To qualify for a ‘Dusty But Trusty’ article, a game must be old enough to vote in the Federated States of Micronesia, buy tobacco in Algeria, and serve in the Pontifical Swiss Guard. More importantly, it must be demonstrably super, smashing, great, ace, wizard, bonzer, the knees of the bee, the testicles of the dog, and the whiskers and pyjamas of the cat. You don’t need rose-tinted pince-nez or a cutting-edge pixel pump to enjoy 24 karat golden oldies like… Hidden & Dangerous 2.
The Czech city of Brno is the birthplace of two WW2 wonders. One – the famously accurate and reliable Bren gun – makes regular appearances in the other – the uncommonly atmospheric and replayable Hidden & Dangerous series.
Like its 1999 predecessor, a tactical shooter with little interest in the fury and spectacle of front-line warfare, Hidden & Dangerous 2 (2003) draws inspiration from the behind-enemy-lines antics of Britain’s Special Air Service. Mission objectives include sabotage, materiel destruction, assassination, abduction, and intelligence gathering. Usually you’re expected to accomplish goals with a hand-picked, hand-equipped team of four stat-endowed sentry slayers, all of whom can be individually controlled with keyboard and mouse if you’d rather not rely on the perfectly serviceable order issuing system.
Lovingly crafted and astonishingly varied, more often than not levels invite and reward tactical experimentation. The handful of cramped, corridor-shaped environments – an alpine pass, a wreckage-strewn railway tunnel, a rue of French ruins… – are linear for logical reasons and used as interludes in the campaign. Generally, you’re roaming naturalistic villages and airfields, factories and forts, schlosses and sub pens… large rambling locales pleasingly free of the sort of clumsy artificial barriers employed as player funnellers in other FPSs.
Amongst the most memorable maps are an Arctic weather station with a surfaced U-boat close-by, a beautifully observed Czech village with a church at its centre, and a sprawling tank-haunted North African aerodrome that cries out to be vandalised in classic SAS fashion. All levels abound with the sort of bespoke details and textures that Illusion Softworks – God rest their souls – prided themselves on. You never find yourself thinking “Not that wallpaper pattern again!” or “I must have seen that bloody beer bottle a hundred times!” in H&D2.
While missions sometimes bring to mind classic war cinema, the movies in question are Sixties romps like Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone, and The Heroes of Telemark not darker, newer flicks such as Saving Private Ryan, Inglorious Basterds, and Fury. Fortunately, Radek Havlíček and chums were too smart and too committed to plausibility and tactical freedom to indulge in crude, intelligence-insulting war-is-hell cutscenes and pantomime Nazi villains.
Which isn’t to say H&D2 doesn’t have a conscience. Occasionally, armed foes in desperate situations surrender and at least once during the campaign you’re ordered out of a room by an irate German surgeon more concerned about the plight of his patient than the weapon pointing in his direction.
The silenced firearms available to your sly mayhemists tend to be useful rather than essential. The raucous rant of an unsuppressed Sten or a commandeered StG 44 may make a task trickier, but it’s rarely a reason to reach for Escape. The same goes for conspicuous corpses. Concealing the bodies of slain foes in secluded nooks is possible and potentially helpful, but Hitman: The WW2 Years this is not.
Although you won’t find enemy infantry capable of teamwork, flanking, and suppressive fire here, the Axis troops that populate maps are sufficiently eagle-eyed, inquisitive, and quick on the trigger to moisten palms and parch lips. Would they top more Tommies if they were more enthusiastic grenadiers? Almost certainly, but playing ‘lone wolf ‘ on the highest difficulty setting (no saves) without crosshairs or the radar-style threat-indicating compass, even Arma and Ghost Recon old sweats will sweat.
Ironically, in the original game at least (The version of H&D2 sold by GOG and Steam comes with Sabre Squadron, a solid add-on boasting slightly improved AI) your men are far more likely to be wounded by stick grenades they’ve thrown themselves than ones hurled by opponents. A hard-to-master guidance-free tossing mechanic and rifleable corpses see to that.
Plundering the fallen is one of H&D’s guiltier pleasures. Assuming you’ve equipped your men sensibly, and aren’t too trigger-happy, you shouldn’t need to rely on scavenged hardware and ammo to prevail, but as recovered weaponry gets added to the campaign armoury and enemies always seem to have the nattiest headgear, pillaging can be awfully hard to resist.
How much filched gear a character is able to carry is determined by his strength attribute. Like most attributes strength increases as the campaign progresses, assuming the person in question sees action and avoids lethal encounters with slugs, shrapnel, terra firma, and teeth*. Naturally, losing operatives with impressive medal collections and lengthy skill bars is more painful than losing greenhorns.
* Falls can kill, and now and again sentries are accompanied by bad-tempered canine sidekicks.
Throw a camo net over the mercifully brief outing in a hijacked Ju 88 bomber, and the game makes good use of vehicles. It’s rare that you’re compelled to abandon Shanks’ pony, but from time to time a map will dangle a truck, motorcycle combination, or staff car in front of the player, then sit back and savour the result.
The fact that H&D2’s North African airfield level is one of my favourites doubtless has something to do with the fact that hell can be raised with the help of a Willys jeep, a BMW motorcycle combination, or an Opel Blitz AA truck.
Ballistically, there’s not a great deal to grumble about. Most weapons may be fired from the hip or, for greater accuracy, using iron sights. Crosshairs dilate dramatically when running. SMGs have a tendency to rise when long bursts are fired, and really come into their own during FIBUA. Maps are large enough and scopes sufficiently restless to make long distance sharpshooting challenging. Although bullets never ricochet, they possess sufficient vim to pass through wooden doors. Would I like to be able to fire the Bren without going prone, and steady rifles on convenient surfaces? Yes, but “Melee alternatives to the Fairbairn-Sykes dagger” was always higher on my improvements wishlist.
In theory it’s possible to complete the 29 campaign missions without ever squeezing a trigger personally. Those who’d rather plot than slot can hang back using the RTS-style tac view or on-screen command menus to manoeuvre team members.
Reluctant to injure the illusions Illusion Softworks conjure so skilfully, I do most of my order issuing in first-person view. Hidden & Dangerous 2 is too thrilling and too singular an FPS to be played as if it was Men of War.