North American cover art
|Artist(s)||Marc Ericksen (box art)|
Herzog Zwei (ヘルツォーク・ツヴァイ Herutsuōku Tsuvuai?) (German: Herzog Zwei (German pronunciation: [ˈhɛɐ̯tsok ˈtsvai]) "Duke Two") is a real-time strategy video game developed by Technosoft for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis home console. It was published in Japan by Technosoft in 1989 and in North America and Europe by Sega in early 1990. It is the sequel to Herzog, which was released only in Japan for the MSX and PC-8801 personal computers in 1988.
Herzog Zwei combined the fully real-time, fast-paced, arcade-style action gameplay of Technosoft's own Thunder Force series with a fairly easy-to-grasp level of strategy gameplay. It differed significantly from both turn-based strategy and real-time tactics, and is the earliest example of a game with a feature set that falls under the contemporary definition of modern real-time strategy. Along with a single-player mode against a computer opponent, it featured a split-screen two-player mode where both players are in action simultaneously and there are no pauses while decisions are taken, forcing players to think quickly while on the move. Though the player only controls one unit, the manner of control foreshadowed the point-and-click mechanic of later games. It introduced much of the genre conventions, including unit construction and resource management, with the control and destruction of bases being an important aspect of the game, as were the economic/production aspects of those bases.
Upon release, the game received little mainstream recognition, and its novel approach to strategy gameplay polarized critics who were uncertain about what to make of it. It was generally well received by European critics, with Computer and Video Games recognizing that its fully real-time, fast-paced gameplay set it apart from other strategy games at the time, while The Games Machine found its mixture of strategy and shoot 'em up elements to be unusual but refreshing. Reactions from North American critics, however, were generally negative, with Electronic Gaming Monthly criticizing it for being too complex, judging it as a flawed shooter rather than a novel strategy game, and giving it some of its lowest review scores for a Genesis game.
Years after its release, the game eventually gained a cult following. It has since been considered one of the best two-player Mega Drive/Genesis games, and has been listed among the best games of all time, by Electronic Gaming Monthly, IGN and Next Generation. It has been credited with laying the foundations for the real-time strategy (RTS) genre, predating and influencing the genre-popularizing Dune II. It is also retrospectively considered a precursor to the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre, which uses a similar formula of each player controlling a single command unit in one of two opposing sides on a battlefield. Herzog Zwei has been listed as one of the most important games ever made by 1UP, while GameSpy listed it as one of the most underrated games of all time.
In Herzog Zwei, the player directly pilots a flying, transforming mech (similar to the variable fighter depicted in Macross), a multi-role vehicle suited for utility and combat. Through the mech, the player purchases surface combat units, airlifts them across the battlefield, and issues them orders. These command activities can only be performed through the mech. Vehicles follow their assigned orders (which are fairly basic: patrol, garrison, capture base) until they either run out of fuel or are destroyed. Tactical re-deployment (mission reassignment, vehicle repair) involves a great deal of micromanagement, due to the required involvement of the mech.
Both the player's ground-forces and the mech have finite fuel and ammunition. A prolonged engagement requires considerable micromanagement, as vehicles will not auto-repair, and the fragile combat-supply vehicles have limited radius of service.
With a total of eight different types of land-units to purchase, the player can determine the composition of his army. Each combat vehicle type represents a tradeoff between speed, anti-air, ground-attack, and cost. Units are assigned mission-orders from a menu selection: "fight from a fixed position", "patrol this area", "fight in fixed radius," "go to/attack/occupy intermediate base." New orders can only be issued during airlfit, and every time a unit's mission-orders are reassigned, a cost is incurred.
In addition to the player's main base, there are nine permanent (outposts) scattered across the battlefield. These indestructible buildings are the only production resources on the battlefield players. Once under a player's control, an outpost generates additional revenue (for purchase of units), and serves as a remote base of operations (repair/refuel, pickup delivery of purchased unit.) A key strategy is to capture as many outposts as possible, or deny enemy use through nuisance actions.
Herzog Zwei supports both single-player mode (against the AI), and two-player mode (head-to-head). In single-player mode, the entire screen is devoted to the human-player's field of view. However, the game's unsophisticated AI renders the single-player experience lacking. The game partially offsets the AI's inherent weakness by increasing the armor and offensive-damage of computer player side with each advancing level.
The mechanics of Herzog Zwei have a slower feel than most modern RTS games. The player's view of the screen is always centered on the player's mech. The player can pilot the mech to any location on the map while shooting at enemy units, airlifting friendly ground vehicles, or placing purchase orders for more vehicles. If the mech is destroyed in battle (or runs out of fuel), a new mech respawns over the player's primary base. Unlimited respawning allows the mech to engage in suicide tactics, as it is essentially a disposable asset.
Although the vehicle-purchasing menu can be activated from anywhere on the battlefield, only one vehicle may be purchased at a time. The completed order must picked up from a friendly base (by the player's mech), before the next purchase can be made. The game has a hard upper-limit of 100 active units (50 per player.) But when a game session exceeds seventy active units, the console slows down, making play difficult.
Herzog Zwei requires the mech-vehicle to airlift vehicles for close-inspection and mission-reassignment. Later RTS games use the virtual-console style of interface, allowing direct control of any player-owned vehicle.
To complete the game in single-player mode, the player must defeat the computer on each level four times, each time representing an increasing level of difficulty. When the game is completed, the ending offered differs depending on whether the player played as the first player (red), or the second player (blue). Two-player mode divides the screen into two playfields. Each player can see the opponent's actions, eliminating any element of surprise.
A key aspect of the game play is how the player interacts with the environments of the different levels. Each of the eight levels takes place in a different location that requires a different strategy for attacking the other side. Some levels have a large, physical barrier in the middle of the level that prevents a user from launching a direct ground attack at the main base in a timely fashion. For example, the jungle stage Waldung has a large swamp in the middle of the board that slows troops movement and eats up energy. Other levels, such as the volcano stage Vulkan are covered in lava rivers that will destroy any unit that comes in contact with it. This makes it difficult to launch ground assaults against the main bases as well as the mini-bases as the individual units artificial intelligence is quite limited. Only three of the levels, Strand, Eisfrei, and Oase, have bodies of water that allow boats to be launched against the enemy. The Abgrund level features a river but the player is not allowed to purchase boat units.
On all levels with the exception of Abgrund, both sides start off with a certain number of mini-bases already claimed. In Abgrund, all bases are neutral, including those directly near the main base.
Reception and legacy
Upon release, Herzog Zwei was not very commercially successful and received little mainstream recognition, due to its lack of marketing, relatively early release on the Mega Drive/Genesis platform, and non-arcade genre on what was considered an arcade-oriented game console. Upon its 1990 release in North America, Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) harshly criticized the game for being too complex and judged it as a flawed shooter rather than a novel strategy game. They gave it an average rating of 4.25 out of 10, or 17 out of 40 overall, based on a panel of four individual reviewers giving it scores of 4, 6, 4, and 3, out of 10. The game received some of the lowest scores the magazine had ever handed out to a Genesis game; 3 out of 10 was the lowest score any Genesis game had received from EGM reviewers up until 1993, and Herzog Zwei was one of only six Genesis games to have received this score up until then.
In contrast to its North American response, the game was generally more well received by European critics. In the United Kingdom, Warren Lapworth reviewed the game in the March 1990 issue of The Games Machine magazine, giving the game a 75% score. He criticized the title as "one of the silliest" names he had seen for a video game, but described the game itself as an "unusual product," a console strategy game with shoot 'em up style gameplay, stating, "Whether it's intended to get strategists to consider buying the console or to broaden the horizons of trigger-happy lunatics, I don't know. Either way, it's quite refreshing and can be quite addictive in two-player mode, fierce rivalry developing between friends." In the April 1990 issue of Computer and Video Games, reviewer Paul Glancey gave the game an 82% score. He described it as "a game of conquest between two commanders in real time" and recognized that what "sets it apart from other strategy games is that everything happens in real time. Both players are in action simultaneously and there are no pauses while decisions are taken so you have to think on the move or die." He noted that the command icons are "fairly easy to grasp" and concluded that it is a game that helps establish the Mega Drive as a "real" computer rather than "just a machine for immobilised arcade players." Its highest rating from a British magazine was from Mega Drive Advanced Gaming, which gave it an 85% score. In France, the game was reviewed in the November 1990 issue of the Joystick magazine, where reviewer JM Destroy gave the game a 78% score. The game was particularly well received in Germany, where critics referred to it as simply Herzog 2, with Power Play magazine giving it an 80% score in its April 1990 issue, while Play Time gave it an 85% score in its June 1991 issue.
Long after its release, the game gained a cult following and achieved some popularity. David Filip of Allgame gave the game a score of 4 out of 5 stars, describing it as "one of the first" and "one of the best" strategy video games on home consoles and as "a fine cure for those days when you want a different kind of RTS to control." Daniel Thomas of Sega-16 gave it a score of 10 out of 10 in 2004, describing it as "very probably the finest videogame you've never played" and as the Genesis console's "finest hour." Lawrence Wright of Insomnia gave the game a score of 5 out of 5 stars in 2008. GameSpot users have given Herzog Zwei an average score of 8.8 out of 10, as of 2009 and 2014.
It is often found on several "best of..." lists of video games, owing to its precedence in the real-time strategy genre, as well to the increasing understanding of finer points of its mechanics. It was featured in the "Top 100 Games Ever" list of Electronic Gaming Monthly, in the November 1997 issue which ranked it at #43 (by a different editorial line-up from years earlier), and in the January 2002 issue which ranked it #52. The February 1999 issue of Next Generation ranked it at #39 in its list of 50 best games of all time. It has also been featured in IGN's "Top 100 Games of All Time", in the 2003 list which ranked it at #62, and in the 2005 list which ranked it #95. In 2003, GameSpy listed the game as one of the 25 most underrated games of all time. 1UP included the game in its "Essential 50" list of "The Most Important Games Ever Made".
The U.S. game release packaging art was executed by veteran San Francisco game box illustrator Marc Ericksen, who had previously done the art for Thunder Force II, and was invited back by Sega for this image, as it was considered a 'sister' game to TFII. A sequel was planned for Sega's 32X platform, but with the subsequent failure of that console, so, too, died the plans for a third Herzog title. With Technosoft closing its doors in 2001 and the status of the intellectual property being unknown, the future of the series is likely sealed.
Herzog Zwei went on to influence future RTS games, particularly Dune II (1992), the producers of which acknowledged Herzog Zwei as an influence, as well as Warcraft (1994), Command & Conquer (1995), Starcraft (1998), War of the Rings (2003), and Brütal Legend (2009). Total Annihilation (1997) and its spiritual successor Supreme Commander inherited the concept of a large robotic command vehicle which is used to construct and command an army. However, Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander are controlled in similar fashion to traditional real-time strategy games; unlike in Herzog Zwei, the command vehicle in those games is mainly nothing more than a particularly powerful and versatile unit.
Scott Sharkey of 1UP states that, besides the original Herzog, the 1988 game Modem Wars was possibly "[t]he closest predecessor" to Herzog Zwei, but that it "was fairly primitive and abstract by comparison," that earlier such games lacked the ability to construct units or manage resources which made them "much more tactical than strategic," and that the slower processors and modems made the ticks "so long that the games were practically turn based".
The roots of the popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre, also known as the action RTS genre, has been traced back to Herzog Zwei, which used a similar formula, where each player controls a single command unit in one of two opposing sides on a battlefield. Destructoid cited Herzog Zwei as "one of the world's first MOBAs." In 2008, GameAxis Unwired considered DotA to then be the closest modern equivalent to Herzog Zwei, but noted that, while DotA gives the player control over a fully customizable command unit with RPG elements, it severely limits or removes the player's ability to produce and command other friendly units, whereas Herzog Zwei has a fully customizable command unit with RPG elements that the player has full control over, while commanding an army to go into battle with rather than mindless drones that respawn at set intervals.
In 2004, a mod was created for Unreal Tournament 2004 attempting to recreate Herzog Zwei. In 2008, Guilty Gear 2: Overture used strategy gameplay similar to Herzog Zwei. On November 8, 2012, Carbon Games released AirMech, a MOBA game that is considered a more direct, spiritual successor of Herzog Zwei. It features modernized graphics and added gameplay mechanics, such as online multiplayer. The game has been released under a free-to-play model, and is available from Carbon Games, Steam, and the Google Chrome Web Store.
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