Herzog Zwei

Duke Two, Me Nil.

Source // Oldies Rising

It is safe to say that Herzog Zwei had never even blipped up on my radar before seeing it on the 1001 list, and beyond knowing that 'zwei' is german for 'two', I was completely stumped as to what this Sega Mega Drive title could be about.

Reading up about Herzog Zwei gives you the sense that it is a kind of Command & Conquer before Command & Conquer - a real-time strategy that doesn't have base building per se, but does have unit and resource management, but not in the same sense as any RTS with which you may be familiar.

It's alright seeing that on paper, but what about with a controller in my hands?


Oh God, what am I doing? I feel I've said that a few times, but really, oh God, what am I doing?

Herzog Zwei sees you pilot a ship across the battlefield, and it is this ship that acts as both an offensive unit against your enemy, and the entirety of your logistics division - your units, whatever they may be, must be picked up from where you've built them and dropped off where you want them.

I'll give you two guesses at working out whether I found that system easy to get to grips with or not. Here's a clue: I never saw a single unit in my entire (albeit short) experience with Herzog Zwei.

But I did find the transform button, revealing that my ship is actually one form of a mech, with a walking form acting as the other, and both packing some firepower, and a propensity to explode for inexplicable reasons.

At one point I was convinced the emulation just wasn't working because I could hear all sorts yet see bugger all in front of me. It scrolled by smoothly, with movement feeling nice and floaty, but as to actually doing anything - indeed, actually playing the game as it was designed - I'd not got a bloody clue.

Now, to be fair to Herzog Zwei I jumped in completely blind, as is alarmingly normal for me to do, and in a game like this, it cost me, and that cost was my enjoyment of it. So I watched it being played instead.

Fun Times

There's a lot of footage of Herzog Zwei out there, and the footage proves that it is indeed possible to develop and deploy various units, issuing individual orders to them and letting them go about their merry way. Everything from foot soldiers, tanks and boats to anti-air, gun emplacements and supply trucks can be made and given orders spanning both defensive and offensive options.

Reading more articles about Herzog Zwei clued me in on the fuel mechanics that explain why I blew up so much - running out of fuel. You can resupply at any of your bases by hovering over it until you're ready to go. Also handy to read was how to take over both neutral and enemy bases in the first place, which is the key to winning the war that's taking place on each map. Sending a bunch of units into a base will do the trick, and getting another base will increase your income. I didn't even know there was income to be had in this game.

When you read it, it is clear to see the origins of the RTS on display, but because you pilot a mech, it allows for fast paced action, insofar as you can get much of the job done by using your mechs offensive capabilities directly. The job won't be done when it comes to taking over bases and such, but for clearing the path for your units to waltz in behind you and take it, you might as well go for the suicide mission yourself - because it doesn't even matter if you explode when you simply reform a few seconds later back at your base, ready to go again.

Final Word

How is anyone meant to figure this out, though? Icons depicting incoming missiles and under-attack bases are handy, sure, but how many people are going to know the difference between the order DF-F02A and AF-001A without looking it up? Why build an ARM-51D when you could go for a TAX-52? And what are they, anyway?

Herzog Zwei isn't for those who expect a shooter, which is unfortunate when it looks so much like a shooter from the start. It also looks like an RTS, though, and you can tell it's an RTS before RTS was a genre, so it's bound to have not worked out all of the details and issues. The write up for the 1001 list mentions that confusion with the way Herzog Zwei plays probably lead to its slow adoption. It is both slow to get into and fast to pick up, as well as slow to pick up and fast to get into, and that makes about as much sense as I think Herzog Zwei makes itself.

It is a unique game, that much can be said, but even when watching it I'm struggling to keep up with everything that's going on. Having read a few articles I've a better understanding, but everything is familiar and yet so damn... wrong.

That's not to say it's a bad game (though I've not exactly been impartial in this post...), just a game that I can't find myself getting behind in practice. In theory, on paper, it sounds pretty good. This particular execution - or my inability to pick it up - is not so good, and that's what's hampering my desire to pick it up for a second attempt at playing it anytime soon.

Will you have more luck with Herzog Zwei than I? I do hope so.

Fun Facts

Completion requires you to be victorious on all eight maps in all four of their difficulty levels, and that ending will differ depending on whether you were playing as the Red or Blue side.

Herzog Zwei, developed by Technosoft, first released in 1989.
Version played: Sega Mega Drive, 1990, via emulation.
Version watched: Sega Mega Drive, 1990 (Jonathan Young)