What’s the worst criticism that you could possibly level against a game? Poor graphics? Awkward controls? Insane difficulty spikes? Dated design? Boring multi-player? Poor AI? Linear? Short? Badly scripted? Overrated?
Not even close. Try this one on for size: buggy.
The dreaded B-word scatters potential buyers quicker than fart in a lift. Most people can live with any of the above issues (so long as there’s not too many of them) but the moment someone mentions glitches and bugs, you may as well strap a concrete block to the game and throw it overboard – ‘cos it ain’t going to sell!
We’ve all heard the same tired cries from journalists longing for better story-telling, more ingenious mini-games, more realistic interactions with NPCs, more varied gameplay mechanics and more re-playability. But when a game comes along and actually does all of this and more with aplomb, what’s the first thing it’s held up as and the only thing it’s remembered for?
Sure, Obsidian Entertainment were remiss to have not focussed more time on testing and debugging their otherwise refreshing and cleverly designed game, but it was equally remiss of the gaming editorial community to effectively black-mark it and consign it to the bargain bin with a series of scathing reviews. Indeed, thanks to the bad press it received, Sega shelved any possibility of a sequel despite acknowledging it was a strong concept.
So it’s a good job that Hidden & Dangerous wasn’t released last week, as it makes Alpha Protocol’s code look like an Aston Martin.
Right, lads: charge! Erm, lads?
One of the earliest, serious examples of strategic-action; H&D was riddled with more bugs than a termite mound. You can name pretty much every cardinal sin out there and H&D had it: blue-screen freezes; vehicles that sank beneath the ground; squad-members that died for no apparent reason; basic actions that would boot you back to windows; sniper-rifles that lost their scope; characters that would suddenly start spinning around on the spot like some whirling dervish and a frame-rate that would drop to a single FPS. No, really.
A gamers worst nightmare, then? Not at all: it was utterly amazing and remains one of the most absorbing games that I’ve ever played.
Had H&D been a me-too-copycat then I doubt that I would even remember it but the point is that this was a seriously ground-breaking effort for its time. It’s third-person action credentials alone were enough to make this 1999 title a hugely enjoyable effort with a camera that followed just ever so slightly behind your actions, giving it a wonderfully realistic and smooth feel. The ability to switch to first-person ensured that no situation became frustrating and the added variety kept the experience fresh and engaging throughout.
Where H&D really excelled, however, was in its strategic elements. From the superb pre-mission briefings to the well-considered kit-load-out screen and the powerful in-game squad-commands; this was a game that made you think seriously about not just your own actions but of looking after your squad, preserving your munitions and making it out alive. No other game before had made me think this way and few since have managed to tick so many boxes so compellingly. It was delightfully challenging but nothing less than fair. When it didn’t crash, of course.
At the time, H&D received universal acclaim despite its numerous technical faults and remains a fond topic of conversation amongst those that remember it well. I can think of few games that I’ve replayed quite so many times and few that have challenged me to think so carefully about my actions.
Hide and be dangerous: what more could a gamer want?