By Neil McCormick
“War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous.” Dalai Lama
So to, is the war portrayed by Codemasters in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. For this is war at its most gritty, realistic and unforgiving, it is not the saccharine sweet version seen in other games such as the Call of Duty franchise. There is no option to come over all Hollywood and attempt a John Rambo style run and gun frontal assault. You can try to do this, but there will be one result – your untimely demise!
I must warn from the outset that this is not a game you can just pick up and play, you need to think strategically about what you are doing and use tactics to gain victory. But then again War has always been about strategy and tactics, Even as far back as the 6th Century BC ,Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” advised
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. “
Reviewing this game I came out the other side having experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, going from shock to awe, via a slight detour on frustration avenue. If I had only reviewed via single player, it would be a different story. I doubt very much I would have managed to complete the game. The unforgiving nature of the game would have meant I had gave up long before I got to see the sumptious Black and white end credits. I would not have got to see the wider picture of why despite its frustrations, the game rewards those that persist.
Game play wise, Operation Flashpoint is not a just first person shooter, its more of a tactical military game combining FPS and simulation. The game takes place on a fictional island called Skira, located off the Japanese coast. The island has been the source of much combat over the years, with both China and Russia claiming ownership. When a huge untapped oil reserve is discovered, the Chinese invade and take over the island. Russia turns to its old cold war enemy, the USA for help. The US answers this call and thats how you find yourself on Skira, your mission as a leader of various squads / fire teams of US Marines over the course of the game is to help recover the island for Russia. Its always seems to be down to oil these days, with the world’s oil reserve in such a state, and the ever expanding China clamouring for any spare resources, you can not help but feel this could actually happen in our lifetime. If it does happen in my life time I will be praying that I am not called up to serve, if I take one lesson from this game, it is likely my body will return very quickly via the Highway of Heroes at Wooten Basset in a coffin.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising consists of 11 missions, that can be completed offline or completed online with up to three friends co-operatively. I have to say, the variety of the missions are satisfactory, ranging from hostage rescue, skirmishes and infiltrations to destroy vital enemy resources. The way the various mission types are interlaced, ensures that the game remains fresh and interesting. Its not doing the actual mission but the journey to get there that had the biggest impact for me. Nerves at a tension you progress towards your goal, waiting for the tracer fire from an ambush squad or sniper to light up the sky as you come under attack. I would like to say how we finished the battle in mission 11, by landing our helicopter and efficiently picking off the enemy defences and capturing the Chinese General. However the reality was, one of my on-line partners, lost control of the helicopter, and we crash landed and destroyed the defences in the process. Its moments like this that make the online experience all the more rewarding.
As I said earlier, the game takes place on the island of Skira, resulting in a vast area of some, 277.698 km2 in which to set the game. Visually the developers allowed for a draw rate of 32 kilometers. This results in some stunning views, I challenge anyone not to be left dumbstruck as you look down a valley to the sweeping shore line in the distance. It was touted in the pre-game publicity that it would take in real time 9 hours on foot, or 4 hours in a jeep or 20 minutes in a helicopter to traverse across the island. This would lead you to believe you have the whole vast open playing environment to explore. Unfortunately, certainly in the console version, you do not have this freedom, you are limited to just the area required to complete a mission. While its unfair that you cant explore the whole island, the area in use for a mission always feels that, you have enough of an area that you are not going to have to go down a set linear path or train track. For example in each mission you have a primary and a secondary objective. In the first mission the primary objective was to destroy the SAM radar then extract via helicopter and the secondary objective was to destroy the 3 SAM sites on the small secondary island. So the choice is there, take out the radar or the sites first. It does not matter which you do first.
I mentioned I took a detour via Frustration Avenue. This was mainly due to the unforgiving checkpoints. In single player the distance between checkpoints can be quite far. In one particular level I had been working at completing it and had been making my way towards the secondary objective for at least 30 minutes. Suddenly Lady fate decided my number was up and a rogue sniper shot despatched me to my maker. With most other games, you would normally spawn in at the point of death or not that far from that point. Oh no, not Dragon Rising, instead, you guessed it I spawned in back where I had started some 30 minutes previously. But it gets worse, do the exact same missions ,co-op, there are no checkpoints. You start at the beginning of the mission. Believe me, this really frustrates when, its quite far in and at the same point either myself or a team mate dies for the 5th time of asking. It is not the annoyance of having to restart all over again, it is what it means, you get to hear the same uninspiring voice over giving the mission objectives. Seriously, was this not ever considered, that it might cause a problem?
Next up, the problem of artificial intelligence or more the case the lack of intelligence. Playing single player, I came the closest to throwing a controller across the room, than I have ever done. For your AI team mates, will frequently let you down. Orders will be ignored, they will stand often exposed and not in cover, resulting in you risking your own precious life as you try to patch them up to keep them in the game. When the firefight gets involved, you notice that, instead of helping they are not doing anything of worth. Leaving you to face over whelming odds against being able to survive. Eventually it got to me, I literally could not go any further. My brick wall had been hit, and so I turned to some online buddies to enlist. Praise whatever God you worship, for co-operative play saves the day. No longer do you have to fuss with a command radial, that will be ignored by your squad.
I am not saying that co-operative is perfect, but it sure beats stupid AI. However there was one slight flaw, during the course of the game, playing cooperatively, I would take on the role of Medic, and as a result I quite often experienced a glitch. After healing a team mate my character would then remain immobile, and the controller would lock up. The only way to get back in the game, was to be killed and respawn. That works fine if there are enemies near by, but if your game has been set up to not allow friendly fire, and there are no enemies left, you are stuck there until your team mates advance and you go out of the tether zone.
I contacted Codemasters regarding this issue and they advised that, it is a known glitch that will be fixed in a forthcoming patch. At least, you know it is being worked on.
I can only speak briefly on the multi-player, everytime I tried to play, time was limited, this was due to server problems. Again this is something Codemasters are working on fixing. There are 2 modes, infiltration and annilation.
Infiltration is where one smaller team takes on the role of special forces and must try to take on a much larger team protecting the objective. Where as Annilation is as the word suggests two teams going all out against each other. One thing I have noticed, in my limited time online, its an advantage to take the American side. The Americans have smoke mortar, and their guns have sights, giving an unfair advantage.
How would I improve Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising? Given the harsh learning curve at the start, I feel the game would have benefitted from a more hands led approach to the first mission. More assistance with coming to grips with the radial order system would have been a benefit. Greater awareness of how to use the fireteam more efficiently by demonstrating how to surpress and flank, could bring a more rewarding experience, for those players used to the frontal assault style of Call of Duty.
Its hard to find a comparison to benchmark it against, there is nothing on the console market in this generation of a similar nature, its too strategic to compare it to the Call of Duty games. Certainly hard work to begin with but with hard labour eventually comes rewards. My worry for Codemasters, is that the casual gamer will not persevere enough to get to the rewards.
If you are into your achievements, Dragon Rising gives them up fairly generously. Having completed my “Tour of Duty” I came away with 550 gamer points. And that is without earning any points in the 2 multi-player modes.
I can honestly say apart from the glitch i suffered during the later missions, this game has been one of the best games I have played co-operatively in years. As soldiers bond on the battlefield, so to did I with my co-operative partners. We shared the highs and lows of the game – and emerged as veterans with a distant look and a story to tell at a whisper, of our time in combat on Skira.
Electro-candy score 8 – co-operatively it works a treat. However if based solely on the single player = only a 7.