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You know what’s great about Hammer & Sickle? Nothing. And that’s a huge letdown, since the game builds off of developer Nival Interactive’s stellar Silent Storm. Somehow the same designers, using the same basic game engine and the same basic game mechanics, have managed to create a profoundly unsatisfying game. At least it ends quickly. Very quickly.

Short, Not Sweet

And that sums up H&S;’s chief undoing: You can blow through its six levels in a handful of hours. The game isn’t necessarily bad; on the contrary, the missions are frequently enjoyable, since the strategic gameplay still offers some fairly rich challenges. But H&S;’s brevity completely sabotages whatever hope it harbored of hitting anything resembling a stride.

Taking place just after WWII, H&S; basically sticks to the Silent Storm formula, casting you this time as a Russian spy working undercover in Germany to stave off a nuclear holocaust. You get a huge, RPG-style assortment of skill upgrades with which to customize your character as he levels up, and throughout the game, you acquire squadmates who can be similarly developed and commanded in the turn-based, third-person tactical combat…sort of. Teammates come and go rather abruptly; as a result, you never grow attached to the characters, never really get to develop them, and never get to experiment with different strategies since you’re so limited by available squad members. It’s a far cry from the wealth of options and characters Silent Storm offered.

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Rush Job

In fact, the whole game screams “incomplete.” You have a large in-game campaign map, but most of it never gets filled in. The story gets vomited out in incoherent chunks, splashing bits and pieces of gooey plot points in the hope that something sticks and adds to the experience. The Silent Storm game engine—which seemed to run better in earlier games—chokes when you try to trade items between characters, and grinds painfully at other times. The biggest indication that H&S; was rushed comes in the incredibly anticlimactic final scenario as your squaddies level up with virtually every bullet fired, taking all characters from a modest midgame state to full power right before the end of this—the sixth—scenario.

Considering the game’s pedigree, the designers, and so on, it’s hard to think of this unfinished, ragged, ill-conceived game as anything less than a major disappointment. One question remains: Which Nival Interactive is in charge of the upcoming Heroes of Might and Magic V…the brilliant Silent Storm Nival, or the hacks behind Hammer & Sickle?

Silent Storm: Gold Edition

Silent Storm delivered an overwhelming package of goods: a solid RPG system, an ambitious game engine that rendered the game world as one big destructible playground, and the best squad-based tactical combat since X-Com. It had rough edges, sure; the engine had trouble with bigger, more demolished maps and the sci-fi elements in the endgame ruined both the tone and the game balance. Still, Silent Storm remains a must-have title for any serious gamer, and now you can get it in a convenient Gold Edition from Aspyr, which packages the original game with the insanely difficult Sentinels expansion. This—not the woeful Hammer & Sickle—is the game to get if you want stellar tactical gaming.

A total rush job, from start to all-too-sudden finish.

Verdict: 1.5 Stars

PUBLISHER: CDV Software DEVELOPER: Nival Interactive GENRE: Strategy-RPG ESRB RATING: T REQUIRED: 1GHz CPU, 256MB RAM, 3GB hard drive space RECOMMENDED: 2.2GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, 128MB videocard MULTIPLAYER: None

Copyright © 2006 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Computer Gaming World.


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