It's been eight years since PC gamers waged war in Operation Flashpoint. Now the sequel - in name, if not developer - is coming to console. How's it shaping up?
A caveat before I begin: I'm playing a preview build here. This build consists of two missions only. There's no campaign for me to test out, nor any multiplayer. This isn't the final game; in fact it says "Work In Progress" up in the top right-hand corner while I'm playing. Just in case I forget.
I arrive at Operation Flashpoint never having played the original. However I do enjoy a good shooter, especially a thinking man's type of shooter, which is what I envisage this to be. I'm playing the Xbox 360 version.
00:00 - I jump into a mission entitled Dragon Rising, described as an "introduction" to the game. Not sure if this is the first mission of the actual game, but it does sound like it acts as a tutorial. My mission objectives are to destroy the early warning radar network in the island's south and, as a secondary task, destroy the surface-to-air missile emplacement to the north. 00:03 - I take a moment to assess my squad. There's four of us (the squad select screen shows up to five soliders can be assigned to a specific squad) including a machinegunner, engineer, medic and leader (me). Each solider has a loadout consisting of a primary weapon, a sidearm and two other equipment slots. I can look at these pre-mission, but at least for this mission in this build I can't change them. 00:05 - We're dropped in a field dotted with trees and a smattering of waist-high stone walls. In the distance smokes plumes from a burning tank. Looking through 360-degrees it's clear this is an expansive environment with few obvious barriers to exploration. A waypoint marks my progress to the base of a gently-inclined hill. 00:08 - Upon reaching the waypoint marker, a tutorial pop-up informs me I should order my squad to suppress or flank right. Heeding the advice, I run to a nearby wall and crouch just as the enemy further up the hill opens fire on us. I hold down RB to open up the command menu and fumble around for a few moments trying to find the relevant orders. Bullets are flying past me ears and pinging against the stone in front of me. 00:10 - Still unable to find either the suppress or flank right commands, something explodes and the camera pulls back to show my body lying in the grass. I appear to be dead.
00:14 - Restarting the mission, I try to familiarise myself with the command menu before heading to the waypoint. It's not entirely intuitive. You hold RB and then use the d-pad to navigate a series of sub-menus, each with four options. I eventually find suppress under the Orders/Fire sub-section and flank right under the Orders/Offense sub-section. Got it. 00:16 - We advance to the waypoint and I get my guys to lay down suppression fire. I'm just about to sneak up the right-hand side under some tree cover when two of my guys go down injured. A tutorial pops up to tell me I can heal them by dressing their wounds. Trouble is I can't actually see my guys any more. Still crouching, I scramble around the area near the waypoint before finally spotting one of my guys as he stands up to shoot. I'm not sure if he's one of the injured or not, so I heal him regardless. I spot a second of my squad and try to heal him, but can't. Guess he's not injured. Still, for some reason, two of my squad icons are still red. Dunno where the third guy is. 00:20 - I give up and tell my squad to flank right instead, while I cover them from here. I spray the enemy sandbags up the hill while my guys move forward. Soon there's no return fire, so I cautiously make my way up the hill. Upon reaching the sandbags I can't find any corpses, but at least no one's shooting at me.
00:25 - From my position near the top of the hill my compass is showing two clusters of red dots indicating enemy units. The cluster to the southwest lies directly ahead over the hill's crest and that's where my next waypoint leads. To the southeast, beyond where the hill sharply drops away, is the other bunch of red dots. I go prone and crawl to the southeast ridge before pulling out my binoculars. While hidden in the long grass I can survey the small village below the ridge, spotting five or so troops milling about. Opting
to chicken out that discretion is the better part of valour, I crawl back to the crest of the hill and call my squad to regroup and follow me to the southwest waypoint.
00:29 - I can hear gunfire over the hill. I crouch behind a couple of rocks near the summit and command my squad to lay down suppression while I scope out what lies ahead. Down below, about 100 metres away across an open field is a small base. A half-dozen enemies are bunkered down, returning our fire. To my right the hill appears to abruptly turn into a cliff overlooking the sea. To my left a series of rocks and bushes give way to a few trees, providing a bit of cover even if it does take me closer to the occupied village over the ridge.
00:33 - Still commanding my guys to suppress, I begin to crawl along behind the rocks. With the long grass and other foliage all around me, my visibility is low but I press on and hope I'm heading for the trees. I poke my head out from a shrub for a second, edging just that little bit too far into the open before ducking back. It's too late though, as the bullets start to rain down on my position. I get hit and notice the damage indicator bottom left shows my head a different colour to the rest of my body. The screen is starting to turn red and my vision fading. I've just switched to my first aid dressings when the camera once again pulls right back over my body. I'm dead. 00:38 - Thankfully I can restart from the checkpoint I hit at the top of the hill. This time I notice a camouflaged tent slightly to the west. Next to it I find a weapon cache including - oh the convenience! - a QBZ95, which the bracketed class designation tells me is a marksman rifle. I grab it and crawl to the top of the hill, instructing my squad to flank left through the trees while I snipe from above. They manage to take out a couple of guys near the sandbags and I drop the remainder huddled near a building. All clear, I think.
00:42 - I crouch-run down the slope, instructing my guys to move into positions near the sandbags. I reach the base and find one of the enemy soldiers is only injured, he's just lying on the ground, writhing there. I switch to my handgun and put him out of his misery. Then I search his corpse and take his ammo. Then I search his friend's corpse and take his ammo too. Gunfire and the rumble of what I assume to be a plane flying overheard can be heard. I hunt around for more corpses to loot. 00:45 - At this point I've actually forgotten what my objective was. I'm still poking around the base when I remember I was meant to destroy the radar. That would explain that waypoint marking an important location just a few feet away underneath the communications tower. Just as I've equipped the demolition charges, my commander radios in to tell me I've taken too long and they're aborting their mission. There is no option, sadly, to tell him "I'm right here and I'm about to blow this shit up and, hey, maybe I'd have gotten it done quicker if you'd briefed me better on the controls!" 00:48 - So I have to repeat that section again, choosing to use the same successful tactics. This time, however, I forgo the corpse-looting until I've set the demo charges and taken out the radar tower. Unfortunately, despite moving behind some sandbags at what I thought was a safe distance, I still manage to injure myself in the explosion. I staunch the blood loss with my trusty bandages as the commander radios in his next instruction. Apparently I have to call in combat support using my binoculars. Those things have a phone? Awesome!
00:52 - After making cautious progress to the ridge overlooking the village to the southeast, I pull out my binoculars and see those same five or so guys I spotted earlier. Only this time they're under fire from several friendly squads perched atop the cliff opposite my position. I bring up the combat support menu, my active options currently limited to a howitzer, which I choose to deploy in "scattered" fashion. I watch the shells rain down, throwing huge clouds of dust into the sky. Command tells me I've done well. 00:54 - My squad is now redeployed back to near where we started this mission, so I tell my guys to follow me and we jog to the waypoint some 300 metres away. We're nearly there when command informs me that some light vehicles have been spotted heading our way. We're to intercept and eliminate them. 00:56 - Moments later I can hear at least two jeeps approaching from the north. I drop prone on the spot and tell my squad to advance to the dilapidated shack up ahead. Now crouching I manage to snipe one of the drivers before the rest of the enemy soldiers scatter. I pick off a second guy crouching behind a wall. My squad reports a third and then a fourth enemy has been eliminated. 00:58 - The compass shows one guy left. Through my rifle's scope I spot him hiding in the trees on the other side of the road. I hit him but he's still alive. My squad moves forward across the road and we finish off the injured enemy. As we turn back we spot another couple of red dots on the compass coming from the same direction we'd arrived. 00:59 - I command my troops to take cover by the stone wall on the side of the road while I approach one of the abandoned jeeps. There are options to jump into the driver's, passenger or gunner's seat. I opt for the latter, but just as I do the preview code starts to wig out. I can't look around, shoot or even get out. The battle continues all around me but my controls have locked up. Which is good timing. 00:60 - Because time's up!
So, the big question is… Do I want to keep playing beyond the first hour?
I've seen enough here to know that I want to check out the final game come September. It's clear this is a shooter that prioritises quick thinking above being quick on the trigger. Yet it also advantages the player who understands they need to proceed with caution. That appeals to me far more than the shooting gallery type of FPS.
Even though by the end of the hour I'd gotten the hang of issuing basic commands, there were a host of other options I'd barely looked at. A proper tutorial would be of huge benefit. The evidence points towards a deep, complex experience. Let's hope it also manages to be accessible to those willing to give it a try.
If you've got any questions about Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, let me know and I'll try to answer them today.
Kotaku AU Note: This post was originally published on July 28. We were later informed there was an embargo in place on Operation Flashpoint 2 preview coverage. That embargo has now lifted.