realistic
+ A.I. smarter on defense
- Some reckless offensive A.I.
- Minors have less freedom of action
Final score: 8.5 / 10
Controller support: No
Windows 2000 or Windows XP or Windows Vista
Intel Pentium IV at 2.4 GHz or AMD 3500+ quad core processor
2 GB of RAM
2 GB of free hard disk space
Nvidia GeForce 8800 or ATI Radeon X1900 graphics card
Direct X compatible soundcard
Direct X 9.0c
Previous Hearts of Iron III games required for multiplayer
Hearts of Iron III, the World War II-focused grand strategy title from Paradox Interactive, has launched in August of 2009 and, three years later, the team that worked on the game has found enough things to tweak, evolve and change in order to create and launch a new expansion, the third, called Their Finest Hour.
The first two expansions, Semper Fi and For the Motherland, enhanced the game enough to make it impossible to play in its initial state for any experienced player and Their Finest Hour has the same ambition.
Their First Hour is a more mixed bag: on the one hand, it introduces a number of features that are perfect for the series and make sense for veterans and, on the other, it also increases the complexity level and introduces some new ways for the Artificial Intelligence to mess up.
There are two core new gameplay mechanics to Their Finest Hour: the Custom Game Mode and the new model used for armor and piercing mechanics.
The Custom Game Mode is easy to love because it basically allows any player to take his favorite country and set up an alternate history scenario for World War II.
Players can adjust the Diplomatic alignment (factions cannot be joined), they can use a point system to choose which technologies they are interested in having and then, based on a historical estimate, they can also choose which units to use and where to deploy them.
The best part is that the entire Custom Game Mode can be modified by those willing to mess around with some text file values.
This means that the community will quickly create deep alternate scenarios that will cover a number of potential real-world situations and pure fantasy scenarios based on the time frame, which will be a boon for history lovers and those who like to read After Action Reports.
Fall of France
Fate of a nation
The new model for handling Armor values and Piercing is somewhat more controversial.
The idea behind it is to encourage players and the A.I. of Hearts of Iron III – Their Finest Hour to create more varied armies by making Anti-Tank units more useful while offering more advantages to the tank units that face only soft resistance.
I played as France for a while and the changes really don’t help me fend off the German advance or their Panzer-based thrusts, but they seem to be advancing slower as long as I am able to put anti-tank equipped infantry in their path.
A game as Great Britain, leading the Allies, allowed me to get better results, with a swifter defeat of Germany, which might be linked to the new mechanics, and I actually look forward to facing the Russian Bear and its armored divisions during the Cold War.
Most gamers play the Great Powers in Hearts of Iron III and after several games with the USSR, Germany, Great Britain and the United States of America I believe that the Artificial Intelligence, always a talking point for a new Paradox Interactive launch, has received some upgrades but also has some new problems.
I found that the stances and the new armor model means that it’s somewhat easier for the A.I. to mount a solid defense in its own territory, sometimes using anti-tank weaponry and massed infantry to devastating results as the USSR.
The United States is also more belligerent and reacts strongly to attacks on the world stage, sometimes entering the war ahead of 1941 and then using its might well to blunt the Japanese in the Pacific and sometimes bail out the UK if it gets invaded.
Unfortunately, the computer has also been much more willing to invade European shores as the Allies when I was playing as Germany, which often resulted in tens of their divisions getting summarily wiped out.
There’s a tension here, between the need for an aggressive A.I. and the historical way World War II unfolded, that Paradox has not been able to offer a solution for yet, although they are promising an improvement in the next patch.
There are also smaller changes that have quite an impact on the way Hearts of Iron III runs, like the fact that changing a divisions leader reduces organization significantly, eliminating the tactic of shifting very good leaders around that micro-managers tended to use, or the change in upgrade speeds for ships that makes them easier to keep up to date.
It’s also much easier to see what’s going on in Their Finest Hour for Hearts of Iron III because Paradox Interactive has introduced a number of new panels and view modes that allow the player to quickly see the impact of enemy actions and then to plan how it he can mitigate their effects or directly retaliate.
Graphics and audio
The engine that powers Their Finest Hour is the Clausewitz that offered the basis for the original Hearts of Iron III, which means that the game is not an improved visual spectacle and even the core color array, which tends towards the muddy and the drab, remains unchanged.
What’s much better in the new game is the focus that the development team at Paradox Interactive has placed upon offering information to the player.
There are now two more tabs in the top bar that show the effects of strategic warfare, something that’s incredibly helpful as Germany and the United Kingdom, and it’s much easier to see the effects of espionage on the game map and evaluate the strength of the enemy forces at a glance, without navigating multiple screens.
First time players might need some time before being able to understand the entire interface of Hearts of Iron III – Their Finest Hour, but experienced gamers will have a much easier way of finding the information and the options they need.
One element of the game that has fallen behind is the music, which is passable for the first few hours but then becomes repetitive and actually distracts from the game experience.
Gamers need to just find some modern marches or music from actual army marching bands and queue it up while they conquer the known world.
The Custom Game Mode makes Hearts of Iron III multiplayer more interesting than before because it allows dedicated groups of players to completely alter the game world before they start their session, which can lead to some very interesting alternate scenarios for World War II.
Unfortunately, the game still takes very long to play through and all gamers need to make sure they get a solid group before launching into a multiplayer session.
Hearts of Iron III – Their Finest Hour is a must for those who have always loved the series and want the best simulation of World War II they can get at the grand strategy level because it allows the game to show off its true potential.
Those who are not familiar with the series or with the concept are better served by buying the Hearts of Iron III Collection, playing a few games and then picking Their First Hour up only if they liked the core ideas and would like to see how the development team managed to expand on them.