Written by  :  Ashley Pomeroy (233)
Written on  :  Nov 12, 2005
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  1.17 Stars1.17 Stars1.17 Stars1.17 Stars1.17 Stars

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I'm looking through you / you're not the same

The Good

Hidden and Dangerous was one of the first of the modern-day "soldier sims", which is to say that it was marketed as a realistic military simulation, a kind of Rainbow Six set in WW2. It was also one of the first major international successes from an Eastern European development team, and helped to establish the Czech Republic in particular as a hotbed of talent. As with the Rainbow Six, Hidden and Dangerous owes a little to the puzzle genre, particularly Commandos, a WW2 game which had been released the previous year.

The soldiers in Rainbow Six were rather like clockwork robots, in that you planned their movements in advance, before the beginning of each mission. Whilst playing the game you could order your soldiers to halt in place, and you could directly take over their movements one at a time, but you had no way to alter their programmed movements. If something went wrong, your plan fell to bits, and there were no way to flexibly improvise. It was as if the game was a simulation of the Soviet command economy. Hidden and Dangerous uses a system whereby you issue orders during the game, and it is this model which has become the standard. It works well, although you generally only use it to move your soldiers towards the action, or order them to watch a certain point, whilst you control them directly during the tricky parts.

There is a diverse range of missions, set in snowy Norway, the forests of France and on a ship in the middle of the ocean. I liked this game, I really did. I liked it a lot. There were more things to like that just this, I'm sure of it. But I cannot recall them now.

The Bad

It has become a cliché of tactical games that you should never, ever order your troops to throw grenades whilst under computer control; never. And that you should never order them to descend a ladder. Hidden and Dangerous is like this. The computer soldiers cannot be trusted to use grenades sensibly. They cannot be trusted to climb down a ladder without simply walking into space and dying.

In fact, and as with Rainbow Six, the computer can barely be trusted to move from place to place without getting lost, or stuck against a wall. Although you have several soldiers on the ground, you really have one soldier and some extra lives. Which can be killed whilst you are not looking. Your soldiers are very fragile, as in real life. Sometimes, due to bugs, they literally drop dead, or fall through the ground into empty space. And die. It is the kind of game where your soldiers are killed off instantly by specks in the distance.

Commandos, a contemporary of Rainbow Six and Hidden and Dangerous, was a straightforward old-school puzzle game with a WW2 setting. There was really only one way to complete a mission, and although Hidden and Dangerous is slightly more freeform not quite so picky, each mission generally has one single strategy for success. This usually involves picking off the enemy soldiers from a distance with your sniper rifle before sending your troops towards cover, at which point you scan the area and pick off more troops with your sniper rifle.

There isn't really any infantry combat in Hidden and Dangerous; the enemy do not miss, and the game is very frustrating in this respect. If the enemy soldiers spot your troops, they will shoot them dead in a split second. You therefore have to rely on your sniper rifle and your memory, edging forwards to where you know the enemy troops are hiding, and shooting at their silhouettes. There is a range of WW2 weapons and equipment with which you can equip your soldiers, but the sniper rifle is the only one that matters. And hand grenades, because on some missions you have to blow things up. And timed explosives. Three things. And the Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon, that's a fourth thing.

The game pioneered the use of in-game weapon sights, whereby you can choose to aim by looking through the sights of your player's weapon sprite rather than using an artificial on-screen crosshair. However, because there is no appreciable shot deviation, and every weapon seems to be lethal at every range, and because the computer-controlled soldiers can see you and shoot at you and kill you whilst they are still pixel-high specks in the distance, there is no reason not to use the sniper rifle. Your soldiers do not move like the marine in Doom; they have a certain amount of mass and, therefore, when you are in first-person mode you cannot spin around as fast as you might like. There are tanks in the game, a couple of which you can occupy, although you cannot move them around.

The game had a number of bugs, as mentioned before, and doesn't take well to running on anything other than a 3DFX card (the last time I played it the menu screens are often odd, and the timed explosives did not seem to work). One mission involves setting fire to some personnel files in a villa which the Germans are using as a headquarters. The files are kept in a long attic, which the game inwardly divides into three "zones", although it is really just one room. If you set fire to the zone nearest the door, but not the zones further into the room, you cannot subsequently complete the mission, because the flames do not spread. This is the kind of irritating gameplay bug which is common during the game.

Overall, I played this game to death when I first got it. It was, in 1999, a breath of fresh air; a military action game with a realistic tone set in WW2, a real "Where Eagles Dare". However, I came to loathe the game and despise it with all my soul. As with Commandos, the driving test sequences from the first Gran Turismo, Rick Dangerous, Jet Set Willy and other games from history which emphasise memorisation and ultra-precise repetition of a series of rote moves, the frustration factor of Hidden and Dangerous eventually outweighs the novelty. It like a cliff-edge, the drop-off point; even years later I would rather sit and pick my toenails than play this game again. Just writing about it, remembering it, makes me feel uneasy and nervous.

The Bottom Line

I still play Operation Flashpoint occasionally, because it is free-form; you are given a mission objective, and you are then free to approach the objective any way you decide, with whatever firepower you feel appropriate. Sometimes the enemy shoots at you, and misses. It can help to memorise the pattern of enemy soldiers, but if you keep your wits about you, you can theoretically finish every mission on your first go. That is a mark of a good game; that you can finish each mission on your first go, if you keep your wits about you and you are a skilled gamesplayer.

Hidden and Dangerous is a different kettle of fish entirely, but it is not a kettle filled with well-brewed tea, it is literally a kettle full of boiled fish, a disgusting roiling mass of pulped piscine matter, and it repulses me. You must play and die and play a little more and die, until you decide to burn holes in the game CD with a red-hot Opinel pocket knife with a lockable carbon steel blade.

Hidden and Dangerous repulses me because I loved it, for a time. But the love became sour and now I cannot see what I loved in it, and I despise myself for being so weak as to waste time with it. And part of me is worried that my hate might be unreasonable, because there was something there, a little spark of something that I loved, and perhaps I am the one who has changed. But no, I do not want to write any more about this game. It upsets me.