It's always especially frustrating when a game with obvious potential is marred by avoidable problems in interface and design. Unfortunately, Talonsoft's Hidden & Dangerous (H&D) falls neatly into this category. Based upon the World War 2 action/adventure style of such classic films as The Dirty Dozen, H&D is a tactical shooter which tasks the gamer with leading a group of covert Special Forces soldiers in espionage missions behind enemy lines. While the core gameplay is extremely impressive, there are just too many intrusive and irritating problems for the average gamer to tolerate.
As mentioned, H&D is a World War 2 era shooter in which you are placed in command of a platoon of specialist SAS soldiers, who are inserted behind enemy lines in Axis-controlled Europe. As is the case with other similar titles (Rainbow Six, Delta Force), H&D takes a realistic approach to the shooter genre, which means that one bullet is enough to end your mission in failure. The game can be played from either a first or third-person perspective, although the first-person view is clearly the most practical choice.
Gameplay centers on six single player campaigns, all of which are linear in nature and contain between three and six missions each. The campaigns must be played in sequence, so to access the second set of missions the first must have been completed. Before beginning a campaign, a squad of eight soldiers must be selected from a total pool of 40, all rated in a number of different skill categories (shooting, stealth etc). You'll also have to equip your platoon with a selection of WWII-era weapons, such as sniper rifles, grenades, mines and vintage binoculars. After the selection process, H&D treats you to a nice walkthrough of the upcoming mission, outlining the major geographical features of the terrain to be negotiated, and your primary and secondary objectives. This is extremely useful and well designed, and can be replayed at any stage during the current scenario.
Upon entering a mission, the graphical quality of the 3D engine created by developers Illusion Softworks is readily apparent. Terrain is perhaps the standout feature, as it provides a truly realistic environment for tactical combat. Hills and mountains roll away into the distance, while natural barriers such as rivers and streams are recreated with the utmost detail. The undulating nature of the landscape is vitally important to gameplay, since you'll need to utilize cover to suceed in this stealth-based game. There's also dynamic weather conditions, and beautifully modelled soldiers and interior environments. Perhaps the only disppointment in the graphics department is some minor clipping, but when considered within the overall effect this is negligible.
Mission design itself is where H&D truly stands out from the pack of similar titles. Put plainly, the 23 single player missions included in the game are among the most immersive and imaginative that I've had the pleasure of playing. There is such diversity in objectives, such as planting bombs, rescuing captured servicemen and infiltrating enemy strongholds, that no two missions are ever alike. Leaping on planes during take-off, donning German uniform and sneaking on-board a Nazi patrol boat, and using a Panzer tank to destroy a dam are just some of memories that H&D provides. Another unique feature during missions is the option of using vehicles to aid you in your exploits. Cars, trucks, tanks and boats can all be commandered, and the interface makes control of these relatively painless. The mission design is nothing short of superb, with an immersion factor that is rarely equalled in other tactical shooters.
Disappointingly, Illusion Softworks have managed to do the hard work, but failed in some elementary design areas. Only one save slot is available to capture your progress, and in the initial version of H&D the game forced you to return to the main menu screen to reload. While a patch has been released to make reloading easier, there is still only a single slot available, which is inadequate, especially during the more lengthy and difficult assignments.
AI is also frustratingly poor. Your squadmates are hopelessly difficult to control, often wandering away from the group only to be hit by a sniper's bullet (necessitating a reload. See above!). Issuing orders is supposedly very simple, and would be, if your soldiers followed them! There is a loose "programming" system, enabling you to instruct your buddies to perform certain synchronized behaviors, but in practise it's unwieldy and of little use. Ultimately, most gamers will reduce their platoon to just two or three active members in an effort to minimize frustration, but this of course only makes the game more difficult.
Maddeningly, it's these problematic flaws that tarnish Hidden & Dangerous, and prevent it from reaching its undoubted potential. The single player campaigns showcase some of the most innovative and refreshing missions that I've played, and multi-player options are also solid via modem, network and Internet. If a sequel is released that manages to retain and enhance the gameplay, while tying up the loose ends, it'll be something very special indeed. Sadly, H&D is best described as boxed potential, but consumers don't pay for potential. They pay for results.
Graphics: Stunning recreation of terrain and soldiers.
Sound: Very nice.
Enjoyment: Outstanding mission design but suffers from frustrating flaws.
Replay Value: Average length of gameplay in both single and multi-player modes.
People who downloaded Hidden & Dangerous have also downloaded:
Hidden & Dangerous 2, Homeworld, Jane's Fleet Command, Iron Warriors: T72 - Tank Command, Homeworld: Cataclysm, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, Homeworld 2, Heroes of Might and Magic 3
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