Hammer & Sickle Preview
Hammer & Sickle is a turn-based tactical game that takes place in the early days of the Cold War. The scene is West Germany and you are a russian undercover agent who reveals a plot to start world war 3! Of course, you must stop this.
Developer is Nival Interactive, perhaps most known for the upcoming Heroes of Might and Magic V, but also for games like Etherlords and Silent Storm. Hammer & Sickle (H&S) is based upon the latter and the games share the same engine, so those of you that played Silent Storm will be able to pick this one up without problems. For those of you who never heard of Silent Storm, think X-com, replace aliens with soldiers, add 3D graphics and some RPG elements, and there you have it! Nival calls all this Tactical RPG.
H&S is in fact already finished and has been available in Russia for some time now, so all that needs to be done is some translating, and we can expect all cyrillic letters to be replaced with latin ones late Q4 2005.
As you start the campaign, you get to choose what kind of soldier your main character is. You can choose between Scout, Soldier, Sniper and Grenadier, all four with different pros and cons of course. After that you get to design your characters facial appearance, such as skin color, facial hair, scars etc. With all that taken care of, the game begins with a cutscene in which you get your first orders from your commander.
The first mission is to cross the border from east to west. I must admit that I was a bit confused at the beginning, probably partly because of the poor translation my preview copy had. But after checking my inventory and only finding a wire cutter, I figured out that Im supposed to cut the fence open at a certain place at a certain time. At this point I was afraid there would be many annoying puzzle-like missions throughout the game, but that was luckily not the case.
The game is made up by a bunch of tactical maps, and to move between them you use a larger map just like in normal RPGs. As the game progresses you unlock more and more of the tactical maps, or locations, and can travel between them as you like. Even if there is a main storyline you get the feeling that your actions actually have impact on how the game progresses. You can for instance some times solve problems without violence, if you for some weird reason would like to do that. Also, the dialogues and military reports you receive changes to fit the story you have created.
The gameplay is a mix of real time and turn based movement. But dont be alarmed, its all done in a very clever way. The game is by default in real time mode, but you can whenever you want click the button that says Start combat and turn based mode kicks in. The game also switches to turn based movement as soon as an enemy gets close enough. But you have to keep your eyes open because if you spot the enemy before he spots you, you can get the initiative (shoot first) if you quickly click the Start combat button.
Turn Based Strategy
Once in turn based mode, you have a number of Action Points (APs) to spend as you see fit. Walking a certain distance costs a certain amount of APs, firing a snap shot costs a few APs while firing an aimed shot costs many etc. The amount of APs depend on how much you carry in your inventory and how injured you are.
There is a large amount of weapons available. There are rifles, handguns, machine guns, SMGs, grenades, knifes and so on. Usually you enter a location with one weapon and leaves it with another, looted from a bad guy. Some maps forces you to use a small concealable weapon. In one scenario, I had to hide a small handgun in my inventory to avoid getting arrested by the police. Once at the scene where the bad guys were, I killed one of them at close range, threw away the empty handgun and picked up his SMG.
The physics in the game are very realistic. When you kill an enemy, his body is thrown to the ground with a nice ragdoll effect. Shooting someone in the back while hes standing next to a window will throw his body crashing through it. Most of the environment around you is destructable as well. Another realistic thing is the damage characters receive when hit by a bullet. One hit makes you injured, probably unable to move for a turn or two, two hits most likely makes you totally unable to do anything, and three hits is almost always fatal. You can find body armor that allows you to take a few more hits, but I usually found myself having trouble completing a mission once I was hit by enemy fire.
When the battle is over the game switches back to real time. You can then click the Leave button to enter the main map again and choose where to travel next. You can also before you leave click the Loot button. Then a screen will pop up with all object lying on the ground that can be picked up by you, This way, you dont have to run around and look for stuff, its all there in the loot window for you to drag over to your inventory.
As I said, the game has some RPG elements as well. For instance there are some multiple choice menus when entering some of the NPC dialogues. There are also NPCs available for trading weapons, forging passports etc. But the main part of an RPG is of course character development. In this game, the character gains experience by completing missions and killing people. Once a new level is reached, you enter a tree-like structure where you choose a new feature for your character. For instance, Less APs used when using a machine gun or No aim penalty during movement.
There are not many new games out there that are turn based, so us TBS fans have to take every chance we get to play a new game in our favorite genre. I must say that its not enough character development to call this a true RPG, but the RPG elements are there and they are a nice touch. So if you like turn based games, I strongly suggest that you take a look at H&S.