1998 brought about the addition of squad based tactical games to the computer gaming industry. Most everyone is familiar with at least one of the three big titles of 1998, Rainbow Six, Delta Force, and Spec Ops. What's 1999 had for us? Not a whole lot thus far, just an addon for Rainbow Six and the upcoming Delta Force 2 and Rainbow Six 2. With the same names repeating over and over again, it seems as sequels may kill off the genre, or at least narrow the variety down considerably. Not to worry, Hidden and Dangerous is here. Talonsoft (recently acquired by Take 2) wandered over to Europe and snagged dug up a tactical strategy that pits you deep in World War II with an elite squad of men (think Commandos).
The background does bear a close similarity to Commandos, since, as an elite team, you must foil German plans by using covert tactics. H&D, however, joins the ranks of 3D tact-ops games by incorporating a well-detailed 3D engine. The missions span the entire length of the war, somewhat mirroring actions of the time, although they aren't substantial military campaign styled missions. Mission goals are very varied (YES NO RESCUE THE %$&%#& HOSTAGE EVERY MISSION LIKE RAINBOW SIX) and add a heck of a lot of variety to the game.
Graphically, H&D is very pretty. Not too heavy on the eyecandy, but well detailed and well modeled. Environments are full of objects from trees to buildings to vehicles. Boards are, for the most part, spread out, giving you a lot of room to move and work with. My favorite mission is the only mission of the 5th campaign. The whole level takes place on a sinking German cruiser. While it's a little too dark for my tastes, it is one of the creepiest levels I've played in any game. Lightning will flash and illuminate the decks, while the list of the ship and the swinging chains make it seem so realistic, yet surreal at the same time. The sheer size of the ship and its cold emptiness created an aura of suspense as I played it. Other levels include mansions, villages, bunkers, and airstrips. H&D provides the gamer with three views; a bird's eye view, an over-the-shoulder view, and a first person view. One of my gripes comes in this area, as the third person views are hard to aim with. They give a good perspective, but something is lacking from the ability to control your aim. I spent most my time playing in first person, but it feels like such a shame that the 3rd person views weren't implemented better (both DF and SO had decent 3rd person views, R6's is about on par with H&D's).
Moving along to the audio, it's equally impressive. I have nothing bad to say about the audio in H&D other than maybe a little more variety. If the intro menu, where the H&D logo rolls across the screen with music and an explosion, doesn't scream play me, I don't know what will. The music plays along well with the graphics to greatly enhance the environment. As I mentioned above, the cruiser level was made great with graphics alone, the audio makes it spectacular. Those swinging chains are accompanied by the clinking audio and you can hear the boat shudder and groan. It's just an experience not often well devised in computer gaming (although PSX has had several titles that incorporate rich, fulfilling audio). Effects, as a whole, are perfectly acceptable, not overdone and not underdone. Germans will shout at you when you're spotted and will scream in pain as you gun them done. Your own units will report in on injuries as well. Briefings are backed with voice that makes the missions seem that much more significant. The musical score is non-detracting although, it becomes somewhat loud with a special crescendo when something important happens in the game, like completing an object or having a man go down.
The game background itself is well designed. The variety in the missions just makes H&D really stand out. Most games get rather bland when the mission objectives in one mission are basically the same as those in the previous six. Stealing equipment, capturing key officers, freeing prisoners, busting ass in boats and vehicles, and quite a bit more really spice up a genre that seems to lack certain creative juice. There are six campaigns with any number of one to six missions within each campaign. Each campaign has an overall objective while each of the missions has a sub-objective or two to accomplish. It gives it a good level of progressiveness, although there aren't different possible outcomes. I really thought the intro videos for each campaign were very cool and showed off the graphics engine nicely.
The tactical level is pretty well done, although without the planning phase like Rainbow Six had, it can be a little hard to organize from the tactical map. You do have a lot of options at your disposal for using some strategy, but it can be a little cumbersome at times. The unit AI is pretty good so they will cover your ass and provide needed support when those Nazis come a-running. The in game ordering system works similar to R6's in game option, so pressing a button will get units to follow you, stop following you or etc.
Now, so far, you're probably thinking, "Man this game is kickass, I need to run down to EB and buy this thing." Well, unfortunately, as the score will show, there are some major bugs in H&D. Instant deaths plague some of the levels, while the save feature can lead to its own problems including the instant death and units appearing in between levels. (Note: the save game feature was a last minute addition to H&D after some comments from the gaming community so I really don't hold too much against the developer for trying to please the public, the save game feature is a very nice feature, just buggy) Unfortunately, the very first level is one of the worst for bugs, which is NOT a good way to get players interested. Units jump off the bridge or just fall through the board to instant death. Some bugs I noticed later on in the game involve the vehicles, where my guys would fall out while I was driving and get run over and killed, or when I had a vehicle roll over and trap two of my guys inside. The vehicles are nice, but the physics engine for them needs some work.
Multiplayer can also be a nightmare if you want to play on the Internet. The IPX LAN games seem to work fine and if you got a LAN, you should give it a try. The Internet support is just horrid though. Games crash, bugs from the single player rear their heads in multiplayer, and it's just a pain in the ass to actually get a level finished. I spent about three hours one night trying to get a four player game going only to play for a total of ten or fifteen minutes. I will mention that Internet play for two players seems to be a lot more stable than three or four player games. It might be worth grabbing one and only one buddy and giving it a whirl, but you're probably still in for more trouble than it's worth.
Hidden and Dangerous is a hell of a game, although some of the missions, in addition to being hard, are frustrating due to various bugs that just end up infuriating the gamer. I also noticed that, for the most part, the early missions tend to be a little bit harder than the later missions and that might turn you off. I'd suggest finding the cheat codes or grabbing the save game from our website so you can skip around to missions like I did (yes I played most of the missions and no I didn't beat more than half of them). H&D easily deserves a higher score, without those bugs, this game would have definitely made our Gamer's Choice list. Patched, this game could be one of the best games of 1999, but until then, play at your own risk!
Highs: Variety, good environment both visually and musically Lows: bugs out the ass, aiming in 3rd person sucks.
Illusion Softworks has brought upon the gaming community, Hidden & Dangerous, an action/RTS game that will surprisingly please most with its ingenuity. Hidden & Dangerous takes us back to the much-publicised era of World War II. Many games have used this time period as a basis for realistic entertainment, but I feel it has never been so well captured and executed before now. H&D combines elements of action and real-time strategy to form an addictive game, which will throw many hours of your free time into a black hole. You are given control of an elite group of commandos who are used to infiltrate bases and perform tactical missions for the Allied forces. This game is definitely not a shoot-em-up, as it requires much thought and planning. You control only four men at a time from a third-person and first-person perspective and are placed against an opposition with far greater numbers. One wrong move could put an end to your operation.
The graphics are excellent, yet never overdone. War is not about lens flares and other eye-candy effects. It's about realism and H&D always delivers. Hidden & Dangerous has full 3D hardware support, in fact it requires a 3D card. There are not many 3D models in the game, but those that are present are well designed. As your attention throughout the game is usually focused on your player model, there has been great effort to make its movements as realistic and fluid as possible. Little, authentic details have been added throughout the game to add to the realism and the credibility that you are fighting a war in the early 1940-s. As war is made up of many explosions, H&D does not displease with its amazing smoke and fire effects.
From the thundering gunfire to the stomping of soldiers on ground, the sounds of war in H&D are absolutely genuine and nearly perfect. Each stage has been represented accordingly with various atmospheric sounds. In the forest, you will hear birds chirping and whilst walking by a pub, you may hear a record playing a 40's classic. This attention to detail separates an average game from an excellent one. The musical score is completely appropriate for the game's theme. The music is made up of drum rolls and violins in authentic war themed songs. Unfortunately, there is no 3D sound card support, which could have added even further to the ability to immerse one into the game.
You are first presented with the game menu, which serves its functions perfectly and in no time, you already playing. Before a mission, you are given a brief description and you are required to pick a team with an arsenal of weapons and ammo. The mission goals and surveillance info are brought to you via a form of a narrated 3D modelled cutscene. Immediately afterwards you are thrown into the action. What impressed me most was that the missions vary greatly. Every mission is located in a completely different area, possibly at night or day. Weather conditions also vary from mission to mission. There are some hitches in the AI. These hitches seem to occur with your own computer controlled players. Often they will do rash, seemingly stupid actions, therefore I felt better when I had complete control. The game includes a map system, which you can use to automatically move men to various areas and to perform various actions. The menu is easy to figure out and performs otherwise tedious tasks. Also included, is a first-person perspective, which is used for more precise aiming and is used when the third-person view is no longer practical.
On the negative side, this game may prove to be too difficult for many gamers. As I previously mentioned, one error can lead to a mission failure. You have to be extremely careful and often enemies seem to fire from nowhere. There are no multiple save options and you are limited to only one save per mission. If you are constantly dying (as I found myself doing, all too often), you find yourself saving/loading most of the time and this can cause frustration. As with games like Commandos and Rainbow Six, many retries are needed to successfully complete a mission. Another slight flaw would have to be the control system. It takes some time to get used to and I recommend printing out the control keys. Sometimes you are unable to perform an action when needed to, which results in an untimely death. Another silly problem, or possibly a feature which has purposely been left out, is the ability to swim. It is quite amazing how these hardcore army veterans can drown and die in seconds when faced with the prospect of water. H&D is definitely for fans of this genre, yet may not be suitable for the die-hard Quake fan who needs a fix for his action needs. Your team is usually way behind enemy lines, the odds are against you and you have to keep your cool. Being extra discreet is the order of the day and a full frontal attack is never the solution. Many people have been moaning about the bugs, (Please note that this review is based on the UK release and there are plans to release a patch) but I believe these can easily be overlooked.
Hidden & Dangerous has support for IPX, TCP/IP, modem and serial connections. I had no problems whatsoever playing 2 player IPX over LAN, yet there have been reports of major problems regarding TCP/IP connections over the Internet. Multiplayer works exactly like single player, except there is an extra human controlling your team. This can make certain missions easier as long as there is communication between the two players. The host chooses the mission and the game is ready to play shortly. If you switch to a commando your friend is controlling, you are given a chase cam to view his actions.
When you are doing well, it is very satisfying to complete mission, but when the going get tough, the game can become irritating and tedious. The great graphics, sounds and atmospheric effects cause you to become completely immersed in the environment you are presented with.
I feel Hidden & Dangerous has blown a gust of fresh air over this relatively musty genre. I can barely fault it. It, however, is a difficult game - but whoever said that winning a war would be easy.