Hidden & Dangerous: Devil's Bridge Review
By Jimmy Vails |
I keep switching between having lots of fun with this game and wanting to pay IGNPocket EIC Craig Harris ten dollars to watch him eat the disc. In other words, Hidden & Dangerous: Devil's Bridge has nearly all the strengths and shortcomings of the original game. This nine-mission expansion pack gives gamers the chance to jump back into the ultra-realistic yet paradoxically cinematic squad-based shooter. You'll take a squad of four SAS officers back into the action against the usual cast of fascists and communists.
The strengths of the original game are definitely upheld and even improved on somewhat by the mission pack. You can't charge blindly into engagements (well, you can but you won't last long). Instead, you must rely on stealth and secrecy and draw the enemy into ambushes. Sadly, the basic functionality issues that plagued the original game hoist themselves onto the scene in Devil's Bridge. The end result? An incredibly fun game that makes you want to quit your lucrative job in gaming journalism and take up something less stressful -- like flower arranging or air traffic control.
The first campaign, Mystical Wings, is set in Poland in 1944 and involves the rescue of a downed Allied agent and the liberation (read: theft) of a secret German jet. The first mission in the campaign has a broad range of duties. First you have to assassinate a German officer and his driver. One player disguised as a German officer then infiltrates the German base and locates the agent. The rest of the squad enters the base through another route, disables all the ground defenses and destroys several enemy fighters on the runway. Once all this is complete (and it takes a long time to get all the pieces to fit together), the agent can steal the German jet and you're off to your next mission. Most of the missions aren't this involved but this should give you some idea what to expect.
You must travel to the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge in the next campaign, Operation Green Hell. You must blow a bridge (the Devil's Bridge of the title) and rescue American prisoners. The last campaign, Operation Red Alert, actually takes place after the war as you travel to Greece to suppress communist partisans. In all, there's quite a variety to the campaigns. Poland is dark and rainy while the Ardennes is blanketed in snow. The temples and ruins of the Greek missions provide a nice change of scenery. The maps are just as well designed as in the original game and are much larger.
And while we're on the subject, Devil's Bridge is a beautiful game to look at. Or is it "at which to look?" In either case, the game looks just as good as the original, maybe even a little better. The characters are a little blocky and the trees are still just composed of two perpendicular planes, but everything else in the game is beautiful. The buildings and vehicles are wonderfully put together and are covered with some amazing textures. Sound wise, the game is just as good as the original with excellent environmental effects and high-quality music. The game also ships with real time chat support via Roger Wilco.
But sadly, like the first game, Devil's Bridge suffers from some serious shortcomings. Many of the bugs of the original game have been fixed, but those that remain are maddeningly frustrating. Most frustrating and unforgivable is the failure to eliminate the seemingly random death bugs. At the very end of the first mission, one of my soldiers was standing by the airfield watching the German jet take off. Without any explanation, he suddenly exploded into several pieces. I figured maybe it was because he got too close to the jet engines, so I loaded up the game again and kept him well clear of the runway. But no matter what I did (and I tried several things) I just couldn't save this guy. He died right at the very end of the mission no matter where he was standing or what he was doing.
And although it's less an oversight and more of a game design issue, I should really mention the incredible difficulty level in the game. I'm not talking about the learning curve here. Although the curve is high, the designers must assume, and rightly so, that you already know how to play the game before you dive into the expansion pack. No, what I'm talking about is the way the missions are designed. Don't get me wrong -- I like a game to be challenging, but I don't expect a game to be spitefully hard. The missions are designed so that the slightest screw up will send all your plans down in flames. You don't even want to know how many times I played through the second mission before I finished it. Once, I did finish it I began to laugh hysterically prompting Trent to question my sanity...moreso.
And this frustration is only compounded by the failings of the AI and control interface. The "follow me" command caused me no small end of problems. In some cases, my soldiers would divert from the "follow me" path with disastrous consequences. You'll be running along quitely assuming your soldiers are close in tow when, suddenly, you hear gunshots. When you turn around, you'll see your soldiers waltzing right into the enemy encampments as if they had lost all sense of self-preservation. And let's say that you position a soldier in a prime spot for ambushing the enemy -- and this game is all about laying ambushes. First off, the soldier will turn and face what seems to be a totally random direction and often will even begin to walk toward the other members of the squad. Sometimes this is merely a nuisance. Other times it spells certain death for the soldier.
On top of all this, the game really chugs on my PIII Micron and suffers from ridiculously long load times. On my 333MHz at home, it's virtually unplayable. The poor and inconsistent frame rates make firefights incredibly frustrating. It's hard enough to aim without a reticle and it's even harder when you can't seem to land the sights right on the enemy. Beyond that the jerkiness kind of made me sick.
Now here comes the strangest part of all -- I still like the game. While there are some major functionality snags, the gameplay is still remarkable. The game concept is damn exciting and the design is sound. In fact, it may be because the game seems like it could be so good that irritates me the most -- that and the fact that this is the second time the developers have had a chance to address these issues. That the game still suffers from many of the same shortcomings as the original is just careless. Still, the real worth of the game does shine through these failings. Whether or not you'll be able to put up with it depends on your patience...and you'll need a whole lot of it.
-- Stephen Butts