IGN Review of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising has proven one thing: I would not last long in a modern war. Not only would I die quickly, I'd die in embarrassing ways. Nobody remembers the heroics of the soldier that stuck his head up in the midst of a hail of gunfire or the idiot that ran out into the open field without checking for enemies on the perimeter. Keep your head down. Keep your adrenaline in check. These are the lessons you'll have to take to heart if you want to survive on the battlefield; in real life or in Operation Flashpoint.
True tactical shooters like this are normally kept on the PC for the hardcore crowd, but Codemasters has seen fit to bring this serious war simulation to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well. There isn't anything quite like this on the consoles so don't rush out to buy this in expectation of a Call of Duty style experience. One bullet is enough to end your life. One wrong step into an enemy's sights is all it takes for you to get taken down as you curse your stupidity. This is a game that rewards patience, planning and a steady hand over twitch reflexes. It isn't the high insanity of most first-person shooters, but it does offer its own brand of tension that anybody looking for the real deal will get a kick out of. It's only a lack of polish and a few too many bugs that keep it from being a great game.
Dragon Rising is set several years in the future. Oil concerns have led to a conflict between Russia and China. The United States intervenes on behalf of its old Cold War foe to drive the invading Chinese PLA forces out. You play as one of these troops, and through the set of 11 long campaign missions you'll be tasked with special ops missions that range from taking out key targets to clearing the way for armor to roll through valleys. The missions themselves aren't the most exciting in design -- you're more likely to get a thrill out of the tense moments between combat than any of the major set pieces -- as you play more of a supporting role for the greater war instead of the individual hero most games cast the main character as.
But then, this is a real war you're in, not one full of Hollywood theatrics. At first glance, it might seem like crouching in a field of brambles scoping out the horizon while slowly crawling forward wouldn't make for the most compelling of games. And the fact is Operation Flashpoint isn't for everybody. The action is slow and deliberate. The punishment for making a mistake is large; especially on the Hardcore setting that removes all heads-up-display help and checkpoints. Get shot just once in the leg and you'll start bleeding. Even after you patch it up, you'll find yourself hobbled and unable to sprint as quickly.
And yet, it's still quite a lot of fun. I died a lot -- and I mean a lot -- while playing through the campaign but only a few times did I ever start to get frustrated. This coming from someone raised on the insanity of games like Quake, Unreal Tournament and Halo should tell you a little something about how well this realistic formula works.
Operation Flashpoint can be played online co-operatively with a squad of four, or by yourself, in which case artificial intelligence takes over for the rest of the group. When alone, you'll find it quite necessary to dole out specific commands to your squad. Without their help, you really don't stand a chance against the overwhelming odds. Their aid will allow you to suppress enemy gun encampments while you move between cover, flank a squad of riflemen, or even just absorb a few bullets for you while you do the dirty work. Unfortunately, even when micromanaged, I found the AI in these computer-controlled allies to be a bit lacking. It's not awful, and it rarely prevented me from progressing on through the game, but it did become a bit frustrating now and then and it did cause me to die a few more times than I would have with better squad mates. At one point I got so tired of waiting for an ally to find his way out of a fenced in area that I simply detonated the C4 I had laid there. Bye, bye Private Morales.
It's that lack of polish that prevents Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising from achieving greatness. There are a lot of fun and thrilling gunfights to be played through here, but it's clear that this could have been so much more. The visuals aren't eye-popping, with trees awkwardly loading in and out as you move along. The animations could be a whole lot more impressive, especially given the fact that some (like applying field dressings to your wounds) don't exist at all. Get in a jeep and ram into an enemy and you'll just watch them slide along the ground in front of the car without falling over. The sounds are accurate and the lack of music adds to the feeling of realism, but it never ropes you in or portrays the power of an explosion the way it should.
The same small technical issues detract from what could have been a truly standout feature of Operation Flashpoint. The region you're fighting for in this game is massive. It's fairly open and, aside from some specific timed event missions, you're free to wander the land and tackle the next objective from any angle or approach you like, using a wide variety of weapons and vehicles. At its heart, this feature is fantastic, especially if you're playing on the Hardcore setting and are up for a crazy challenge. For the less hardcore, it can get frustrating when checkpoints don't activate properly or the next mission objective doesn't register in any sort of timely fashion.
The online game, which features a couple of adversarial modes for up to eight players on the console, is a similar mixed bag. I experienced a small, but manageable amount of lag while playing. Worse, though, were some game-breaking bugs. Weapon models failed to load properly a couple times, making it impossible to view through the scope. On one occasion, an enemy could not be killed, despite multiple members of my team laying into him with gunfire. When it did work, it was a pretty decent multiplayer game. It's hardcore enough that team management and communication is key, but filled with vehicles and crazy weapons to keep everyone interested in the playground. I just wish the consoles could support more players like the PC can with its 32 person matches.
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