Hammer & Sickle is the sequel to the excellent Silent Storm we played last year. Silent Storm is basically one of the best tactical combat games we’ve seen. We compared it mostly to X-Com, somehow neglecting the more obvious Jagged Alliance connection, but the similarities were undeniable. Players led a squad of specialist soldiers, snipers, medics and engineers into combat scenarios during an alternate-history World War II. Most of the scenarios were pre-planned and these were the actual missions, but there were random encounters and optional missions to free the game from some linearity.
Character skills, of course, were developed and the game included many RPG-lite aspects such as the (somewhat inane) dialogue, weapon collection, experience and so on. However, Silent Storm didn’t really strike out ambitiously to try and push the genre in any new directions. Its technical merits were undeniable, such as an excellent physics system and impressive graphics, but the gameplay remained firmly planted in genre conventions.
Hammer & Sickle tries to address the shortcomings of the original – such as the pointlessness of the RPG aspects and storyline – while portraying the Cold War from a fresh new Soviet perspective and pushing the boundaries of player freedom. There is still an integral, central storyline, but the developer’s ambition is more to develop it like Fallout, giving the player the freedom to follow it or not. Do not, however, get confused into thinking that Hammer & Sickle is a Fallout game. Fallout is an open-ended RPG with tactical turn-based combat. Hammer & Sickle is aiming to be an open-ended tactical combat game with RPG flavors.
The main character’s Soviet origins provide a fresh feeling but the game is not egregiously anti-American despite the very firm chill of the Cold War that had descended over the world during the time period in the game. It’s a little hard to buy the “good” Soviet Union theory, especially given my origins in Soviet-bloc Poland, but it’s not exactly offensive either and, as mentioned earlier, provides a fresh perspective.
The setting is also a little more believable, we haven’t found any evidence of the Panzerkleins, for example. It also works better on another level. Whereas it was a little difficult to believe that 6 people could make a difference in World War II, in the tense Cold War environment of 1949, so full of espionage, suspicion and deception, it’s easier to suspend disbelief.