By Craig Pearson on May 15th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.
Somewhere in a warehouse there’s a monster. It is being hunted by men with laser-sighted shotguns and pistols. They have movement sensors and flashlights, and the monster is doing all it can to keep away from them. Plot twist: It’s me! I have a knife and some bombs. I can see through the boxes, I can cling to walls and ceilings, and I’m invisible. In fact, it’s the team below me that are terrified. They’re shooting at things that aren’t there, pumping rounds into shadows, and one of them just died from friendly fire. At this rate, I could wait out the panic and let them kill off one other.
The Hidden is an old Source engine multiplayer mod. At least once a year I remember it exists and get utterly hooked. It’s a violent game of hide and seek, with one player vs an entire team. Depending on the players, that could be a monster vs its prey, or one team systematically hunting down a panicked, skittery, overwhelmed animal. I’ve been playing after accidentally reminding myself about it last week.
I can sympathise with the players who end up firing at nothing. If there’s a game that drives the players paranoid, it’s The Hidden. It’s taken its inspiration from Predator and not Aliens. You’ll spend most of your time as a member of team IRIS knowing that you can barely see what you’re hunting, and that it can come at you from any angle. A monster that finds strength in its isolation, that’s at most an indistinct movement of the air. Hunting something that might be watching your every movement fosters a different mindset from being the target of a horde of usual game villains. You have to train yourself to take in your surroundings, to move while you keep your eyes slightly unfocused, so any peripheral movement is absorbed. Levels are cunningly decorated to make you think innocent items could be coming RIGHT FOR YOU!
Things that look like the monster:
A smear stuff on your monitor.
A crack on some glass.
I’ve shot at all those in a blind panic. But those are only fleeting allusions, your brain and the game trolling you (and let me tell you, on the game’s part it is utterly deliberate). It’s worse when The Hidden makes its presence felt. You only ever see the result of its action, never the monster itself. I was with another player, we’d stuck around and decided to tour the Highrise level together, looping around in the corridors beneath the map. They’re actually easier places to control: well lit, and the enclosed space reduces the monster’s movement range. My partner was a player that understood the necessity of that, and we formed a tight unit. He stopped and turned to me, his character frozen on screen as he was typing something. I hope it wasn’t anything important, because he never finished: he exploded, showering me in bits and revealing a shimmer of air. There’s something odd about shooting at something you can barely see: your brain is always a few microseconds behind it needs to be, paralysed by it’s attempt to focus. The Hidden was in a corridor in front of me, and he managed to escape.
While that was a pathetic show on my part, but it turned out he was quite a good Hidden. I have a few metrics: if you can single-out players, if you can escape a group alive, and if you can cause mass panic without doing anything, then you’re a good Hidden.
Also, if you can do this.
That takes determination to the cause. You’re giving up your main advantage of being unseen to shit up the other team. I’ve been caught more than once while pinning a body to the wall, but then I am a show-off.
It’s a completely different mindset playing as the monster (and I do play as a monster, as you’ll see): he’s faster, stronger, and more maneuverable, but mostly it’s because you’re being hunted. It’s unfair, and it brings out something a little bit dark in your soul. A lot of it’s internalised: I turn into a stalker, reveling in secret little games that I play with those that can’t see me. Because I can see through walls and leap, my favourite thing is to wait at the opening to a corridor and leap across it as someone’s approaching. There’s no finer noise than the shotgun blast that follows.
The Stalkyard map has a hero closet. It’s where the Hidden spawns, and it has a door, a vent, and a floor covering that can be smashed, which opens up hole to a corridor beneath. As a matter of course I break that last covering before leaving the room. Boring players will hole up in the vent, which can be defended easily as an IRIS solider, but others can use the room’s one doorway to try and funnel you into fire.
They’ll often forget about the floor covering.
I had pushed two players into that room. They kept taunting me, and in turn I’d dash in front of the doorway to remind them I knew where they were. They were so intent on killing me as I passed the doorway, they missed me leaping into the room from beneath. I clung to the roof for a short while, watching as they dashed around the doorway. Then I dialed up a demonic laugh in The Hidden’s chat options and watched them panic. A terrorising tee-hee.
Of course, there are times when it just doesn’t work. The Hidden has a knife, and if the server’s umodded he has a main slash and a timed stab (modder servers turn the stab into a push: ugh!). The timed stab will instakill if it makes contact, but if you miss you’re left up close to a player while your most powerful move recharges. It’s not a good place to be. But that’s a penalty that’s worth the risk. The mess it makes when it connects is explosive. A dead body is a dead body, but a pile of parts is unsettling for other players to come across, and as I mentioned before, seeing another player come apart can be enough to turn a calm, collected soldier into a panicky, paranoid wreck.
You can even mess them up subtly: stand behind a pane of cracked glass, stand still in a clump of plants or over a gas vent so smart player will dismiss it as a trick of the light. It’s tough, and you’ll die a lot to people who’re rightly paranoid, but it’s worth twenty deaths for the one time it all comes together.
There’s still a community of players that keep the servers busy, and it’s not a game that needs dedication or a clan to enjoy. Do yourself a favour: set your Google calendar to remind you once a year that The Hidden is out there.