Codemasters returns to its military sim franchise, Operation Flashpoint, with a new installment for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. This time around, gamers will be able to control their Marines on the small, oil rich, and hotly contested island of Skira. And while there's a lot to appreciate in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (OFDR), a general lack of polish leaves the overall experience feeling a little disappointing -- but still one that is worth a look.
OFDR features an eleven mission campaign and three modes of online play that support up to four players for co-op, and eight for the competitive modes, Annihilation and Infiltration. The campaign puts the player in command of Marines who are tasked with quelling the crisis on the island of Skira. An opening cutscene quickly explains the history and near-future state of Skira, an island that has changed possession several times over centuries. In OFDR, the Chinese are forcibly reclaiming the oil rich island after a static economy in China forces them to seek outside sources of energy. Russia, who is presently in control of the island, seeks assistance from the US to keep this situation from escalating. The US agrees, and this is where the action begins.
Over the course of eleven missions, your four man team of Marines will assault, defend, infiltrate, and ultimately put an end to this dangerous situation. Players will also control multiple teams in several missions. Gameplay is from the first person perspective and players control their squadmates' actions with a command system similar to that in Ubisoft's Ghost Recon series.
Orders are given through a circular menu that is brought up by holding R1. When pressed, a menu with a variety of options appears. After selecting what type of order or command you want to issue, the menu instantly changes to reveal more options to narrow down the action. Common, quick orders are even more readily accessible in this circular command menu. To tell your squadmates to move up to a new position, for example, you simply enter the Command menu with R1, move your left stick to an area on the map, and press the corresponding direction on the d-pad to have them move there. You can also issue orders from the 2D overhead map that is accessible with a press of the Select button.
Getting used to the command menu doesn't take very long, and once you've got the sequences down, issuing orders becomes second nature. The available orders are rather extensive and cover any situation you might come across. Everything from the basic "move here" to "defend this area" to calling in artillery and air strikes, when available, can be done from here. As the team commander though, you can't just go barking out orders that will put your men in harm's way. Commanding your men to perform highly dangerous acts will get them injured and killed. Their is a morale factor to deal with that affects the team's behavior to the point where your soldiers may no longer respond to your orders. Then again, good commands leads to excellence in execution, which will disrupt the morale of the enemy. It's a nice feature.
OFDR boasts over seventy realistic weapons and over fifty vehicles, and by that count there are quite a few I have yet to experience. Anti-tank RPGs, M4 assault rifles, Humvees, helicopters, gunboats, and many others await your control. Driving or piloting the vehicles can take a bit of getting used to, but as long as you have a squadmate around, you can command them to take the "wheel" instead. That said, there isn't anything quite like stealing a PLA jeep and then gunning it over the mountainous terrain to get to another enemy site, catching some major airtime and hitting lots of bumps along the way.
Certainly driving right into an enemy position is one strategy, although not a very good one. That's another part of OFDR that I enjoy: the freedom to come up with a plan and attempt to carry it out. The maps and missions are large, and there are multiple ways to approach an objective. The gameplay is free flowing in that you can try a tactic, turn tail and regroup if need be, and try something again. For extra variety and challenge, you can alter the difficulty setting which controls what the player sees in the HUD (enemy locations, ammo count, etc), and whether or not squadmates respawn at checkpoints. On that note, I would have appreciated the ability to either save anywhere-anytime, or at least have a handful of save slots per mission. The checkpoints are nice, but having to reload from one after you just spent x number of minutes trying to complete another objective is discouraging.
Were this a highly polished experience the frustration would be reduced but OFDR does have its flaws...
Taming the Dragon
The biggest problem with OFDR is its overall lack of polish. It's a term that gets thrown around sometimes in the gaming industry, but OFDR is a prime example of a game that could have used a few extra months 'under the hood.' This extra development time would have been key to ironing out some of the general wonkiness and rough edges of the game.
The first negative thing I noticed was simply the in game visuals. I thought they did a great job with the box art
and the main menu, sure, but once the game actually gets going, the graphics are underwhelming. It's not that I didn't like the colors used or the detail of this or that, but there are some real flaws with clipping and objects appearing and disappearing depending on how you approach or look at them. The vegetation is largely comprised of flat 2D sprites that look really dated, too. Character details and animations don't impress either, and compounded with the other graphical shortcomings it's an overall mediocre looking game.
The sounds in OFDR also leave a lot to be desired. What irked me the most was the very unnatural and awkward way your character would call out grid coordinates. Or, when a squadmate made contact with an enemy and called out their location. The dialogue is detailed, which is great, but the actual voiceover sounds very stiff and unnatural, and that really upset the immersion factor for me. Sound effects are good, but not outstanding.
Now, I've always been the type of gamer to take good solid gameplay and fun over graphics and sound. And while OFDR does suffer from an overall lackluster presentation, other aspects of gameplay need some TLC, too. The AI, for example, on both sides of the war, isn't great. Your squadmates will routinely run in front of your line of fire, although they don't take damage, which is just old school, in a bad way. I also experienced them firing their weapons right across the tip of my nose if some enemy was beyond me in the distance. It's another awkward and unnatural behavior that counters the realism included in the game.
Squadmates will at times succumb to the scenario that sees one soldier dying, followed by the next, and then the next. This happened to me on at least a couple of missions whereby one solider was shot down by an enemy, and the next soldier walked right into the spot the first fell, and was also shot down by the same enemy. This of course happened just after I died, so that says something about my commanding skills at the time, but still -- a little more caution and realistic thinking on the AI's part would have been great. That's not to say your squadmates don't make a lot of good decisions, but they also make some bad ones, too.
One other oddity I would point out is how keen my squadmates were at spotting enemies that I hadn't even noticed yet. I just thought it was odd that they spotted these guys so quickly. Through normal vision, i.e., without bringing up your scope or binoculars, peering into the blurry distance to pick out enemies that tend to blend into the background is a tall order. Having to scroll through your inventory with Circle, or holding it to bring up the inventory menu, (to select the binoculars) takes just a little longer than you might expect. I came to like having to advance slowly towards enemy positions, stopping to take a look through my binos regularly, but I still think the AI awareness was bizarre at times.
A single eleven mission campaign will certainly last you several hours, but beyond that there is a good multiplayer offering to explore. The action can be played over a LAN or Online, with two co-op modes and two competitive modes. The co-op modes include either playing through the campaign with up to three friends, or taking on single missions from the campaign (but only for those missions you have beaten in the campaign). The other two modes are Annihilation and Infiltration. Annihilation is a team based deathmatch mode that sets two balanced teams on
opposite sides of a large map. The goal is to score the most kills in a set amount of time, or to reach the specified kill quota before the other team does. In Infiltration, it's team versus team again, but the Infiltrators are outnumbered against the Defense Team. The Infiltrators must use their special weapons and sneaking tactics to destroy some objective that is under the control of the Defense team, who has to repel the Infiltrators.
I haven't spent a great deal of time online to date, but my experiences have been somewhat mixed so far. The matchmaking service works well, as do the other lobby or menu functions that allow you to create a server, browse servers and so forth. There isn't much of a community right now, but I think we'll see a decent increase in the amount of players joining in the ranks. Finding good, reliable players is going to be an important challenge. This isn't the type of game that a lone wolf can have a whole heck of a lot of success in. Teamwork amongst a bunch of
strangers is likely going to be your biggest hurdle, but it may not be one at all if you have enough friends to play with.
With that, let's get to the summary...