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PC Review - 'Hidden & Dangerous 2'

by Ben Zackheim on Dec. 3, 2003 @ 1:47 a.m. PST

Hidden & Dangerous 2 is a first and third person tactical shooter that builds upon the tremendous success of Hidden & Dangerous. You lead a small squad of Allied soldiers deep behind enemy lines, to carry out secret missions during World War II. The gripping story line takes you to Europe, Africa, Burma, and other locations scattered across the globe. Each critical decision impacts you, your men, and your country. This unique blend of action, strategy, and tactics forces you to use your brain just as much as your trigger finger.

Genre: Action/Tactical
Developer : Illusion Softworks
Publisher : Take 2
Release Date : October 21, 2003


And the biggest war of them all continues.

At this rate the number of hours people will spend online playing World War 2 games will dwarf the number of hours real soldiers spent fighting the actual war. Anyone keeping track of this? That being said, take a look at what’s come out in the last couple of years with WW2 as the setting. Battlefield 1942, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor. Not a bad lineup. Maybe designers are more apt to give special attention to a game with the Greatest Generation as its heroes. Hidden and Dangerous 2 joins the ranks of good WW2 games – but with some problems that keep it from joining the other classics.

Hidden and Dangerous 2 tracks the exploits of the highly trained and highly secretive SAS (Special Air Services), a group of Brits who succeeded in busting up the best-laid Axis plans. If I had to characterize it, Hidden and Dangerous 2 is the Ghost Recon of World War 2 games. This means it tries to do a little bit of stealth and a lot of action -- a tough mix that no game but Ghost Recon has been able to pull off, in my opinion. Hidden and Dangerous 2 gets close but it misses.

From the start, Hidden and Dangerous 2 hints at being different from the other WW2 games on the market. After watching the first of a series of very well-done cut scenes, you choose a roster of highly individual and interesting soldiers to head into the missions. In teams of four you’re assigned missions ranging from search and destroy to infiltrate and apprehend. By the time you’re done with this game you’ll have bombed airfields, broken into underground labs, attacked a secret fortress in Burma and been led by a beauty through Axis-infested hallways dressed as a Ratzi. You choose your team at the outset, pairing up the right man and the right tools for the mission at hand. If you’re unsure of the best configuration you can have the computer decide the best mix for you. Weapons are well-done with the familiar staples of WW2, like bolt-action rifles, sniper rifles, knives, wire cutters, explosives, etc. It’s a good idea for the newbie to let the AI take over here. Once you get deeper into the game, though, it gets to be a lot of fun to cherry pick your best talent and your favorite arsenal. Be careful, sometimes your gear needs to last a real long time. You can scavenge items in the game but hold on tight to those tools you know you’ll need since the missions have sub-missions and you can be on the ground longer than you think.

You start the game in a frustrating training mode that left me scratching my head as often as I was clicking the mouse. Frustrating because it’s never very clear where you’re supposed to go from one training spot to the next. A bug in the game prevents the player from opening the doors to the next level on the first try. So I spent a lot of time running around looking for somewhere to play only to find that trying to open the door the second time finally succeeded. Grrrr. Luckily I only ran into this kind of flaw a few more times in the game. But for those of you out there who get tripped up on this, you must persevere!

The missions are both brilliant and bland, but mostly brilliant. Brilliant levels like one in the jungles of Burma are balanced by bland ones like one outside a factory in Norway. As refined as I like to think my tastes are, I tend to like levels where I get to blow stuff up and kill lots of Nazis. In the absence of Nazis I’ll accept their allies as targets. So the parts in HD2 where there’s lots of action I give a big thumbs up. The levels where I need to take photos of secret plans? Well there might be a lot of action on the way there but there’s just something missing when you’re risking your life for a snapshot. Along the same lines, I found that the best levels are the ones where you bring the whole team in. Some of the levels have you go it alone and I didn’t find these as intriguing. HD2, like Ghost Recon, gives you control over any soldier on your team. If you feel someone needs to be placed perfectly for your plan to work you can just change to his POV and set it up. Swapping characters is an essential tactic since the only way you’re going to win is if you’re crafty enough to assign different members of the team complementary instructions. HD2, with all of its interface problems (which I’ll get to in a minute) handles the switch between characters very well. The bottom line on the level design is there are many ways to beat a level – the true sign of a well-made game, in my mind.

The controls in the game are a far cry from your standard shooter. They’re excellent in the sense that you can control multiple characters very well. But they’re lacking ease-of-use for the FPS side of the game. When you go up to an object that you can use you’re forced to right-click to get a menu of options. You can open the drawer, inspect it, close it, etc. This Deus Ex-type tool is useful for the stealth aspects of the game. But when it comes to action, like online play, the feature is just a pain. But the tactical part of the game is well-served by the control scheme. In addition to switching between soldiers, there’s the tactical map. The tactical map screen can be accessed quickly and gives you the ability to issue orders to your team with detailed accuracy. Using the map switches the game into more of a turn-based experience. This is where your micromanagement skills come into play. It’s an innovative feature that’s lots of fun to use. The right-click context menu might not be great for FPS action but it works well when issuing commands to your team.

HD2 offers a nice helping of online play though I found the attendance was underwhelming during primetime. You get Occupation mode where you try to take over as much of territory as possible, deathmatch mode which is self-explanatory and Objective, where one team tries to prevent the other from achieving a set of goals.

As far as the graphics go, the missions take place in exotic locales like Burma (which looks awesome), North Africa and Austria. All of the settings are beautifully done and convey a strong sense of place. There’s a feeling they’ve been occupied by real people --footprints on the ground, half-eaten meals, historically accurate architecture and furnishings. No complaints here. Occasionally, there are your standard clipping issues and a disappearing wall will pop up once in awhile but nothing worth docking points for. I’ll save that for the bigger problems later. The character animations are ample, though not outstanding. They have individual faces and their bodies move in realistic ways for the most part. The movement can be jerky but we’re all used to that by now, right? The game uses the LS3D engine so vehicles look great but are as much of a pain to control in HD2 as they were in Mafia -- the other big game that uses the engine. Using a jeep in HD2 made me feel 15 again. I kept looking to my right to see if my dad was covering his eyes as I barreled into a Harley. The LS3D engine still looks good and certainly is enough to handle the environments in this game very well. It’s not top-of-the-line but it’s just fine for what it is.

The audio is also well done with a good soundtrack that adds to the sense of being in a movie and ambient sounds that are really fun in surround. When you fire a gun it sounds real, not over-the-top. Footsteps have some variety to them and even the silence of a foggy night feels right. All-in-all I was impressed with the sound design. Kudos!

And, now, the end of kudos.

Perhaps the biggest issue I had with the game are the bugs. Lots of them! From hard crashes to the game exiting to Windows to things not going as scripted in the game, there are a lot of loose ends in HD2. Unfortunately a lot of these bugs can be witnessed in the first few minutes of gameplay. Never a good thing. As I played I began to expect them, also not a good thing. You need to go to the Flash-heavy, audio blasting monstrosity of a website to get the latest patch, I’m afraid. If you can brave the cold of the arctic in HD2 then you can try to stand the URL. The patch seems to address a number of the problems I came across. I think it’s promising to see the patch come out so quickly after launch though I have to ask the same question every other irritating reviewer has to ask …why weren’t they squashed before launch?

As of this writing the AI still has some serious issues which can be irritating in the heat of battle. Your command list might be extensive but when the commands aren’t followed…well, what’s the point right? I experienced everything from soldiers stuck in doorways to ignored orders for “hold fire” to enemies spotting me through a wall. Nothing will take you out of the moment more than these disasters. For the most part I’d say the AI behaves well more often than not but that’s hardly praise for a game that requires good AI to succeed. It makes sense that the toughest part of any game design is the weakest point of HD2 but that still doesn’t excuse it. If the AI were better this game’s final grade would have gone up exponentially. I’d be willing to give HD2 another review if I were informed of a patch that promised big AI changes because HD2 could be as good as Ghost Recon with the right tweaks. And that’s some high praise, people.

Alas, the game is what it is and as of this writing it’s fun, but it could have been an all-time favorite. Strong level design, good graphics, excellent action and tactical controls and considerable depth all add up to something worth buying. Even subtracting the wonky first-person shooter controls, grade A bugs and iffy AI still isn’t enough to knock the shine off this diamond in the rough.

Score : 8.2/10

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