Welcome to Hammer & Sickle, developed by Nival Interactive, it is CDV’s latest tactical RPG. Set in post World War II, the Cold War is an era that has yet to be explored by many video game makers, and is the perfect setting for a mixture of cloak-and-dagger, and brutal firefights.
In Hammer & Sickle, you control a small combat group under the leadership of a top Soviet officer. Your group is composed of former career soldiers or other people who have combat experience. The events take place in 1949, in the territory of the Western zone of occupation in Germany. You are to investigate a situation given to your command: to find your adversaries, to try to reveal their plans and to prevent them from causing harm to your country. Hammer & Sickle is a history-based game with a detective plot combined with roleplaying and step-by-step tactical combat.
The game keeps you in the dark from the get go. There are hints about the possibility that some of the American leadership wants to drop Atomic weapons on Russia. We are viewed as warmongers. You don’t really believe the story you are being fed, but accept the mission anyway. You are told that you are expendable, and that is why you were chosen.
Hammer & Sickle uses the Silent Storm Engine, which was fabulous when it was first introduced, but is now showing its age. Many of the NPCs and characters in the game have a bad case of the “jaggies”. Straight lines and corners can be seen everywhere. My system far exceeded the specs, and I had every setting as high as it could go, and it still looked very dated.
Many of the items such as ammo, grenades and guns were extremely small in size. I often had a hard time trying to pick up items that were packed together in lockers, and on the ground. Many times I had to zoom in as far as I could go in order to distinguish what was what.
Be that as it may many of the items and weapons had some detail, and you could see that most of them were created to imitate the original items from the World War II period. The uniforms were very clumpy looking. Almost like they were just raw cotton and wool that just got soaked in a rainstorm. You could still distinguish what side the different NPCs were on even though it didn’t look very good. They added some historical accuracy here as well.
One thing that really bugged me was that when you zoomed out you could see the map borders. I know this is typical of the series, but you lose immersion when you can see that you are on a cross section of the earth in a sea of black. This was okay to do way back when, but games have come too far in an effort to draw you into the realism to still be showing maps like this.
I also experienced ghost characters where I would see nothing on the screen, and then out of the blue I would be dead. I updated my drivers to the latest from NVidia and retried the mission. Nope, that didn’t fix it. This made the game very frustrating. Some people may call it hard. I call it BS.
The last piece of wonderment was the character selection and customization screens. What a friggen joke. Were you guys drunk when you made this? The soldiers you get to choose from are first grade level facsimiles stuck to cardboard cutouts. Then the only thing you get to customize is the head. Wow, thanks for adding the ability to change my head. This is how to roleplay. (Extreme Sarcasm)
The sound was much more impressive than the graphics, but occasionally it would cut in and out during cutscenes. Still, the sound of a Russian tank firing up and idling, and then lurching forward, and coming to a stop again was very realistic.
The voice quality was very good, complete with accents, and a boatload of attitude. Russian voices sounded like American English being spoken with a Russian accent. Other nationalities rang true as well. The American commander sounded like a hard-nosed, Patton wannabe. All the voices were very crisp and clear. This was really the shining mark of the game, unfortunately.
While at the game menus you are treated to musical versions of What A Wonderful World. This is looped over and over, and will really encourage you to go through the menus and character creation really quick. Then I am thinking, why that song? Is this some twisted way of making fun of the fear and terror people felt across the globe at that time? This is a time in our history where we were presented with “Duck, Roll, and Cover” films, and using their hard savings for bomb shelters. This song doesn’t belong here! Later on you get a 360-degree spin hearing a song that sounds like Slayer just ripped into town, which also doesn’t belong in this game. It really wins the “What Were You Thinking” award.
The other saving grace was the very authentic battle effects. Machine guns had slight variations when cracking off the rounds, and explosions were very vibrant and earth shattering. The ambient noises were created well too. Footsteps on stairs sounded like booted feet on wooden planks, and you could hear transitions to other surfaces. To bad though, because the sound effects and voice quality are not going to save this game.
The control set is pretty standard for this type of game, but also included the ability to add modifications to the game via a split pan setup. This is pretty cool, and probably very useful as the way the game plays by default is horrible. Maybe someone out there will come up with some playable scenarios. I know I am being harsh, but the game frustrated the hell out of me, and it was an exercise in patience just to review it.
Many of the actionable items were hotkeyed to letters on the keyboard, or you can use the mouse click interface. You could also drag and drop two items from your inventory into “ready-to-use” boxes in the middle portion of the screen. You can also see the amount of Action Points (APs) you have available.
There are character tabs so that you can check out the condition and readiness of your unit members fairly quickly and easily.
Camera movement was as simple as moving the mouse to edges of the screen. This would rotate the map into better angles so that you could adjust for the natural barriers. A somewhat antiquated method of showing the different levels of buildings and such was used. It can best be described as the same tool you would use on an Internet map program like Mapquest or Googlemaps. It sure would have been nice to use today’s technology like for instance, Dungeon Siege, where levels automatically come into view.
All of the defaults could be changed to suit any gamer’s tastes and needs. The game offers pretty robust menu and options screens.
Well, I should let the score do the talking as I found this game to be extremely aggravating to the point I couldn’t stand it anymore. I even tried some of the save games the developers and publishers provide so that reviewers can quickly access different parts of the game. Let me tell you, I have never had to use those to review a game, but I gave it a try here just to see if there were any great moments I could write about.
Sorry to say I really didn’t find any. Continuous issues with invisible guards, guards that only showed character state icons and no bodies, and random deaths for no reason was enough for me to truly hate this game. Add to that the occasional “missing” key items that would be needed to progress to another area, and I just don’t know what to say.
The tutorial was very straightforward initially, but was also plagued by these issues later on in some of the training missions. If they can patch the game so that it will have less of these flaws it probably wouldn’t be that bad in the gameplay area.
You basically switch back and forth from real time to turn based. During turn based situations you are provided Action Points (APs) that set the parameters for what you or your enemies can do in a single turn. Each action requires a certain amount of points to be used. When you use them up, or don’t have enough to doing anything you click on “End Turn.” The problem I ran into was that the computer would not reset my APs, and I would have to go through several rounds of inaction while I helplessly got killed.
You are provided many hints about the enemy disposition via icons. They will tell you if they are in earshot, or heard something. In some cases you can see if they are unaware of your presence or if they are demoralized by your awesome stare-down.
Each character has a skill tree which allows you to create a character with specific enhancements or abilities in order to put them in a better situation for overcoming obstacles. As an example you can beef up your skill with weapons, or use some points to allow your character to switch poses more quickly.
The game also responds to your actions, which can help create that roleplaying experience. To bad there are far too many issues that get in your way to really live any of those out.
Well, since I really couldn’t play more than a few hours of this game, I can’t really say there is much value at all here. It would be one thing if the campaign mode was very satisfying, and it was just missing the multiplayer or some other add-on, but there is just nothing here.
If I can’t play the game then why would I ever buy it, or suggest to someone they try it? We did put up a news article with links to the demo on several gaming sites. Maybe you can give it a try and let me know what you think in our forums.
The last thing that I wanted to note was the use of Starforce copyright protection software. I am all for protecting your property. I have a car alarm, and a house alarm so I like to protect things too. I worked in software development for a few years so I know how hard it is to put software together, have it work properly, meet a deadline, and sell it for a profit. What I do not agree with and never will is the use of software that does not provide an easy way to uninstall it from your machine. Trying to get Starforce off your machine is no easy day at the park.
There are many other methods available that are not this obtrusive, and I will always take points off for games that use this type of software or protection scheme. Product activation is much easier, and does not root itself into your PC.