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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.
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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!
You're Either a shower person or a bath person. That is to say, you either like to experience a sudden rush of water to the ol' jangleberries and shoot off to work invigorated, or you prefer to wallow for hours in the water until your nuts have long since turned to raisons.
Not that we'd suggest Dangerous Waters favours either method of cleanliness, but with a manual in excess of 500 pages (in PDF form of course, the paper edition will set you back another $11), the latest title from this naval-simulation specialist is clearly one that reguires some serious time to get to grips with.
What you'll find is surprisingly varied, with a lengthy campaign to plough through, a near-infinite number of single missions and the ability to control planes, choppers, subs and surface craft. And let's not forget the other areas of warfare that you must tend to, ranging from deck guns to sonar stations.
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The trouble is that even if you've spent the last few years in the navy, you're still going to be all at sea getting to grips with it all. Thankfully most of it can be automated and the rest is fairly easy to pick up, but even so, you'll have to wade through those pages eventually if you want to get your money's worth. And even though the game is rich with tension (certainly enough to offset the mediocre graphics), unless you're at her majesty's pleasure, you probably won't have the time.