Danger Close…………………Please……Hello?

I need to have this conversation. Or this rant. Or, ok, not a rant, but this subject needs to be ejaculated all over my blog in shower of devotion, admiration, and more importantly, hope.

“Hope is a dangerous thing, hope can drive a man insane”. So said Ellis Boyd Redding (Red to his friends) played by Morgan Freeman in Darabont’s classic The Shawshank Redemption. Hope is a dangerous thing; well let’s hope more of a ‘Hidden & Dangerous’ thing.

There was a game once. One of those games that became more than a game. It became a legend. In 1999 my brother showed me ‘a new game we have to play’. That game, ladies and gentlemen, was Hidden & Dangerous.

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You never forget your first time, so the saying goes, and with Hidden & Dangerous they are most certainly correct. Usually ‘not forgetting your first time’ is a saying associated with horrendously cringe-worthy memories of some drunken party in your mates parents room with an equally (or more) pissed up girl as the two of you fumble incoherently at each other’s bits and pieces like a couple of paraplegic chimps trying to do a jigsaw puzzle. Not these memories though, oh no. These memories are ones of wonder, of a light being shone upon my life that has yet to fade away. Two things about that first time I will never forget.

One; load outs. Oh the glorious load outs. A roster of around 30 commandoes, all with their own stats.  Strength, stamina, accuracy, medical, engineering skill. A list of rifles, machine guns, handguns, binoculars, grenades, mines, compass etc. A bergen (that’s a back pack to the civvies) with limited space. Hands for a gun, shoulder for a secondary, head for a helmet. Pick what you will, but everything weighs something, and not everyone is as strong as “The Ox”. But then, The Ox didn’t have the accuracy of “The Eye”. Choose your four man squad wisely.

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This was one of the things that was so compelling for me; each of the 30 commandoes on your roster had names, biogs, a back-story. They had character. As well as that, their skills increased with experience. You could turn an already adept marksman into a living, Nazi-feared legend. Strong-men into man-mountains capable of carrying enough dynamite to level Berlin. Medics that could make a single small med pack stretch twice round your team. You became attached to these guys, and ended up with a group of 7 or 8 of your chosen, experienced best, each elite in their chosen field and adept at others. All this made it the more painful when they died in battle. Because once they died…….they died. No respawning, no second chance, no coming back. They were crossed off the roster – gone forever, deceased. Unless of course you wanted to start the level over (no saving in co-op mode after all) – and that was no insignificant task in some cases, after you’ve spent an hour crawling on your belly across an occupied Nazi town – avoided all the know bugs (more on them later) – and almost, almost completing your primary objective undiscovered. These were real load outs, and though I totally appreciate not for everyone and certainly not for every game, they were for me the best load outs I have ever seen in a game. Never equaled. Perfect. They required thought, strategy, co-operation with your team mates. They really made it feel like you were making a team. That was the first thing that struck me – like a slaughterhouse bolt to the forehead.

The second was this….

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I will never forget it. Belly up in the lashing rain on the banks of a river. The darkness and fog limiting eyesight. The thunder growling menacingly overhead, preceded by a flash of lightening that for the briefest moment illuminated the bridge up ahead and its patrolling Nazi sentries. The atmosphere; the thick, bubbling, almost tangible atmosphere. It was instant and almost overwhelming. We were the SAS. We were behind enemy lines in World War II, Nazi occupied Europe. And we were here to misbehave.

And then you fell through the floor and died.

Yep. That happened a lot. That’s the other thing about Hidden & Dangerous. It was buggy. Actually, that’s not fair; lots of games are ‘buggy’. This wasn’t buggy, it was fucked. Riddled with the bastard things. Buggy is to Hidden & Dangerous as a cold is to cancer. They were excruciating. Fall through the floor (die). Fall down a ladder (die). Stuck in the floor. Stuck in a wall. Shot through a wall. Drop a mine – die. Climb a wall – die. Stand up – die. Completed a level? Killed everyone in the entire German Army? Not good enough I’m afraid, you will be stuck in a weird, empty twighlight-zone, limbo world of nothing and no one until you start the mission aaaaaalllllll over again. And on and on. And fucking on. The patches were ok-ish I suppose. Ok they weren’t. The patches were like trying to treat self-immolation with nuerofen.

But regardless, that really doesn’t seem to have mattered. Quite often a game can be buggy as hell, but be good enough that it is still brilliant when it does work. The thing is, with a lot of buggy games, were the bugs to be removed or fixed, the game in question would be elevated further to an even higher status. Rainbow Six: Vegas springs to mind. What a game….when it worked. If the bugs didn’t exist – Oh My Word it would have been up there with some of the greats (we can thank Ubisoft for the shoddy, lazy console port for that, a trick they still pull to this day even after forgetting their PC roots…..but I’ll save that rant for another day). But this rule doesn’t apply to H&D. H&D was something special. So very special, so damn-near perfect, that actually although the bugs were annoying and frustrating and at times hilarious and at other times crushingly painful, despite the sheer quantity and frequency of them – despite all that, it is still one of the greats; one of the all time ultimate great games that sits up there among very few others, that changed everything for me and mine. Even despite all those the bugs. In fact, oddly, part of me wonders whether its legendary status is almost in some way because of those bugs. ‘So close, please try again’. It left us wanting more. Wanting it perfect. Thirsty for it. A thirst that was never quenched.

The sequel was also excellent, I want to go on record as saying that. As was its expansion pack ‘Sabre Squadron’. But it didn’t quite quench the thirst that I speak of.

Another thing that I loved so much about it, and still look back on with rose-tinted fondness; it was so damn British. It played on those equally rose-tinted memories that us Brits like to hang on to of us against the Nazi’s during those desperate yet heroic times of war between ’39 and ’45. Britain stood alone against the might of Hitler’s unstoppable war machine; a machine that crushed Europe in a matter of months. The desperate necessity that those dark days forced upon us bred – among other remarkable achievements –the Special Air Service. A unit still unrivaled to this day, and the first of its kind all those years ago. (Cue ‘Land of Hope and Glory’).

Only a European developer could have hit the nail so perfectly on the head with the feel and the tone of war ravaged Europe, the inclusion of French and Dutch resistance fighters into your roster of commandoes, the names like “Mountbatten” and nicknames like “They Eye” (an American developer would surely not have resisted the temptation to go with ‘Dead Eye’ rather than the less flamboyant, more British ’Eye’). That developer was Illusion Softworks – now 2k Czech – based now as then in the Czech Republic. Now days it’s all Mafia and….er……Top Spin for those guys (it’s a Tennis game which as far as I can tell is quite good – for a tennis game).

So that was 1999. Funny because 1999 wasn’t that long ago really. The same year as The Matrix, the same year as Star Wars: Episode 1. But it seems longer ago. It seems like it was an age ago (in gaming terms it has of course been more than one). It has slipped into myth and legend. Lost in the fog of war.

For me, a new Hidden & Dangerous game is easily more anticipated than any other game, and yes, that includes Valve’s next Half Life installment (don’t worry, I’m anticipating that hugely too, I’m not weird). If I could ask for one game to get a big fat triple-A green light it would be Hidden & Dangerous 3. The mother of all co-op games, and that’s what this blog has been an ode to; real co-op gaming. A game for the smart co-op clan. Left 4 Dead, Borderlands – these games are a part of me and I proudly hold them up as some of the greatest games of ALL time. But Hidden & Dangerous? This game is a part of my soul.

2K Czech. Hear me. I hope you do.

But you know what they say about hope…………..

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