Hidden & Dangerous 2
What the bloody hell kind of a name for a modern gaming hero is Gordon Freeman? Undoubtedly a very good scientist, (and as it transpires, handy with a wide variety of weapons), the bespectacled Mr Freeman is hardly a match for the likes of Maximillian Payne, let alone Duke Nukem. No, if you want to get anywhere in the fickle world of action games, you need a name to match.
I'm sure Valve is kicking itself that, had it called Half-Life's hero something like Rock Stoneballs, the game would've been a lot more successful. The fools.
By the same token, it looks like Illusion Softworks is also setting itself up for a fall with the sequel to its WWII action/strategy classic Hidden & Dangerous, by calling the central figure... get this... Gary Bristol. I mean, guys, come on... Gary? They may as well have called him Brian, Colin, Kevin or Dave. Now I'm no WWII veteran, but I've never met anyone over the age of 70 called Gary anyway, so in terms of realism this isn't what you'd call a great start.
And they were so close as well. By making Gary a Major in the British Army, the creators of Hidden & Dangerous 2 were almost there - if only they'd left the first name to the imagination and put an 's' on the end of the surname. Tee-hee. Or what about calling him Major Lee Hugh-Jubblies. Ha ha ha...
Still, as they say in Hollywood, it's not the actors that matter, only the acting. In the case of Hidden & Dangerous 2, if it were a film, it would probably be rubbish. Thankfully, like its two-year-old predecessor, H&D2 is a computer game, and as such looks set to not only look better, but play better too. Not only that, but in the guise of Major Melons, they have a central character that will (the developers hope) turn what were once a series of sequential missions into a drama-fuelled action game played against a backdrop of war. Well, that's the plan. The point is that in the first game, all of Germany was the enemy, its soldiers a merciless bunch of sausagesucking evildoers. But in Hidden & Dangerous 2, it's one particular SS officer that is the ultimate target of our band of warriors - the others are only, of course, following zehr orders.
"The system is kind of the same," says H&D2's lead designer TomaS Pluharik. "You control up to four soldiers - all at once, or all directly by switching between them - who go on missions behind enemy lines. The difference is now there's a main character, who you can't allow to die."
Hidden & Dangerous 2 is, however, much more than the same game with a new cast. Veterans may remember that although you could switch to a cumbersome 3D map and plot way-points for your troops, in reality it was much better to control each soldier directly and treat the others as if they were extra lives. In the sequel we can expect true squad tactics, where you control one character and your computer-controlled apes do what you tell them to do - quickly. No fiddly 3D map, no confusing interface.
'The main difference now is that you can issue orders from the tactical map which are processed in real time," says Tomas. "If something goes wrong, you can change things very quickly and easily."
Thankfully, it isn't just the interface and AI of the Allies that has been improved. The enemy too should react realistically, which in part is why the game will take probably another year to complete. "Soldiers will react to gunfire, to sounds and on sight," says Tomas. "But at the moment there is still a lot to do because what we want to create is true co-operative AI, where not only do units react to what they see and hear, but they also work together. What we want to create isn't so much artificial intelligence as artificial life."
Big words there, and if this were just two men in a room with a microphone, such a comment could be waved away as hot air. As it is, a top-of-thc-range PC was also in attendance and by way of example TomdS loaded up a level, set within a picturesque farm near a gently flowing river... and bloomin' Germans everywhere.
"Here, for example, we have an officer giving orders to his men, to find two other German soldiers and investigate a crashed car. You'll see that if a German officer is in sight of his soldiers, they will follow their orders more quickly. If they are out of the line of sight of their commander, they will patrol slowly as there is no need to run."
Sure enough, while the German commander looked on, the soldiers ran to find their comrades, while Tomas, in control of a British commando, watched from over the hill. As soon as the soldiers rounded the comer they slowed down. Of course, such a demonstration could have been a cheap trick, but as an example of what Illusion Softworks is trying to achieve, Hidden & Dangerous 2 promises to be more than just your average sequel.
Trying to avoid German patrols, Tom&§ continued on his mission. Over the next few minutes we saw more impressive examples of this 'cooperative AT, new driveable vehicles -and yes, even tanks. Most impressive of all, we watched Tomas take aim at a German and shoot his helmet off, leaving the private confused and visibly shell-shocked. Then, as if straight from the beaches of Saving Private Ryan, the stunned German fell to the ground, a telling circle of red between his eyes. Not so much gory as faintly unnerving. Impressive, though. "Your helmet can save your life," smiled Tomas.
Arse Bum Fanny
Firing up a mission set across the North African desert, we Finally managed to gauge just how impressive the new 3D engine really was. On a clear day - and there may be a few that aren't - you can see far into the distance. With one level promised to be 5Km long, I could envisage seeing far beyond, should there be a beyond to look into, the curves of the sand infinitely more impressive than Delta Force: Land Warrior's crude polygons.
"Just this sand has about 80,000 polygons; some have up to 150,000 polygons," said Tomas. It looked more like 78,000 but I wasn't about to argue. "We now have a ballistics system that will map the points of trajectory of every bullet that is fired," said Tomas as he seemed to blindly fire computer-generated bullets into the dirt. "We can also check the speed of the bullet. For instance, a sub-machine-gun has a comparatively low muzzle velocity, and we check this speed against the material each bullet hits. If it hits a wooden wall and gets through, then it will lose energy as it passes through, perhaps stopping when it hits another wooden wall."
It's at points like these that one just nods politely. Impressed by the lengths developers take to make a game as realistic as possible, such features would probably go unnoticed had they not been mentioned. Talk of fixed machine-guns, flame-throwers and smoke grenades, however, piqued my interest, only for me to discover that to see them in action I would have to wait a couple more months.
But, as was the case with the first instalment of Hidden & Dangerous, it wasn't so much the talk that impressed, as the walk through the game when it finally arrived. First-person action coupled with squad-based strategy is always a winning combination and when you place it slap-bang in the middle of WWII, you're always going to pick up a few votes. The simple fact is that Hidden & Dangerous 2 looks every bit as impressive as when we saw Hidden & Dangerous. More multiplayer options, better graphics and big swinging jugs - plus of course Gary Bristol, gaming's latest hard man.
Download Hidden & Dangerous 2
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
Hidden & Dangerous 2 Screenshots and Media
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