Hidden and Dangerous 2 is an action WWII game - a sequel that took four years to materialize. It pioneered many facets of the WWII action game, including driveable vehicles, authentic weapons and sound. Hidden and Dangerous 2 doesn't tamper with the original's formula. You're still tasked to lead a squad of four soldiers on covert and guerilla operations behind enemy lines.
Illusion has chosen to follow the SAS again and this means there is a good mix of missions involved as the British had the privilege of defending their nearly one quarter of the world large empire. This means you'll be working amongst the snow in Norway, aiding Allies in Normandy, reclaiming colonial territory in Burma and participating in the fight against the Axis in North Africa. This is probably why those uniforms will come in handy as each Axis nation you come up against has a distinct look and feel, including authentic speech during the cutscenes (less so for the Japanese though). Some of the speech in game isn't even subtitled, which adds to the immersion even more.
Since the graphics engine is more sophisticated this time, there is more narration in the game itself. This opens up the plot and objectives a little more. You'll interact with characters that are crucial to the operation (mainly spies and resistance fighters), although there is no overarching storyline - just a bunch of SAS operational theaters strung together. Recall the classic 'defend' missions from the original Hidden and Dangerous. It was a great concept but used too often because the engine couldn't handle anything more sophisticated. This time around, the goods are here. Some of the missions involve significant Allied presence. They'll lay down cover fire to help you extract from the mission area. The most dramatic moments come during a nighttime naval raid for the Enigma machine and a mission where you have to storm a Japanese hill in Burma, supported by a Sherman tank and scores of British soldiers.
The mix of missions in Hidden and Dangerous 2 is quite varied. Sometimes they're varied for the wrong reasons. The puzzle missions are sometimes off the wall maddening. Driving through a desert minefield while being shot at was not my favorite outing. Escaping in a plane while being shot at by fighters wasn't a favorite either. The whole game is linear, so if your attempts are frustrated, it's back to the old trial and error (save and reload) ritual.
Vehicles still play some role in the game but not as big a role as before. By now, every WWII game maker and their dog have included the ability to drive and operate vehicles. Illusion is smart not to play this feature up anymore. You'll drive a series of jeeps and halftracks. Most stationary vehicles will be out of gas in order to discourage the use of them. The only trucks and APCs that show up are shuttling reinforcements or are part of patrols, and the British will rarely send the SAS against a whole armored battalion - they're much smarter than that and it'd be foolish for any soldier to think they can take out more than a few tanks per mission. The action is a lot more realistic than something like Medal of Honor. When you're pinned down by infantry and armor at a bank with the Americans, it's the reinforcements who bail you out - not the heroics of a single SAS operative.
This grounded realism has led to more satisfying weapons. There are a lot fewer automatic weapons and more bolt action rifles, but because all the Japanese, Germans and Italians you come up against have bolt action rifles (it wasn't until close to the end of the war, after all the urban fighting, that generals realized the value of the MGs and SMGs), firefights can often turn into something like an old western; patient waiting, aiming and guesswork between the two opponents.
Outfitting yourself has become more complex. Instead of choosing guns, ammo and explosives, you have to fit them in backpacks and pouches. You also get to choose a uniform - perfect for those stealth missions where you can steal uniforms off the body of dead Axis soldiers. Just make sure you're wielding the correct weapons. Those Germans sure know their guns. Never try to pass off a Colt 1911 as a German sidearm.
There are more animations for the characters this time around. Like
Splinter Cell, you can control your character's speed with the mouse wheel, and similar to Operation Flashpoint, a context sensitive menu pops up whenever you highlight over an object. Move your cursor over a door and it'll give you an option to pick the lock or open and close it.
One of the problems that plagued the original Hidden and Dangerous was its 3D engine. No matter how you sliced or diced it, it was inefficient and unable to render the huge amount of terrain and enemy soldiers that the developers often wanted. This resulted in infuriating sessions of hard disk chattering. I'm happy to report that none of that exists anymore on a modern machine. The draw distances are near limitless and if you ever get a chance, climb up to a high point (the mosque's tower in the North African oasis is a good choice) to see how detailed the rendering can get even from up far. It actually encourages you to seek a lofty perch to pick off guards before you approach your targets.
The ability to pause and plan your strategy via the use of waypoints is back too. This works like a cross between Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. For most of the missions, I really didn't see the need to use this too much. In theory, it's supposed to help you set up ambushes, especially when you want to catch the enemy off-guard by setting up simultaneous attacks or cross fires, but usually your team is pretty adept at handling themselves. Unless you lead them into a butcher's nest or leave them alone to face off a truckload of Axis reinforcements, they will be an effective asset to your team. During the night missions, when it's pitch dark, the lack of night goggles will lead you to rely on the eyes and ears of your fellow SAS members.
With that said, they still aren't anywhere near perfect. Your squadmates, allies and the enemy have trouble with their concept of line of sight. If they're crouching behind a rock, they can empty whole clips into a rock or tree that is between them and their line of sight for the target. Luckily, they will never take potshots at you when you're in their line of sight so friendly fire isn't an issue. Wasted ammo does bother me though. I like how Illusion worked in verbal commands to help keep the team cohesive. Your squad will let you know when they spot someone, when they've eliminated opponents and most importantly, if you're in their line of fire.
The developers still haven't solved the problem of tight enclosures though. When you're going through Japanese underground trenches or charred out buildings in Europe, often the stairwells can get too narrow. Obviously someone from Illusion knows about this because the camera snaps to first person view if the space is too cramped for a third person shot.
When you want to move and attack silently, Hidden and Dangerous 2 lets you issue whisper commands and hand signals to organize your attacks. I found these tactical orders much more effective than the old plan and command map. The covering fire feature is gold when moving against enemy strong points.
In spite of all the strengths, Hidden and Dangerous 2 is lacking in some areas. Once you finish all the missions, you have the choice to go through them via Lone Wolf or Carnage modes. The former is similar to Red Storm's Lone Wolf mode; finish the whole mission on your own. The latter increases the difficulty of the objectives and requires you to eliminate all opposition on each map, but once you get an idea for the timing and pace of the mission (when the surprise reinforcements show up, which vantage points to take when approaching an area), there isn't too much value in replaying them.
Multiplayer is a sore disappointment for Hidden and Dangerous 2.
Competitive play doesn't make up for the loss of co-operative play.
Conflict: Desert Storm, which literally stole the formula from Illusion, made two ill-fated appearances on the PC without one. Hidden and Dangerous used to have one and now mysteriously is missing one in the sequel. The missions are definitely more scripted now and perhaps less suited to co-operative play, but like Halo, I feel like there is a great void when I don't see it on screen.
Illusion's WWII action title has a more European feel to it. The voiceovers are convincingly authentic and the locales (including a closing homage to Czech developers) are fanatically detailed, but like Mafia, hardly any of it is functional and none of it is really destructible. I generally detest soundtracks that accompany realistic games. The death chimes in Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon are all that I can put up with, but Illusion's score here is riveting. It builds tension. Good movie soundtracks are able to do that. Hidden and Dangerous 2's soundtrack complements the action, heightening the drama.
The biggest threat for Hidden and Dangerous 2 is the timing of its release. Back in 1999, it was one of the very first WWII titles developed after the theatrical release of Saving Private Ryan in 1998. It got critical acclaim and was popular for being one of the few professional WWII action games around. The 2003 edition continues to be an intelligent action shooter but the four SAS versus hundreds of Axis soldiers can get a little old, and with the exception of Burma, nearly all of the operational theaters have been covered at one point or another. In autumn alone for 2003, you're looking at competition from EA's Battlefield 1942 expansion pack, Activision's Call of Duty, and EA's follow-up Medal of Honor game. That's a lot of WWII action games coming out at one time. I'm not sure whether Illusion's sequel will get the treatment it deserves this time around. Most probably in Europe, it will be more popular. In North America, where big bangs, high production values and cinematic 'rail shooters' reign supreme, the hint of frustration and subtle depth that Hidden and Dangerous 2 offers might not be so alluring, but for fans of the original, you owe it to yourself to try it out, even if you can no longer play the campaigns through with your friends.