Hidden and Dangerous 2
It wasn't looking good for Sergeant Lynch. He'd been sent by his cowardly teammates to plant a mine right under the nose of a Nazi Panzer, there was sand in his boxer shorts and blood in his mouth. But they were never going to complete the level with that hunk of metal in the way, and Lieutenant Tarantino's hand had been bitten by some desert bug, rendering him incapable of crawling right up to the tank and laying a deathtrap. Testicles still lodged in the upper part of his throat, Sergeant Lynch completed his glorious task and shimmied back to his colleagues.
The tank's not moving," said Sergeant Faulkner. Bugger, said Lynch. The other sergeant got his sniper rifle out, spat into the sand and aimed at the foot of the tank. Several shots later, the mine lay unexploded and the Panzer was still sitting pretty. Hello, chaps," said Sergeant Whedon, arriving from his infiltration of a nearby warehouse. Look what I found." He laid two bazookas at their feet like a dog with a pair of slobbered slippers. Blimey," said Lynch. But who was going to get close enough to stick one up the Hun's backside?
It's moments like these, totally unscripted and unpredictable, that make Hidden & Dangerous 2 an absolute joy to play. Or at least it is when you're not frothing with rage and frustration at a seemingly impossible assignment or a badly timed bug.
OK, so you'll have to add in your own pedestrian bits of dialogue, but the between-mission cut-scenes give your soldiers enough of a Boy's Own feel to last you a good while. And yes, you read right, high difficulty and bugs are still present, though not as rampantly as in the original. This sequel has been in the works for years, so it's a real shame that it's been released in a less than fully polished state: guns and characters floating, soldiers getting stuck in the scenery, suddenly not being able to shoot and even a crash or two. Illusion is already hard at work on a patch (which may already be out by the time you read this), but it's surely the publisher who's to blame. Why not wait till Christmas to release it, unless it's because Half-Life 2 had been delayed and they spotted a hole in the market? Who knows?
Please Don't Die
Still, as I said, the bugs are nowhere near as terminal as those in the first H&D, and the game is so hugely enjoyable that we want to forgive it and hope the patch fixes all.
H&D2 uses the same engine that powered Mafia, the most criminally underrated shooter of the past few years. It has the same attention to detail and the same gripping firefights, though it looks considerably better and, on some levels, nothing short of stunning.
Once again, you choose a squad of four from a large pool of soldiers, each with their own strength, endurance and skills in shooting, stealth, first aid and lock picking. A very nice touch, so simple yet rarely used by developers, is that you can rename your SAS members (hence my crack team of film directors and novelists). This, coupled with the way their stats improve after each mission, lets you get close to your team and feel their death as a real loss. And sometimes you will have to make sacrifices. Because most missions are so tough and because you only have one save slot (which you can overwrite whenever you like), you may find that your 14th attempt is successful, but that your best medic is a bloody corpse. Not that you can afford to lose too many men. Your group of four has to last for the duration of each campaign before you can bring in new faces.
A Wail In The Desert
While you will die a lot and swear your lungs out more, even the most difficult situations can usually be solved by clever and tactical thinking. Illusion never resorts to making the enemies infallible or outrageously numbered. The one exception is a mission in which you have to cross the desert. There are planes flying above ready to shoot you down if you get out of your jeep, and halfway through the path (from which you can't stray due to the numerous mines outside it) you encounter a tank that chases you as you try to backtrack and blows you to hell. Finding missiles and then managing to get close enough to fire at the tank without it seeing you first (nowhere to hide in a desert) or the planes mowing you down, is exasperating beyond words.
And then one of my men would decide to waste a precious missile firing at a plane and I would have to start again. As you may have guessed, the Al is not without hitches. A lot of the time your team does exactly what you tell them to (follow, attack, hold position, lay down covering fire etc), often sees and kills enemies before you know what's going on and even tells you when you're in their line of fire. Other times they'll shoot when you've told them not to or walk when you want them to run.
The enemy can be erratic too. Sometimes they act completely human, missing the target if startled, retreating and surrendering. Other times they fail to hear gunfire or can home in on your head through thick vegetation. No doubt some of these issues are bugs, and will hopefully be sorted soon.
To help you cope with some of the harder missions, you can bring up a top-down 3D RTS display, where you can set waypoints, stance and speed. It's sometimes hard to get them to do exactly what you had in mind though, and I would have preferred more options, like covering a particular area. Others will make more use of this screen than me. I preferred to scout ahead with my sniper and then bring the rest over when needed, only occasionally using the tactical display to outflank enemies.
You can actually play through the whole game in Lone Wolf mode but, as you can imagine, the difficulty is multiplied. It does add to the incredible variety on offer though. The environments are startlingly different, from the stark African dunes to dense Burmese jungles (so, so much better than Vietcong's), from beautiful icebergs to awe-inspiring Austrian hills. These are so beautiful in fact, that the Austrian tourist board might want to use them for promotional purposes. Though they might want to edit out the bloodthirsty Nazis.
The gameplay is just as varied: stealth missions, full-on assaults, scuba-diving and even a great defend-the-oasis-fortress-in-the-desert level. And each requires a very different tactical approach.
The attention to realism draws you in completely (until one of those bugs comes along), with weight restrictions, scope drift, and the ability to shoot through canvas or wooden walls. You also get out of breath if you run too much. As if I didn't get enough of that in real life.
All Dressed Up
Donning a disguise is just as realistic: the uniform has to be taken from a surrendered soldier so there's no bulletholes or blood stains. All exposed weaponry has to be bona fide too (although the Al's talent for spotting non-Nazi behaviour or a non-issue knife is a little over the top). Multiplayer looks great too (Illusion promises it's less buggy) and some of the maps could offer truly classic online moments. We'll have to wait until the servers are up and running to test them fully though, something we'll be doing in a future issue. There won't be any vehicles online, which are so much fun in singleplayer, because apparently they'd end up unbalancing these maps. You already have Battlefield 1942 for that anyway.
It's just a shame H&D2 wasn't released in a more polished and bug-free state. If that had happened, and the tactical screen had proved more useful, we'd be looking at a full-on classic. It's still a must for anyone looking for a real challenge though. It's a worthy WWII companion to Mafia, and the best tactical shooter available. Tally-ho!
Download Hidden and Dangerous 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
With mafia nearing completion, we can expect Illusion Softworks to start ramping up its efforts on Hidden & Dangerous 2, the sequel to 1998’s bestselling WWII tactical action game. As with its high-ranking predecessor, H&D2 will again offer players the chance to pick four soldiers from a pool of dozens across a number of linear missions, in the fight against the Hun which takes place this time across North Africa as well as Europe. As well as directly controlling your troops, you will also be able to give them orders, which although innovative first time around, didn’t work out quite so well in the original game due to some sloppy coding. This time around however, to give the game a focus, players will have a central character, Gary Bristol, who you must keep alive until the final showdown.
It goes without saying that new weapons and vehicles will make it into the game, but after seeing it in action back in May, what impressed us most (apart from the detailed graphics), was the excellent Al. This has German soldiers reacting on sight and sound, and even working co-operatively on a level not seen since Half-Life. Guards will patrol the perimeter of a base, but if their superiors are out of sight, they might sneak off to have a fag among the sandbags.
If you liked Commandos 2 and were hankering for something with a bit more action and less adventure, Hidden & Dangerous 2 will be the game for you. Moreover, Illusion has plans to incorporate a great deal more multiplayer options than the original’s co-operative campaign.
"We are following the trend of more team-oriented multiplayer styles," says Illusion Softworks’ Juraj Bocinec. "As in Counter-Strike or Return To Castle Wolfenstein, we’ll have teamplay options, with a whole range of player commands and tactics set across various maps giving players a feeling of real combat. This is what will make the game fun to play."
I'm Not ashamed to admit that when I first saw Hidden & Dangerous 2 I started dribbling - not out of raw animal lust but much as one does when dozing off in a chair of a certain angle. You can hardly blame me; watching someone crawl through gorse bushes on their belly, waiting while Nazi patrols edge painfully towards your prone squad members... it's hardly the most exhilarating of games to watch.
But then, Hidden & Dangerous was always a game that had to be played at length before its rewards were unlocked, and now, we've had a chance to play the sequel. There's still work to be done, but nevertheless I can happily report that Hidden & Dangerous 2 looks to be every bit the sequel we've all been hoping for.
This Is Now
While the original game was set exclusively behind the lines of the Western Front, Hidden & Dangerous 2 spans the entire European theatre and beyond. Starting out in 1941, you begin your mission behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Norway before heading to the extreme climate of the North African desert to combat Italian and German troops. Interestingly, you don't get to infiltrate Fortress Europe proper until you're well entrenched into the second half of the game, by which time you will have taken on Imperial Japanese forces in Burma and rescued a fancy typewriter from a stricken Nazi battleship.
Gameplay-wise very little has changed. From a pool of around 30 dedicated troops, you can pick up to four soldiers for each mission, only one of which can be directly controlled at any single time. The others you order around via traditional keyboard shortcuts or through the new tactical overview.
Whereas the 3D map in the first game was unintuitive to the point of being useless, this time your troops are as easy to direct from above as in a simple RTS. Drop waypoints, fix combat stances, set movement speeds and awareness levels and then watch the level play itself out before jumping in and taking over when it all goes tits up.
As in the original game, you must equip your troops before marching off to war. For those of us without the patience to pore over the penetration values of a Mk II Sten over an M1 Garand, the developers have added an auto-assign system that distributes the best weapons and equipment to those who can make best use of it. The arsenal of pistols, rifles, sub-machine guns and other ancillary equipment is exhaustive, and includes the small arms of Russia, Germany, Italy and Japan, as well as the Western Allies. Unfortunately, there is no flamethrower (as was mooted some time ago), which isn't perhaps such a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but still a little disappointing.
By Land Or Sea
On the up side, vehicles are set to take greater prominence in H&D2. Hidden & Dangerous was often at its best when some transportation could (very occasionally) be commandeered, and although Battlefield 1942 may have stolen its thunder, the sequel features a host of Jeeps, staff cars, half-tracks, tanks and even two-man submersibles. Not only do H&D2's small fleet of war machines look far more convincing than in any other WWII game, they're more realistically modelled too. Squeeze your entire squad into a LRDG Jeep and watch as your boys struggle to shoot at pursuers, swaying to and fro as they bound across the dunes. One of the features that strikes you when you first play the game is the incredibly detailed animations of your soldiers. By switching to a third-person view you can witness your troops crawl, stalk, run, lean and roll about the terrain in the most convincing manner. The mousewheel selects movement speed (a la Splinter Cell}, which isn't just instinctive, but adds to the tension and is far more realistic than the usual run/walk keys. As with the original, you can shoot from the hip or aim down the sights, adding immeasurably to the sense of realism and immersion. Bigger and better than its predecessor in every way, with more missions, added equipment, a substantially improved interface and, of course, a new 3D engine. H&D2 is looking extremely tasty. Our only concerns lie with the stability of the final game and the Al of the enemy. There wasn't much evidence of any of those dynamic co-ordinated attacks we've been promised, but then it's still early code.
Nevertheless, even if it was released tomorrow, H&D2 would easily do away with young pretenders to the tactical shooter throne, such as Ghost Recon and Raven Shield. But this sequel has its sights set higher and, given due attention, we're confident it will eclipse its awardwinning predecessor in every way. Best get some rest now while you can.
As Far As tactical shooters go, Hidden & Dangerous 2 has more tactics and shooting than a game of chess played with revolvers. Indeed, back in the carefree days of 2003, when special 'bump-mapping' amazed all and magazines were the lovecraft of a man and his typewriter, H&D2 was king of the thinking-man's blasters, and there's still nothing quite like it today.
Sure, these days the graphics are looking a little rough and there's still the odd Al bug lurking around, but Hidden & Dangerous 2 remains a wholly playable and enjoyable experience. At times it's harder than a concrete donkey, but addictive enough that you won't care. There's a huge variety of challenges and levels too, and the top-down RTS mode can be useful for planning your attack. True, for combat and a much-lacked co-op mode, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is by far the superior experience. However, if you like a little strategy in your war, you can't go wrong for a tenner.
It's Almost a criminal oversight that Hidden & Dangerous 2, which boasts such attention to detail and variety in all aspects of gameplay, should lack a co-operative multiplayer mode. (Illusion has indicated it's likely to be part of the forthcoming expansion pack.) The excellent single-player campaign is tailor-made for team work, after all. For now, though, we have to content ourselves with three online modes: Deathmatch, Occupation and Objectives.
The first, Deathmatch, is self-evident. The second, Occupation, is a territory control mode you'll be familiar with from Battlefield 1942, among others. And the third, Objectives, adds a touch of the Counter-Strikes, by giving each team specific goals, such as retrieving documents, eliminating VIPs and the like. The maps are fantastic (most of them taken from the campaign), and the engine lends itself to some very satisfying action, making us wish more than ever that Mafia had included a multiplayer option.
But the bugs that marred the single-player game rear their heads here too. The main problem, and quite a huge one at that, is connecting to a game in the first place. And when you do finally find a server that lets you in, you may find it crashes to the desktop. It's not as if there are many servers around, either. The bugs are still keeping a lot of people away, and the servers aren't exactly buzzing, but you can still find the odd 32-player bash going on. With more patches and that much missed co-op mode, this might just take off. We reckon it deserves to.
History repeats, historians often say, and after seeing all of the World War II titles on the market, I tend to agree. Hidden and Dangerous 2 looks to repeat history once again, but this time from the perspective of the British Spectral Air Service, an espionage unit used to cause mayhem behind Axis lines. But in a saturated market with plenty of worthwhile WWII titles, is Hidden and Dangerous 2 good enough to make history worth repeating again?
Hidden and Dangerous 2 is one of the many games in the recent trend to bend a few genres into its fold, but first and foremost, it's a squad-based tactical shooter with an emphasis on espionage -- throw in some RTS and RPG elements for good measure. The game is unlinear in how you accomplish missions, whether you prefer the run-and-gun method or meticulous planning and execution (though HaD2 accommodates the latter much more). Variety is also one of the game's fortes; with missions ranging from squad based tactical missions to solo espionage missions. The tactical mode is handled really well, and even allows you to pause time and issue orders which gives you a lot of freedom in how you tackle situations.
Multiplayer takes a cue from Battlefield 1942 and combines vehicles with large, open maps ' it feels a bit slow, but is still a lot of fun.
HaD2 sets out to create an immersive and realistic WWII setting, and it accomplishes this goal fantastically. The graphics and audio both play a large role in this as they ultimately create an authentic WWII setting. The draw-in distance goes quite far so there's a lot of detail in the environments and the ambient and moody music fits very well with the WWII theme. Great voice-acting and sound effects top off the package.
HaD2 pays a hefty price for its realism: the unrelenting difficulty level. One-hit kills, sharp enemy AI, not-so-sharp ally AI, and confusing mission objectives all share a role in the blame. Some might find the difficulty an attracting aspect, but too often the game will rely on trial and error to bypass the harder areas. Needless to say, frustration will often result.
Unfortunately, HaD2 has a lot of problems aside from the steep difficulty. The interface is, at best, clunky and often results to a lot of micromanagement to accomplish simple tasks. Bugs are frequent in HaD2 as well, in both sloppy programming and AI screw-ups. Right from installation, I had problems and they permeated throughout the game. And while enemy AI is clever enough, troops under your command will sometimes ignore your staggered orders and do absolutely nothing.
For everything Hidden and Dangerous 2 does right, there's something that it does wrong. HaD2 ultimately creates a frustrating experience stemming from both the deep difficulty and buggy programming. But, underneath these problems lies an extremely realistic and engaging squad-based combat sim. If you can overlook the problems, there's a lot to be had here; but for most gamers, it won't be worth the time or effort.