Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Review
Wednesday, October 28, 2009 10:54 AM
War has never been so much f***ing hard work.
The original Operation Flashpoint and me, you know, we didn't get along. Not "didn't get along" in a Wolfenstein type of way, that was just plain rubbish. Flashpoint on the other hand was a "didn't get along" in the way that it simply wasn't a game for me, but I was fully aware that there was still plenty of people out there who did get along with it.
When ARMA I and II came along, the PC-only spiritual sequels by the original game's developer Bohemia Interactive, I think my dislike was simply because there were so many bugs and the graphics weren't that special (something all of Bohemia's games have in common). The recent released sequel, Dragon Rising by licence holders Codemasters, had a chance to prove that I could like this type of game, since it didn't share those problems.
Graphics and general stability are far better in OF2 than in Bohemia's efforts. The island of Skira is just lovely to look at, even if it's hard to make a dent in it and its fire effects won't be troubling Far Cry 2. There are a few bugs I'll get to in a bit, but nowhere near as bad as some of the ridiculous happenings in ARMA II. I couldn't even get past the tutorial in that game, because the gun I was supposed to practice with, had disappeared.
The most important thing you have to realise with OF2, like its PC-only siblings, is that's it not an FPS like Call of Duty. Call of Duty is "faux realism", providing the right sounds, effects, and military appearances, but it's still just Doom underneath.
OF2, on the other hand, is "proper realism". You take a couple of bullets, you die. You take a bullet in the arm or the leg, somewhere non-critical, you have to patch it or you'll bleed to death, and even if you do this you're not actually healed, so getting shot in the leg means you won't be able to run.
Even if you get an enemy perfectly in your sights, if he's a little bit too far away it's likely you won't kill him. Remember that mission in COD4 where you have to snipe someone from a distance and have to account for the wind? Imagine doing that with every single bullet you fire in the game.
There's also no funnelling you down small alleyways, either. Every environment you face is huge, open and full of cover for both you and the opposing Chinese army. Combined with the take-one-bullet-and-you-might-die thing, you soon realise that you have to take every encounter far more carefully, slowly and strategically than in most other FPS games - there's no ducking behind a wall for a second to recover your health here.
However, often the game won't let you take things slowly, which is both a negative and a positive thing. On one side it makes all these rushed encounters incredibly tense, but on the other hand you wish for more of a chance to properly sneak up on the enemy. Or maybe I just couldn't get the hang of ordering my men not to shoot.
Which isn't entirely my fault. The radial menus used to give orders, and indeed the controls in general, are incredibly complex and utterly unintuitive. They remind me of some ridiculous questionnaire, or an increasingly convoluted answer-phone message (You Have Selected 'Kill Every Mother****er In The Room', now if you want 'Shoot Them In The Kneecaps', Press 1.).
If you want to do something as simple as fire a missile of death at a target, you'll have to go through three of these radial menus. 'I don't care what a scattering attack is, just launch a ****ing missile at that ****ing tank' button would've been much appreciated. Trying to figure out what the hell 'roe' is under heavy fire isn't very helpful either.
However, despite the FPS culture shock and frustrating order system (which I often avoided anyway as my unit usually knew what they were doing and who they needed to kill better than me), I really found myself getting into the missions. Certainly far more than in Bohemia Interactive's titles which occasionally forgot they were games.
For example, checkpoints not only save, but they also revive your downed mates too. Unrealistic, but at least it keeps you fighting onward instead of reloading the last save. If all this gameyness annoys you, however; you can stick on Hardcore mode and not get any checkpoints or even a HUD.
It's just a shame those missions aren't a bit more varied. Some are pretty exciting, and thanks to the realism, all are tense, but a little imagination would've gone a long way. The island of Skira may be large and pretty free to explore, but most of the time you're just on foot, going places, passing a lot of trees, and killing PLA troops. Being forced to revisit old areas and having a fairly short campaign doesn't help either.
And yes, despite not being that bad, there are still bugs. Guns can hover, enemy soldiers can vanish right in front of you. One time I was up a tower that was blown up, leaving me totally unharmed, wandering away confused and sooty from the smoking remains like something out of a Warner Bros cartoon.
Still, there's the co-op. If you've got one or more friends with the game all these problems just melt away. No orders to give, no AI-driven squaddies giving the game away by shooting too early, and you're no longer the only soldier in the army who couldn't hit an elephant if your gun was stuck up its arse. There aren't enough challenging co-op games around and with a spare hour or so I'd probably prefer to play this with friends rather than even Halo ODST.
I can certainly recommend Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. The PC version has the edge a bit as mouse-aiming really improves your chances of survival, but on the other hand I certainly found it easier to line up sights on an enemy with an Xbox pad than I did in the aforementioned ODST.
There are still bugs, the radial menus (complete with proper obscure military dialogue) are a massive irritation and Codemasters needed to be a lot more creative with their mission design, but while these points knocked the score down, none of them really knocked my enjoyment down.
While PC owners can choose between this and ARMA II, console owners don't really have any option for a proper free-roaming realistic military FPS, so we're lucky it's a very good one with a fine single-player campaign and a fantastic co-op mode.
However, if you can't cope with real life, feel free to enjoy the fantasy that is Modern Warfare 2 instead. You pansy.