Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

It’s five minutes before our chopper extraction and if the radar isn’t down, our chopper will never reach us. Crawling across a vast grassy plane, I can see for miles around, but so can the enemy. Gunships circle overhead and patrols scour the land looking for us. If seen, chances are we will be dead in seconds; an hour of careful manoeuvering and nerve-racking crawling will have gone to waste.

Tom (my housemate) has been given clear instructions to avoid the village to his right. However Tom is a muppet and the village is now straight ahead of him, not to his right. Despite being the only village for miles, our unmilitary minded maths student blunders in anyway. He swiftly receives a potentially lethal shot to the leg and lies, incapacitated and bleeding out on the floor.

I call Tom rude things. He tells me to leave him and finish the mission, but of course I don’t. Hollywood would be proud. Running in, guns blazing, I order the medic to patch up his leg while Corporal Winters and I lay down suppressing fire, forcing the enemy into cover. We have little time but soon Tom is on his feet and making a break for the ridge.

The two computer-controlled team members and I hang back to hold off pursuit, but the clock is still ticking. I only dare wait 30 seconds before making my escape, sprinting across the grass lands, bullets whizzing past my head. There’s a shout as one of our men falls down dead behind me, but with 3 minutes left we have to reach the woods at the base of the ridge. I can see Tom half way up. We might just make it! We have left our pursuers far behind, we are so close!
A split second later, there’s muzzle flashes among the trees and Tom drops dead; before I can react, the screen goes black. Headshot…

Welcome to Skira, a 220km squared fictional island off the East Coast of Asia. After a dramatic slideshow (yes, such a thing can exist), detailing a history in which essentially Chinese people are bad and Americans are once again the reluctant but ever ready police force of the world, you are thrown into a vast open war simulation.

And simulation is definitely the right word; a wound to the arm will kill you if the blood flow is not staunched, bullets are subject to dip over distance and wind alters their trajectory, not to mention that I still cannot fly a helicopter (instead sheepishly ordering destinations from the back seat). Pump the difficulty up and you will have no checkpoints, no re-spawns, no HUD and a single mistake can put you back hours. You will die a lot, you will throw your controller at the screen and possibly put your foot through it as well for good measure.

However, balance that out with the sense of accomplishment when you successfully flank an enemy position, coordinating with your friends or even ordering the computer controlled soldiers to complete an objective without causalities and there is definitely some entertainment to be had here. The nervousness as you lie totally still as an enemy patrol passes by knowing that one observant grunt will blow your cover, causes the game, at its best, to be an immersive experience.

The whole island is open to you in every mission (apart from the first) meaning you can approach the objectives from any angle, with vehicles or without. You can belly crawl, carefully surrounding enemy villages before kicking down doors swat style or conversely order in the artillery causing total destruction as buildings shatter and plumes of smoke tower over the little, fragile people. This gives _Operation Flashpoint 2_ a considerable amount of freedom, much more than that found in the average FPS.

Tough is all well and good (after all I am writing game reviews, I am a geek and I like tough) but only for the right reasons. Despite moaning over my housemates incompetence, playing with the AI substitutes can be a different stratosphere of frustration.

Giving orders is particularly excruciating and the limitations of the console controller cannot be totally overcome, even with the admittedly quite nifty radial menu. You do begin to understand the bewildering array of military lingo and achronyms, but in the heat of a fire fight, opening up the menu, selecting the troop and directing them accurately while fighting competently requires, if not the dexterity of a fighter pilot, then at least more than that of the average student. Would some implementation of voice commands have been to much to ask? _Tom Clancy’s End War_ applied it admirably.

If, after all these finger acrobatics, they obeyed your orders competently you might forgive the interface. But they don’t! Getting them to do anything or go anywhere is like directing a bunch of hyperactive kids. They wander out into enemy fire, they won’t take cover behind buildings (only rocks), they will drive into stuff, medics will ignore the wounded and grenades by their feet won’t phase them at all. In short, half the time they are just stupid.
This would be a minor quibble in any normal game but when a game is this difficult, this unforgiving, and which one mistake is so important, it is a potentially game-ruining issue. There are rare moments of brilliance like when sniping from a farmhouse window, you turn round to find that your team has taken position at every door, covering your back without being told and there’s apparently a complex morale system going on underneath, although I have to admit I have not seen any real evidence of it.

But for every impressive moment there is a moment which will make you scream. To be honest, on the harder difficulties I would be surprised if the game is even possible to complete with your mentally-challenged minions.

Go online and play with friends, however, and you’re in for a treat. That is, if you have 3 friends who own the same game, on the same format and are good at it.

The visuals are impressive in that there is a huge amount going on, with pretty vistas, big battles and massive draw distances. Get too close though and you have a very ugly child; blocky textures and dated 2D foliage greatly let the game down. A friend of an acquaintance was a developer for the game and said that the development team went through multiple graphics directors; the troubled development explains a lot.

If they had improved the visuals, sorted out the AI and added voice commands, _Operation Flashpoint 2_ would have been a brilliant game and with friends it still can be. Tense, realistic and sublimely training our youth in military tactics, it is possible to stick with it and have an enjoyable experience; you never know, you may end up loving it. However when compared to the spit and polish of other recent releases, such as _Uncharted 2_, and those round the corner, such as _Modern Warfare 2_, you might wish to save your money.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.