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ups: simple and fun turn-based gameplay, cool plot, cool weapons, cool characters,
downs: Brutal difficulty, limited RPG elements,

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Hammer & Sickle Review
game: Hammer & Sickle
three star
posted by: Sean Hilliard
publisher: CDV Software Entertainment
developer: Nival Interactive
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ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 04:05 PM Mon Dec 5th, 2005
last revision: 04:10 PM Mon Dec 5th, 2005

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Click to read.It\'s not every day that a decent role-playing game comes out, and it\'s even rarer when a decent turn-based RPG hits store shelves. Not since the days of the legendary Fallout series have we seen a GREAT turn-based RPG. Ah, those were the days.

The dream of having a Fallout-level turn-based RPG with next- or even current-generation graphics is still unanswered, unfortunately, but Hammer & Sickle at least does a decent job.

In Hammer & Sickle, gamers assume the role of a Soviet commando sent behind enemy lines in Western Germany. However, in Hammer & Sickle\'s manual, he\'s billed as a \"top Soviet spy\" who \"attempts to prevent a nuclear showdown between the world\'s superpowers.\" Not only does he not do any spying in Hammer & Sickle, he has no option but to blend in with the locals and wait for orders after his intelligence center is hit by terrorists.

I could be wrong about him being a \"top Soviet spy,\" but the evidence argues against it. He admits to being a soldier in Hammer and Sickle\'s intro, and his first real mission is taking out a group of U.S. soldiers by force. Lastly, he\'s packing grenades. GRENADES! What spy carries fragmentation explosives? I never saw that in a Bond movie.

As for the actual role-playing aspects of Hammer & Sickle, there\'s little to engage the hardcore stat nerd. You update your character\'s skills in a tree of selections that only give you a skill and don\'t let you upgrade it any farther. For example, you\'ll get a skill called \"Rambo\" (I kid you not) that lets you carry heavy weapons in the ready position while running. Not only do you not get to increase the skill anymore after you earn it, it\'s not even useful. If you don\'t have the Rambo skill, you can still carry/use heavy weapons!

Then there\'s the matter of difficulty in Hammer & Sickle. Let me put it simply, Hammer & Sickle is nigh impossible to beat ? on easy difficulty! Fortunately, there\'s an option called \"Custom Difficulty\" that should be in every game where you can adjust things like the enemy\'s VP (health), AP (number of actions per turn) and accuracy, as well as your own, on a sliding scale. Call me the world\'s worst gamer, but I cranked down the enemy\'s settings and cranked up my own, making Hammer & Sickle playable ? and, more importantly, fun.

The simple fact is, there is a fun game hidden underneath all of the aforementioned problems. Hammer & Sickle is really a cool little game. It has a lot going for it.

First of all, there just aren\'t many turn-based RPGs out there these days. You have Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I and II. Neverwinter Nights is a single character game, and you don\'t really get to control a decent-sized squad in regular in-game action in KOTOR. By the end of Hammer & Sickle it\'s possible to have six guys under your control.

The way you fill out your squad is interesting, too. You aren\'t sent over the border between Eastern and Western Germany with a group of guys, but have to earn them. When I say earn them, I really mean EARN them.

The first character you can have join your group is introduced to you in front of a firing squad. She\'s an American paratrooper named Elisabeth Sanders who came over to Germany after landing in France. Naturally, after she was shot by the firing squad, she wasn\'t killed. She was merely put into a state of shock. Your character carries her into the nearby building where, conveniently, there\'s a doctor who nurses her back to health. This takes one day (WTF?). She then hires herself as a mercenary to your character for $150/week.

The second character who can join your squad is working for a gun dealer you\'re sent to kill. You get Larry (who has a weird German last name), a former member of the Nazi Youth Movement, if you decide to join up with this gun dealer. The shadier gamers (and lazier, since taking out this gun dealer is tough ? he has some major backing by bandits) will have to backstab the character who sent them on this mission to get Larry, but more importantly, will miss out on earning a really cool French submachine gun. Getting Larry is really up to you in the end.

The third character is the hardest to earn, but he\'s definitely the coolest. Fidel \"Gambusino\" Sanchez is a former member of the Red Army who fought on the side of your character in Hammer & Sickle. He\'s captured by the British and put into a military prison. Naturally, to free him you have to break him out of prison. This is the single hardest mission in the game, but is worth it to hear Sanchez\'s reaction to seeing your character again (\"Madre de dios!\").

The last three characters to join your squad are awarded to you for getting to the end of the game, and basically starting World War III. Now, if you\'re doing your math here, you\'ll notice that this adds up to seven characters altogether, including your character. Well, not to spoil anything, one of the characters you meet is a traitor. This is another cool aspect of the game: your sense of surprise at this point.

Turn-based gameplay, for the uninitiated, is rather simple. As the name implies, it involves the enemy taking a turn with attacks, then the player taking a turn, repeat ad nauseum until someone\'s team is all dead. Unfortunately, if there\'s any, and I mean, ANY enemies left in the map anywhere, you have to track them down and kill them. This can get frustrating and difficult because oftentimes the character is hiding somewhere they can shoot the crap out of the first guy who finds them. This results in many cheap deaths and reloading of save games. Fortunately, it makes you use strategy when hunting these guys down. Here\'s a tip: Never underestimate the ability to lie prone and crawl up to bad guys. They\'re usually taken by surprise when someone peeks around the corner of their hiding space at ground level. And then, blowing someone\'s head off from two feet away is always thrilling, especially when it isn\'t a character you control.

Hammer & Sickle also features a really sweet \"Loot\" option for when you finally do clear the map of enemies. Make sure you take the time to click this button on the top of the screen before you leave an area. You get all of the items they\'ve dropped listed in categories for easy taking. If you do this right, you may never have to buy guns or ammo in the game at all. And that is sweet.

In the end, Hammer & Sickle is hurt most by its brutal difficulty and bizarre story. However, turn-based RPG fans who have played Fallout, Neverwinter Nights and both KOTORs to death should check out Hammer & Sickle.

EDITOR\'S NOTE: Our initial version of this review featured some inaccurate information about the character classes available in H&S. We have since corrected our review, and we apologize for any confusion this error may have caused.

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