The KGB wasn't as hard on political dissidents as Hammer & Sickle is on those who play it.
- Interesting premise.
- You'll grow old waiting for the computer to finish its moves
- Half-baked storyline that never properly explains anything
- Gangs of enemies make combat tedious and ridiculously hard
- Loaded with typos and bizarre accents.
With an acclaimed codeveloper like Nival Interactive and an intriguing premise set during the dawn of the Cold War in the 1940s, you wouldn't think that Novik & Co.'s Hammer & Sickle could lose. Nival certainly knows this territory, with the excellent squad-based WWII sim Silent Storm on its list of recent credits. And who could resist such an interesting, unexplored setting? It's easy to see why so many squad-combat fans were eagerly awaiting this game's arrival in stores. Unfortunately, it has proven to be a bit of a miscalculation. Somewhere between conception and execution Hammer & Sickle went offtrack. Way offtrack. All of the great promise inspired by both Nival's involvement and this innovative setting has been wasted in a game that is inept on every level. Story, interface, difficulty, graphics, voice acting, music, and just about everything else, seem to have been slapped together at the last minute and rushed out with no attention to quality control.
Even the promising setting has been ruined. You play a Soviet spy snooping around West Germany just as the Cold War really starts to get going. The year is 1949, so say hello to Checkpoint Charlie, loads of international espionage, and escalating tension between the US and the USSR. But the plot veers away from historical reality after setting the stage, with the introduction of a mysterious third party of suspiciously Nazi-like thugs bent on drawing both nations into a nuclear holocaust. So the tale turns from gritty Cold War thriller into a James Bond-style saga, which is a little clichéd and disappointing.
Even more distressing is the awful way that this superspy story is told. Nothing is set up properly, so you're always left wondering what's going on and where you're supposed to go next. Dialogue is spit out in such a random fashion that it seems like somebody cut every third line for brevity just before shipping the game. It begins with the very first mission, where you're told to contact Vaclav, deliver a proposal, and kill the guy if he doesn't like what he hears…without the benefit of a preamble explaining who you are, where you are, who Vaclav is, what this proposal is all about, and so on. Mission assignments rarely come with proper instructions, so the game is often incoherent. Also, the story branches at points that are almost totally imperceptible to the player. Kill the wrong people at the wrong time (mainly Allied soldiers and civilians), and you can unknowingly set up an unstoppable slide to the start of World War III that will prematurely end your game.
The actual gameplay does its fair share to wreck Hammer & Sickle as well. Although the game is being billed as an RPG, this is really just a revamped Silent Storm (Novik & Co. apparently got started on this project by making a mod for that game) with more of a story and shops where you can buy and sell items. Just as in the earlier, much better game, you also (eventually) control a group of soldiers with varied abilities, pick skill advancements as they go up in level, and so forth. The only major difference is that you custom design a soldier at the beginning or you choose between soldier, sniper, grenadier, engineer, surgeon, and scout classes. Anyone looking for actual role-playing would be advised to look elsewhere, because this is really a fairly typical squad-based tactical shooter.
Action plays out in the same turn-based manner as Silent Storm, too, but with a couple of key changes that kill what that game had going for it. Combat is noticeably slower here. Enemy and Allied turns take forever to be resolved whenever there are more than three or four of each shooting it out. Maps are very small. Many assignments play out in tiny areas that can be crossed in seconds. So instead of tackling sprawling bases crammed with patrolling soldiers, you typically have to get past only a guard post or two or gun down a crowd of goons before moving on to the next assignment. This scales down the tactical challenge and turns most missions into races to the finish line or tedious gun battles.