Hidden & Dangerous represents the new breed of realistic squad-based action games, which demand shooter-style reflexes only in short controlled bursts and only during those dangerous moments when the enemy is actually in sight. Otherwise, high tension and anticipation dominate gameplay, as you carefully edge your way through enemy territory, hoping you aren't detected en route. In Hidden & Dangerous in particular, you'll edge your way through all kinds of German-occupied territory during World War II, commanding up to four soldiers to get in, clear up, and get out of situations that would be completely overwhelming if not for the element of surprise on your side. The game looks good and feels convincing, and although it's unstable and flawed and otherwise every bit as difficult as you would expect, Hidden & Dangerous is nonetheless an impressive and uniquely serious depiction of squad-level combat behind enemy lines.
They couldn't have thought too hard in naming the Insanity graphics engine that powers Hidden & Dangerous, but the developers at Illusion Softworks must have put a lot of time into making it look good. Almost all the nearly two dozen missions in the game are completely different and take place during all kinds of weather conditions during all hours of the day and even on different terrain, from midair to the high seas. You can play from either a third- or first-person perspective, with the former being better suited to maneuvering, while the latter is ideal for targeting, and the game looks good either way. There's a lot of visual variety in Hidden & Dangerous as well, though none of it is too detailed if you stop and stare. Your troops and the enemy, while blocky-looking at times, are finely articulated with realistic motion-captured animation and clearly discernible weapons. Though those weapons sound a little weak, the game's thunderous explosions and other ambient effects, not to mention its booming orchestral soundtrack that responds to the action onscreen, all help to make the game's environments totally convincing. And you'll feel the tension every time you put an unassuming grunt in your sights.
While your reflexes will make all the difference when you square off against the enemy, you'll never even have a chance to test them unless you plan your every step and navigate carefully and slowly. Most every German soldier you'll face has keen vision and incredible marksmanship to match, meaning if he sees you before you see him, you're dead. Of course you'll have three men remaining with whom to accomplish the mission, but you'll probably end up retrying every encounter until all your troops make it home. In order to survive, you need to inch your way forward, keeping out of sight, using binoculars or a sniper scope to make sure the coast is clear. You must be ready to dispatch any guards or patrols quickly, and you must make sure your own snipers have submachine-gun backup in the event of a close encounter. You can also coordinate more complicated maneuvers thanks to an overhead tactical map that lets you sequence simultaneous actions as though you were composing music, but this coordination demands a lot of practice.
Even if you take every precaution, Hidden & Dangerous still demands trial and error. You'll witness your men get gunned down mercilessly time after time, but once you know where the threat is coming from (the camera conveniently zooms to your soldier's killer), you'll stand a better chance of circumventing disaster the next time around. Then again, being able to aim well and shoot first and survive is only half the problem. Before each mission and campaign in Hidden & Dangerous, you need to select your team and their equipment. The idea, apparently, is for you to anticipate the obstacles you'll face and to deploy and pack accordingly, but the execution of this planning phase isn't much fun. Of the three dozen-odd soldiers at your disposal, only a few excel at marksmanship, reaction time, or stealth. Once you realize troops with high shooting scores are perfect snipers while those with good reactions make ideal backup, you'll find yourself using the same soldiers again and again. It doesn't help matters that all your soldiers basically look and sound identical.
Outfitting your team with equipment is an especially cumbersome affair, as the game's completely counterintuitive interface forces you to transfer items and ammo to your men individually and with far too many mouse clicks. In fact, this clunky interface invades the entire game, and you'll feel it worst when you realize it takes about five steps to load a saved game, whereas it ought to take one. Although the game does offer an option for the computer to outfit your squad for you automatically, it may just as well be a self-destruct button since this so-called feature results in a game crash more often than not.
That the computer-assisted equipment selection is broken is the first evidence that much is amiss with Hidden & Dangerous, whose technical flaws are manifest in countless ways. There's little question, for instance, that the game's artificial intelligence has serious problems. Setting point-A-to-point-B waypoints for your troops oftentimes results in their frolicking all about the map as though it were a Family Circus cartoon rather than a Nazi internment camp. Although enemy soldiers are preposterously and unreasonably accurate, they're dumb as rocks otherwise and ignore their dead and fail to work together to stop you. They merely lie in wait or patrol about and do not respond to hostile situations in a convincing fashion. At least they die realistically. And aside from AI and interface problems, the game is chock-full of glitches and crashes and other inconsistencies. Your men perish if they fall so much as three feet. Sometimes they float in the air, or their weapons vanish, or texture maps drop out. And the camera goes wild, the game crashes whenever, and so on. You shouldn't have to put up with problems like these, especially within what's essentially a good game.
Yet such flaws can be tolerable if you choose for them to be. The fact is this game looks good and its missions are big, unique, and complicated, even as the tension continues to mount with each one. Hidden & Dangerous is the only convincing World War II tactical combat simulation out there, and it can be an immensely satisfying experience during those rare times that you successfully coordinate your men to achieve one of the game's multifaceted objectives. Ultimately, if its premise appeals to you, then Hidden & Dangerous is worth all the effort it takes to play. At the same time, you'll feel frustrated that it isn't perfect, since it comes so close in so many different ways.