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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Strategy

 

Publisher

CDV

 

Developer

Nival Interactive

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2005

 

 

- Unique in depth storyline

- Characters with personality

- Open ended gameplay

 

 

- Long enemy turns in turn-based battles

- Management of inventories between party members

- Lack of goals, hints or direction on what to do

- Camera adjustments and angles are annoying

- Battle strategy and dynamics have little to do with skill

 

 

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Hammer & Sickle

Score: 5.5 / 10

 

Hammer & Sickle would be the type of game that I would normally love. Done correctly, the ideas in this game would have me playing this game over and over just to go through the different storyline scenarios. As it is though, the game seems to have missed the development of some key areas which would have made this game worthwhile. Also, at its very core, the battle elements of the game lack an effective way for the gamer to demonstrate skill in defeating the opponent. I found that battles came down to far too much chance and there was little that could be done except to reload the game and try again. Despite some frustrating elements, I still had fun playing Hammer & Sickle and I only wish that the game had a few minor adjustments which would have made it a sleeper hit in this, the slow post-holiday spring season for games.

 

hammer & sickle          hammer & sickle

 

The storyline follows a Russian commando sent on a secret mission to try and prevent the start of a third World War in 1947, after the close of the War to end all Wars. The storyline quickly branches off into different possible threads and in my different runs through the game I did find that the choices that I made really did affect what missions were available. This was to the extent that certain areas of the map would not be available to me if I performed certain actions, or accepted or declined missions from other non player characters (NPC). One significant problem that I did find with this branching storyline though, is that it seems as if there are some scenarios that have not been well thought out by the developers. For instance, in on scenario, I had killed a character that would have opened up a greater portion of the game with more missions. In that instance, I found little direction in the game with regard to what to do next and what objective to pursue. In the end, I had to happen across a document found by chance in a safe before I was able to proceed further in the storyline. I love choices and branching plot lines that are affected by my actions in the game, however, in Hammer & Sickle, because current objectives and goals are not well documented, players may find themselves at a loss for what to do if they stray in to a scenario where they performed an action that was unforeseen by the developers.

 

One thing that I believe would have improved the game enormously in this regard would have been the inclusion of a current objective list. While there is a journal that the player can access, this only provides very basic notes of events that occurred. If this aspect of the interface was fleshed out, it would have easily been a much better playing experience. As it is the campaign can prove extremely frustrating when roaming around with no idea as to how to trigger the next event you are meant to tackle. This is a great disappointment also because the source material is fairly unique and the characters each have stories that are worth hearing.

 

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The developers have made some good choices in choosing what parts of a classic style RPG to include in the game. At the start of a new game, the player begins by selecting a character class. Throughout the game, as the character completes tasks, they gain experience points. These points can be spent in upgrading a characters skill in handling different weapons, their rate of success for their attack, their stealth abilities, and a bunch more depending 

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on their character class. Characters also gain familiarity with weapons the more they stick to a given weapon. These simple RPG stylings allow the gamer to become more involved and attached to their characters. At the same time these elements of the game are streamlined enough such that the combat and free roaming elements are allowed to be the focal point.

 

While the free roaming aspect of the game and the speaking to non player characters to develop the storyline is good, the focus of the game is the turn based strategic combat. When in combat mode, the game world freezes and the player, enemies, and allies each take turns in moving, and attacking with their characters. Each character has a number of action points, usually around 50 but later in the game as many as 100 or more. Each action that the gamer can perform requires a number of points. Once the action points for a character are depleted, their turn is finished. For instance, running and hiding behind cover can take a bunch of points, while shooting at the enemy can take another number of points. As characters gain experience, performing actions can cost less points and the gamer can improve in some areas of skills so that moving, aiming or shooting can cost less action points. The term strategic is one that is used by the promotional material for this game, however I found that this was a serious misnomer. Any strategic aspect of the game is quickly eroded when random outcomes take over attempts to play the game strategically.

 

The largest problem with the so called strategy of the game is that it is subject to random chances that have nothing to do with what the gamer is able to affect either through the actions they perform, or the strategy that they attempt to employ. This is most prevalent when shooting at your enemies. The chances of hitting your enemy are displayed over your targeted enemy character as a percentage. The closer you are, the more direct the shot, the less the enemy is behind cover, the more familiar a character is with a weapon and the more the enemy is stationary, the better your chances should be of hitting your mark. I'm not sure if only certain aspects are taken into account when that percentage is displayed, however, I found that the percentage was rarely accurate no matter what was showing. Often, any percentage less than about 85% meant you only had a fifty-fifty chance of hitting your shot. After having played the outstanding, Civilizations 4, I was expecting that percentage outcomes for turn based battles to reflect the true chances of winning that battle. If it shows me that I have a 75% chance of hitting my shot, I expect that three times out of four, I should hit my shot. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and it was often that high percentage shots would miss. Likewise, it was just as often that shots listed as low as a 25% or 35% chance of hitting would score a hit. From the other side of things, it would be equally frustrating to have an enemy that I shot at with a 15% chance of success, hit me in their turn from the same distance. This seemingly random outcome for shots fired really made the combat sequences frustrating.

 

hammer & sickle          hammer & sickle

 

Another important aspect to what would have made a good strategic game, would have been the use of cover points and lines of sight. As it is though, the game has many combat maps where there are few cover points, forcing gamers to shoot, and then wait to be shot in their next turn, hoping that the chance percentages will fall in their favor. On the normal difficulty setting, I found the game to be near impossible. Being shot once in the normal setting is pretty much an automatic game over. Because of the way the combat is designed, I found myself loading the same combat scenarios over and over. In one case, I must have played the same battle over and over for two hours, reloading after every time I was killed.

 

Having to play the same battle over and over again is even more frustrating as each turn for your enemies takes far too long and really interrupts the flow of the game. The enemy turn takes longer the more enemies there are as the game cycles through each of its available characters and uses the action points individually for each character. I can see how it would be nice to see the movements for each enemy unit, however it left me wanting a method to skip viewing the enemy moves and to see only the end result. In many cases, although the camera will focus on the enemy that is being moved, you still won't be able to see what that enemy character is doing as the camera view is obscured by foliage, or buildings. Another drawback is that the combat maps can be quite large while each character only has a few action points. This can extend the length of a battle unnecessarily as it may take 500 action points to travel from one area of the map to another area where it is finally possible to get a shot at an enemy that is behind cover.

 

Generally, the basic mechanics of the gameplay are acceptable. It isn't a fantastic interface, but it is serviceable. The only aspect that I didnít like was the inability to manage the inventories of my characters together. If you wish to give an item to another character, you have to give that item to them without seeing their inventory. Also, picking up individual items in the combat mode can be frustrating. Even when the camera view is fully zoomed in, the items are still quite small and floating the cursor over the item to pick it up can be a test of your mouse skills. There is handy loot button though which does allow you to drag items into your inventory from a list of all items in a map when not in the combat mode. The camera manipulation is on the poor side with angle rotation being limited to no more than about 45 degrees. Also, the game divides the maps into level slices of elevation. If you wish to move the up to the third floor of a house, you have to increase the elevation of the viewed map to the third level. Only then can you click the third floor of that house and move your character up. This works but when coupled with the other camera issues can cause problems as your characters can be out of view behind buildings and actually moving the camera to get a better view of the action should be easier than it is.

 

I still had fun playing Hammer & Sickle, and despite the serious frustration induced through the battle portions of the game, I found myself playing the game for hours at a time. I can't recommend the game as there are too many serious issues that would likely prevent most people from enjoying it. However there may be a select few that will try the game and love it.

 

- Mark Leung

(March 5, 2006)

 

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