One of the star games of E3 2003 was undoubtedly Illusion Softwork's excruciatingly long-awaited sequel to Hidden & Dangerous - not that you'd have known about it even if you were lucky enough to attend the show. In its ultimate wisdom, Gathering decided to keep the game well and truly under wraps, and was only showing it off to a select few behind closed doors. Eurogamer was one of the lucky few to be lured into a padded white leather cell, tied up, gagged, and forced to watch an impressive demonstration of the Czech developer's current labour of love [I don't remember most of that -Tom].
Wiping out evil
The game follows the basic principles of the 1999 original (was it really that long ago?), in that you're guiding a four-man squad of elite SAS soldiers as they indulge in covert ops against the evil Nazi war machine. Set between 1941 and 1945, you play in all manner of foreign locales across 23 levels, taking in wildly different climates and locations including the Arctic, Africa, the Alps, Czechoslovakia and Burma.
As expected in this day and age, there are a variety of game modes to plough through in both solo and multiplayer. The single-player Campaign allows you to either play as part of a four-man squad (as usual), or plump for the Lone Wolf mode and go it alone. Carnage mode, meanwhile, necessitates that you kill every enemy on the map before you can progress. There are plenty of multiplayer variants to indulge as well, with standard Deathmatch included, as well as the co-op-based Skirmish mode and Occupation mode, which is like UT Domination.
Built using an enhanced version of the LS3D engine that powered Mafia, the visuals are a vast improvement on the original H&D, and a far better demonstration of the capabilities of Illusion's technology than the aforementioned mobster pop-up frenzy. The forest scenes on the Alps levels we saw, for example, have provided a magnificent canvas upon which the developers have delivered plenty of atmospheric set-pieces. The character models certainly look far more convincing, and with the right kit, PC owners are in for a beautiful game when it comes out - certainly far more impressive than the occasionally glitchy Vietcong, which Illusion also had a guiding hand in.
Solider soldier soldier soldier
As with the first in the series, players get to choose four soldiers from a roster of 40 individuals, each specced out with their own stats, which determine how much you can carry, how accurate they are with various weapons, how many hits they can take, etc. 'Same as last time' you'll be thinking, except this time RPG elements enable your squaddies to improve their capabilities as you progress, giving you even more reason to keep them alive than usual, something that could be difficult across the lengthy campaign. It's not clear how the experience system will work, but if they do die in combat, you will at least be able to replace them.
One of the best elements of the original H&D was the way it delivered its mission briefings, with a sweeping, rotating map and old school BBC voiceover. This time, Illusions has improved this area even more, with a delightfully stylish system that really sets the tone of the game. It's essentially a similar system, but the detail level and attention to detail is a vast improvement over the rather basic modelling of the levels in the original.
Perhaps the most ambitious and enlightening piece of the demonstration was the different ways of playing the game - in particular the wholly revamped strategy element of H&D 2. Last time out, we completed the entire game never using it once, thanks to the completely bugged path finding and rather rubbish interface. But whereas you could pretty much ignore the impenetrable and useless strategy planner in the original, the sequel's system is nigh on revolutionary, with an on-screen interface that will allow gamers to feasibly play the entire game as an RTS if they so wish. The commands you can give to each member will sound familiar, with the choice to command your group to 'go faster', perform a silent kill, be aggressive and so on, but at your command the viewpoint can pan out to an RTS-style isometric slant, displaying a level of gameplay flexibility that we're looking forward to putting through its paces when we get hold of playable code - hopefully sometime in September.
Similarly, the game can be played as a first person shooter if that's your preference, or the more standard third person view. Decisions, decisions. We're happier in first person, but that's a personal choice. Sometimes, though, it's plain impossible to be stealthy in first person. Switching views will undoubtedly be the order of the day.
Another cunning innovation is the decision to dispense with any "fog of war" nonsense. You will be able to see into the distance, of course, but if the enemy isn't in your line of sight, they won't appear on the terrain. There's none of the 'hide behind a tree and move your mouse viewpoint around to see who's there' type cheating, which can only be a good thing. Let's hope this element doesn’t make it unplayably hard.
Vehicles will also play a more prominent role, with promises of being able to pilot aircraft. We're not sure if this is veering onto OpFlash territory, but it'll be interesting to see how Illusion pulls it off. Again, it wasn't willing to demonstrate these elements quite yet, but we'll see soon enough.
Weather will also play a part, with fog, rain and snow all featuring in the game, as well as different lighting conditions. Happily, the system requirements are not expected to be too hefty - in fact Illusion reckons they'll be identical to Mafia, which doesn't seem to be such a system hog on our shiny new P4 system.
The storyline is still a closely guarded secret, but will overlap the events and developments of the war, with promises of historical accuracy, right down to individual weapons and uniform. We're hoping Illusion can deliver on its other promises of radically improved AI (who doesn't promise this, though?), and give us a more rounded experience than the punishing 'one shot and you're dead' mechanic used first time around. If it can deliver the same rich, tense atmosphere, then H&D 2 will undoubtedly end up as one of the games of the year.