Review – Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (Xbox 360)
One shot, one kill. Unfortunately for you.
Oh no! One is down, Two taking the lead. For anyone who has played the first Operation Flashpoint that first sentence will bring back a flood of memories, most of them involving crawling through dense woodland and being shot at from miles away. It was an intense and difficult modern warfare simulation for the PC and, although flawed and broken in places, garnered a cult following spawning a couple of sequels albeit under the name ARMA due to legal difficulties between the Bohemia Interactive and Codemasters. It’s taken nine long years but finally the name Operation Flashpoint is back.
Flashpoint takes place on the fictional island Skira which is subject to a territorial dispute between Russia and China. It just so happens that Skira is rich in Oil and although presently Russian territory China has invaded claiming long standing historically ownership. You step in as a member of the American Marines tasked to kick some Chinese ass and avert a third world war. The whole of the game takes place over three days and sees you working with three AI controlled squad mates in a series of eleven missions.
You control your AI squad mate through the use of a radial command menu which allows you to directly command either individually or as a whole. From this radial menu you can also call in air or artillery strikes when you are given the chance. You can order your team to assault buildings, change formation, lay down suppressing fire and many other tactical options. However what initially sounds like a good idea in theory actually proves to be unintuitive in practice. In order to use the radial menu you need to be stationary, and some of the options are hidden under two layers of choices when they ought to be more accessible. For example to call for a medic, which you will be doing a lot, you have to cycle through two choices when it could have been placed on the first wheel. I completed the whole of the game using only the commands follow me and medic.
The island of Skira is huge and the scale of it puts to shame most other sandbox style games out there, often on missions you will have to traverse kilometres of terrain before you even get to your objective. The island is also very well realised with some staggering mountains to climb and forests to creep through. Some of the views offered in this game are fantastic and this is helped by a huge draw distance, you are able to see smoke billowing up from objectives from miles away. The huge draw distance also allows you to plan your attack and pick enemies off from a vast distance. However whilst the objectives sound varied, assault the monastery, blow up the refinery, rescue the downed crew of a helicopter, most if not all just boil down a series of sniping matches. There is none of the close quarters combat found in Call of Duty 4 to be found here.
Despite its flaws, Flashpoint 2 pleases me immensely. Its’ the first game to come along since the original Ghost Recon that provides a really excellent, slow-paced, tactical, long range, stealth-creep, squad based combat experience. The missions are tough to complete, and death comes quicky, forcing you to carefully consider your approach tactically, work as a team, and learn your class role. Online co-op with friends gets the best out of this game. It relies on people who know what they’re doing to really work well.
There are some serious problems though: Changing roles from medic to heavy gunner during a co-op mission involves completely disbanding the team and sending out game invites again; the graphic resolution frequently drops to a fuzz before the textures pop back in (even on the 2D map), the friendly A.I. is completely uninspiring, and you can’t even select your own weapon in Co-op play. This is a real problem as only the squad leader gets a scope, with everyone else forced to use ironsights, and when you’re fighting battles at a distance of 500 meters and beyond, having no scope is extremely frustrating. Also the vehicles handle like their on sheet ice, and there is the small matter of a missing mission editor (for consoles).
Having said all that, we’ve not had the first patch yet (coming in early November) and details of the forthcoming DLC extras haven’t yet been released, so with a bit of luck many of the problems will be addressed in time. Despite these issues, I’m loving Flashpoint. The pace of the game is much slower than most shooters, but with several missions involving a time element, you need to push push push, from objective to objective. It is both frantic and deliberate, frustrating and satisfying, and only a bit broken.
Secondary Score: 7/10
What combat there is though is engaging, the real life weapons you use all look great and can generally be switched between burst fire and single shot. You’ve also got to judge the distance of your shots and gauge your aim appropriately, each guns comes with an authentically realised scope and sighting gauge. The sounds effects are also of a high standard with bullets whipping past your ears and explosions being almost felt as much as heard. I did find issues with the weapons though as although there is a wide range of them, they do all feel much of a muchness and I found little difference between the various guns. There is also an issue around changing weapons too as the animations here, particularly when switching to a rocket launcher, take an age to complete. Although this clearly reflects the simulation nature of the game it’s at odds with some of the other non simulation aspects of the game.
This mix of simulation and non-simulation runs throughout the game, a single hit can kill you but you can also be healed without limitation if you only get knocked to the floor. You have to conserve your ammo and take account of the bullets used, yet gun emplacements have infinite ammo. The vehicles have a weight and a heft to them, yet the humvee can apparently be flipped by one man and repaired in a matter of seconds. It’s a very schizophrenic mix which I found very confusing considering the game has been marketed as a realistic simulation of modern warfare.
This strange mix of styles also carries over into the multiplayer game as well. In multiplayer you can play through the entire game in co-op and each player takes on the role of one of your squad, this is fairly standard and plays very well. It’s in the adversarial modes that things get a bit strange. Here each player also takes into battle the rest of his AI squad so as a result you find yourself running round the map with three AI partners, but so do all the other human players. This means that in a standard two versus two death match there will be sixteen characters running round the map, which kind of lends death matches a strange duck shoot feel to them as you will end up killing countless AI in an almost nonchalant way.
I’m not overly convinced by this game, it’s trying to be so realistic that certain aspects of the game start to feel a little silly. It’s surprisingly short and many of the levels are very effective at channelling you down a very tight path, effectively removing the sandbox element from the game. By apparently trying to cater to a wider audience this game looses focus and end ups just being a fairly average shooter, and the worst thing about it is that you can’t even drive the tractors.