Article Copyright 2008 Von Richter http://www.vonrichter.net
In 1989, a masterpiece far ahead of it's time was created by Technosoft. Years before the more famous RTS games (Dune 2, Starcraft, etc) hit the scene, Herzog Zwei (HZ) was blowing the minds of the lucky few who got to play it.
Much more than any of it's descendants, HZ puts you smack into the middle of the action. Each player (or CPU) controls a versatile command fighter jet than can transform into a ground stomping mech at any time, pick up/drop, refuel and repair units, and blast enemy units. The level of intensity this brings to the game is truly unique. The game plays out much like chess in real time on crack cocaine.
The object of the game is to defeat your opponents main base. Peppered throughout each warzone are unoccupied bases that you can capture with your infantry. There are countless strategies for winning. One plan is to make a mad dash and occupy as many bases as possible at the start, and ultimately capture bases closer and closer to your opponents main base, then launch a final assault. The advantage of capturing bases is that it gives you new outposts from which to refuel your mech, and launch units. The more bases you occupy, the faster your war chest builds.
There are many types of units you can purchase with your war chest, including tanks, anti-aircraft batteries, mobile refueling units, assault boats, etc. At the time of purchase, you give the units orders, including capture the flag, rove and defend, etc. The genius of this game is the blend of creating units and interacting with those units. Is one of your units in trouble? Fly out, transform into mech mode and physically waste the enemy yourself! Units low on ammo? Air drop a resupply unit. HZ rewards quick thinking more than any other RTS.
Incredibly for a Megadrive/Genesis game from 1989, there is a huge variety of maps and scenarios, each with it's own theme, layout and musical score. In true Technosoft/Tomomi Otani tradition, the music is fantastic, equaling other classic Otani game scores such as Thunder Force 3. The amount of individual units (50 per side max) really pushes the Megadrive to it's limits, allowing for epic clashes when you build up a ton of units and set them all to "capture the flag" at the same time. And of course, in a game with as many strategies as there are people who've played it, there is nothing more joyful than sending a lone infantry soldier to peck away slowly at your opponents base.
Alas, for a game that pushed the envelope so far and so quickly, it was misunderstood by the gaming press at the time. Some have never forgiven EGM for their trashing of this legendary title (many years later they made good by including the game on a "100 best games of all time" list.). The truth is, many people simply did not comprehend this game. Console players at the time were used to more straight-ahead action titles, and the complexity and learning curve, so simple in retrospect, stopped some people before ever giving it a real chance.
But luckily, most players did "get it", and adapted quickly to the radical originality on display. Epic, years-long battles between siblings and friends were waged, some of which continue to this day. As time went on, the quality and obscurity of HZ slowly pushed it's resale price into the stratosphere. This reviewer once sold a spare copy for $200. Not many games have the kind of replay and never ending addiction value that would make $200 seem reasonable, but this is one of them
A person could write a million things about this game. About the perfect play balance, the multiple endings, the incredible polish and near perfection in every facet of it's design. We could point out that it's actually a sequel to an incredibly obscure MSX game known as "Herzog", and lament the lack of a third installment. But the game is so complete and future-proof, that it is enough to simply play it and enjoy.
If you manage to find/'not' download/play Herzog Zwei, here is a quick tutorial to get you started: