Updated: October 18, 2011
Hidden & Dangerous II, abbreviated HD2 is a World War II first person shooter. Now, if you've never played the game, you may classify it as a typical shooter, with tons of weapons and a mindless shoot-them-all strategy. The thing is, it's one of more refined war simulations ever made. Not surprising, since like Operation Flashpoint, it was created by the Czechs, and these guys make highly realistic titles, always. There's a blanket national flattery statement right there.
On Windows 7, the game will not run if you do not permit a UAC elevation of privileges. Even then, the resolution will be limited to just 1024x768, so the game will most likely run sort of windowed in a chunky black border, but do not let that distract or dismay you. Very quickly, you'll get immersed into the plot and not care for what Crysis fanboys might refer to as olden graphics and whatnot. Because this game is a blast.
You are ...
A member of the British Special forces, no other than the legendary Special Air Service (SAS). You begin by choosing your squad, a total of four men with witty mustaches and witty names. If you thought Cecil is a girl's name, think again.
There's quite a few soldiers available, so make your choices wisely. Every soldier is distinguished by a handful of characteristic traits, like stamina, strength, shooting skills, first aid skills, and more. You should build a team that covers all important aspects, so you don't end up with four perfect shooters with no lock picking skills or stealth. Your missions will be many and varied, and you will require all of those skills eventually.
After you select your team, there's a brief training to get you familiar with the game commands. The interface can be a little puzzling. You can step into any of the four characters and command them individually or play the squad leader and issue orders to your men. You can also use the tactical camera view to setup your men and assign them with tasks. In this regard, HD2 steps away from the classic shooter. In a way, it's a blend of Operation Flashpoint and Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory.
Once you're ready, you will begin the campaign, which consists of several sub-campaigns. The missions loosely focus on historical events, so you'll enjoy a bit of reality as well as get exposed to a range of theaters, weapons and even cultures. The subtle differences in how Germans and Italians and Japanese fight are not omitted in the game.
Before every mission, you will have the ability to arm your men. I'd say, go for Recommended Selection, as the choice is simply mind-boggling. You have so many weapon types and auxiliary tools available, including spare uniforms, lock picks, wire cutters, ammunition, and more. You can't carry too much, so no Rambo.
And remember! Most missions in each sub-campaign follow where the last one ends, so whatever weapons and tools you have, you will have to carry on into the next missions, sometimes without being able to replenish your stocks. Therefore, it is critical to choose a balanced load. You should mix in all types. For instance, arm yourself with a sniper rifle, but make sure your comrades carry machine guns and suppressed weapons and knives, and that you have anti-tank rockets and explosive charges when they are needed. Cameras for spy missions are also crucial. And don't forget medikits.
Now, don't despair if you choose a sub-optimal load. You will be able to pick anything your dead enemies drop, including their uniforms. And Germans have the lovely MP40 sub-machine gun, which is just stellar.
You begin in the far north, in the arctic circle, with Operation Snowball. Then, you hop south into the arid desert of Northern Africa. After that, you fight in Norway, Burma, the Alps, participate in the Normandy landing and finally clash with Germans and even Russians in Czechoslovakia. But then, that's what SAS really did.
Most of your missions will consist of several objectives, none simple or straightforward. Quite often, you will need to sneak around rather than brute-force your way through. There will be shooting, but don't be disappointed if there's only a handful of enemies to kill. You will have to cooperate with local agents, collect intelligence reports and sometimes just survive without being detected.
I dare say HD2 is a fairly realistic game. There are many simplified elements of combat, which could spoil the perfection, but they blend well in the overall scheme. You may not see the most accurate ballistics, but there are tons of random elements that compensate for the simple shooting thrill. The artificial intelligence is interesting. You get brave soldiers and you get cowards. Sometimes, they'll lob grenades at you, sometimes they will run. They will flank and drive vehicles and take their time deciding what to do. There will be no bunnyhop glory, just a slow and somewhat messy fighting with the rather primitive weapons of that era.
Anti-armor combat is gritty and primitive. Panzerfaust rockets are slow and weak and wobble when they fly, so you will have to hop close to lumbering tanks and aim high to get the trajectory right. I even remember one of the French missions, where I chased a Tiger on foot for about four hundred meters before I could fire my Bazooka. That was a near fail mission, but great fun.
Planes will also attack you a few times, mostly in the open desert. You'll have German Me-109 strafe the ground around you. And your squad will spread and bravely fire their rifles back. You might get lucky and score a hit, but don't get your chances too high. Even so, it's fun, even if slightly suicidal. And while you're at it, avoid the minefields.
As an SAS commando, you're also a saboteur, more than you're an infantry grunt. So you can shoot and throw grenades, but your true expertise is in identifying and using technology and tools and operating new weapons, collecting data and sabotaging enemy facilities. Just be careful with the timer on those explosive devices, as you could end up blowing yourself up inside a locked bunker. That's a Darwin Awards way to go.
The combat will take you everywhere, secret underground arctic bunkers where aerodynamic and turbo engine research is done, the crammed confines of diesel-smelling submarines, the rot and mud forest floor in the jungles of the southeast Asia. It's colorful and terrifying at the same time.
Some of the missions will be really unique and fun. You will have to fly a plane and evade enemy fighters through an Indiana Jones slash Iron Eagle style canyon. You will be able to operate a 7.9mm machine gun turret, so it's not all just nail biting and idle frustration. And you will also be charged with laying down depth charges against the hull of an enemy battleship Tirpitz, while you try to steal the Enigma machine codes.
If you complete your missions well, you'll get promotions, medals, ranks and even stamina boosts, which are the only unreal part, but you can translate that into would-be experience, so you kind of become a better soldier.
HD2 has quite a few beautiful, realistic elements you don't see elsewhere.
Enemy soldiers can surrender
I have never seen this in another game. But during battles, enemy soldiers will sometimes surrender to you. Or they may get up, throw their weapons and wander around in shock. You can kill them, you can let them be, or you can capture them. Now, I don't know if this is intentional or not, but the Italian soldiers surrender far more than their German counterparts, and the Japanese never do. Moreover, in the African desert campaign, the Italian soldiers fight less ferociously.
You can also only wound your enemies. They will fall down incapacitated, but you cannot capture them or heal them, which is a bit shame really. Sometimes, you will have to kill all your enemies, and shooting wounded soldiers in cold blood is just not noble.
An important part of the game is the interaction with non-playable characters - local informants, downed pilots, doctors who care nothing for the war and only want to cure people. You could easily dismiss them, but some missions require that you cooperate with them. You cannot go about killing everyone. Hidden & Dangerous II places emphasis on the non-combat elements of clandestine special forces missions, again, something you don't often see elsewhere.
Most games place little emphasis on stealth. In HD2, you control your speed using the mouse wheel, so you can crawl or sprint. You can also order your men to attack with stealth or full force. And they will listen, creeping forward quietly, using knives and suppressed weapons when you need quiet. You will sometimes sneak on tired, dozing enemy guards. And you will have the choice to use your loud guns or dispose of them silently.
Hidden & Dangerous is not just another game. It's a first person shooter all right, but it has so many unique features and options that it stands out from the standard genre. I am now in the middle of a campaign, for the third or the fourth time, so most of the screenshots are from the earlier missions. But I'm loving it. This may be an old game, with mediocre graphics, but it has something that goes beyond technology and the number of shaders your mighty card can support.
I really like Hidden & Dangerous II. It's an under-appreciated title, which has slipped under the radar of most fans, probably because it was special in its own way, a blessing and a curse. I can imagine why the classic gamer might not approve of some of the content, as it's dutiful rather than action-packed. But the balance is just right, and the random and unique stuff just spice everything up. If you have the game somewhere on a shelf, perhaps you may want to give it a try. I'm sure you will rekindle an old passion, just like I did. A game from 2003, quite possibly irrelevant today. But does that have any relevance? No. Fun is timeless. Enjoy.