‘Hammer and Sickle’ Preview (PC)

By: Chris Stavros

Back in 1945, as World War II came to an end, people hoped that there would be no more wars. Hitler and Japan were defeated by the Allies, and the UN was being born, which promised a new era of peace. But the fear of atomic war, and the rivalry of two powers, the United States and its allies versus the Soviets and its puppets, would bring a new kind of war, fought secretly and through proxy. In this cold war, the stakes were nothing less than world domination and survival, and the powers sparred against each other on every level. One of the most important battlefields were the streets of occupied Germany, and you can take part in this secret war as a Soviet in the upcoming tactical role playing game, Hammer and Sickle.

Based on the fantastic Silent Storm engine, Nival has changed the game from a battle with Nazis to a cold war thriller, with loads of role-playing and non-linear themes that makes the gameplay both unique and exciting. The Soviets are determined to prevent a nuclear war as well as further their agenda of the domination of Communism. The game is based in the year 1949 - in Germany - around the time of the Berlin blockade and the famous airlift to relieve the city’s hungry population.

You begin the game by selecting what particular talents you wish your agent to have, and this determines the effectiveness of his activities in the game’s various operations. The choices include: 1)an Engineer (skilled at placing and disarming munitions as well as getting through locked doors, but who is not the best at hand to hand or distant combat, 2)the Scout (expert at observation, infiltration and is good at hand to hand, 3)the Soldier (the best with weapons), 4)the Sniper (can kill expertly from long distance), 5)the Medic (can heal himself and other characters), and lastly, 6)the Grenadier (an expert with heavy weapons). The game has a number of appearance ‘skins’ so you can change the look of your character.

The game is turn based, and you have a fixed number of points to carry out game functions, such as shooting, moving, lock picking and so on. Your character can only carry so many items, so you have to decide what you want and don’t want. Don’t be afraid to discard weapons and useless equipment, since there are plenty of useful items and weapons to find, including cold hard cash, which can be used to buy more weapons, as well as bribing officials for forged documents and even to employ additional agents to help you in your quest.

The game is laid out - as mentioned earlier - in non-linear fashion, so you have some leeway in deciding what you will do first and where you will go. The plot is somewhat complex, but its detail is what helps make this one of the more interesting quest role-playing games I have seen in a while. Player interaction with the NPCs (non-player characters) can change the course of the game, as can trusting (or not trusting) an NPC at a key point.

Your goal of the game is to assemble contacts that will help you carry out your mission for mother Russia. Along the way, you will meet and use various shady characters, such as underworld figures, forgers, thieves, trained agents, traitors and enemy counter intelligence agents who each play their parts. NPCs can also join you on missions and they can help in fights, since they have skills you may lack. The game gives the NPCs their own motivations, and you may find the guy you trusted is planning to shoot you in the back if you aren’t careful.

The missions can also be affected by many variables, like time of day, for example. Its far easier to carry out a break-in of a government building at night then during the day, but on the other hand, it might be easier to rob someone’s apartment during the day when they are at work. The NPCs are also not always around; your contacts may be around at noon, but gone by nightfall, though experience will show you when and where to find the NPCs you need.

Your missions, however, are not carried out in a vacuum. As you carry out various operations, the NATO high command may become alarmed and initiate the unthinkable - a nuclear war. There is a gage that shows the level of NATO concern, so if you are too obvious or too aggressive, the Americans may very well decide to first strike Moscow, and its Dos Vidanya to your chances of winning the game!

The look and feel of the game are excellent, the streets and buildings are well rendered, and a tutorial quickly teaches you how to control your character. Tactical operations are also very important in the game, and an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses will go a long way towards winning your intelligence fight.

I completely enjoyed playing this preview, and can’t wait to review the full-blown version when it is released.