There’s no denying a lot of people had a lot of problems with Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. Forums were ablaze with chatter about the game’s shortcomings in either a technical sense or a gameplay sense, and while that game itself did well enough for the series as a whole, Codemasters recognises it’s not what the audience wanted.
This is the strength of any of the core teams working on internal projects at Codies; they make games for their fanbase, and as a result listen
to that fanbase. And this philosophy continues with the next installment in the Flashpoint series, Operation Flashpoint: Red River, which takes all the criticisms of Dragon Rising and addresses them, creating a much more accessible experience without losing what sets this series apart in the military shooter field.
"Authentically cool" is the term being thrown at us at a preview event out at Codemasters, as well as "this is not a mil-sim", and from what we're being shown, it's hard not to agree.
We had a chance to go hands-on with the game, in both co-op and in one of the multiplayer modes (which is just basically competitive co-op, anyway). The build we checked out was running on Xbox 360, which is something of the norm these days for events like this, and on the control front here the game felt very natural. The team have opted for a Call of Duty-style control approach which in my book is a good thing outside of mouse and keyboard. You have permanent sprint, crouch and prone, as usual, as well as hip-firing and iron-sights. So far, so same.
Where the game differentiates itself is in two main components: true ballistics physics for weapons and ammo, and tactical recourse for bottlenecks, snipers, convoys etc, where you not only have either AI or real-life comrades in your own squad, but two other autonomous squads also backing your play. This is not
a corridor shooter, and that’s something Codies are trying very hard to iterate. If you get shot, chances are you’re going to be dead, so you need
to use your team to your advantage; be it issuing flanking commands, support or even utilising the strength in numbers you have over the insurgents you’re fighting.
For the tactical portion of the game, you have a radial wheel you can bring up to issue commands, as well as supported VOIP when playing with humans. The entire single-player outing is co-opable
; to a point that’s how Codies would actually prefer you to play it. And you’ll need all of your tactical smarts to break the enemy’s spirit, and position.
There are four pre-loaded classes to choose from in the way of Rifleman, Scouts, Auto Rifleman and Grenadiers. You can, however, go in and adjust each one to uniquely kit yourself out for field operations, and thanks to an RPG progression system, you’ll unlock new load-out options as you play through the game, which can then be applied to either the game’s campaign mode or its subsequent co-op modes.
Here there’s Fireteam Engagements, which are essentially this game’s version of Horde Mode where waves of enemy come at you and you need to work as a team, while also trying to secure your spot as the highest scorer on your team. There’s also Combat Search and Rescue, which is described as taking its foundation from Black Hawk Down in that you and your buddies need to go in and look for a downed chopper and its survivors among myriad hostile insurgents. Combat Sweep was also revealed, which sees you and your squad-mates reaching a series of checkpoints through Tajikistan, and having to clear each and every insurgent you come across.
Co-op is drop in, drop out for those of you without the friends to play in Private matches, or you can actually play the game solo with AI team-members by your side. The demo we were shown before getting hands-on revealed that your autonomous friends here are actually pretty good at their job (unlike, say, Black Ops), but we’re also quickly told you won’t be able to use them as a crutch, and you’ll definitely need to utilise the Command Radial to issue the right orders, or they might wind up dead.
The other major two major stand-outs we came across were in the game’s visuals and its narrative presentation, both of which have seen major overhauls. From a narrative perspective, the game takes place just over a year into the future, and includes more than just insurgents, but also the Chinese and beyond. As far as its presentation goes, there’s a similar sense of story-telling to both Modern Warfare and Black Ops with stylish pop-up overlays among character chatter fleshing out the story. It’s highly stylised, but relatively informative and well scripted in the character voice-over department. There’s also a lot of geography to cover in the game, where you’re usually saddled up in a vehicle with your team-mates traversing actual terrain while the game serves up plot-points and elements of character development. This approach really does a good job of removing the mission-by-mission component of other games in the genre; expanding on the suspension of disbelief to allow you to really bite into the tale these guys are telling.
Visually, the game looks much better with expansive landscapes and horizons as far as the eye can see. There’s a fair amount of detail injected into the immediate environments as well, such as towns and villages while other touches, such as dust clouds or heat shimmering add to the visual feast on-hand. Animations are still a bit clunky at times, but more than passable. It’ll be interesting to see what the team do with varying up locations and situations to keep things fresh and new, unfortunately we were only privy to a hillside climbing to a massive dam. It looked mighty impressive, but didn’t give us enough of a glimpse to call on what the rest of the game will serve up.
Finally, for the true Flashpoint veterans out there, there’s no need to fear the accessible reaper, as we were told there’s a full hardcore mode which supports a zero HUD and brings back the series’ mil-sim roots. The challenge here will be much greater we’re told, but it’s something the fans cried out for, and so it’s something the team weren’t going to ignore.
For everyone else, Operation Flashpoint: Red River is the most engaging the series has been from this writer’s perspective. Stripping the more hardcore components back to make way for a more enjoyable narrative that’s more fun than realistic was a good choice, while also maintaining that accessibility aside, it’s still a Flashpoint game and will therefore still be much harder than the likes of Medal of Honor, Bad Company or Modern Warfare was also a clever choice. You could almost mark the game as “a little from column A, and a little from column B”, and from what we saw and played, we walked away agreeing with that statement and very happy with the new direction.
We have an interview coming in the next few days that goes into even more depth about the game’s new focus and just what’s in-store, so stay tuned.