While Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising touts itself as a tactical squad-based shooter, what really separates this franchise from all of the other gun games is its brutal difficulty and faithful adaptation to real battlefield conditions.
In this first-person shooter sequel you command a squad of marines helping to retake the island of Skira from the Chinese in a near-future teetering on the brink of war.
But no longer in the hands of developers Bohemia Interactive, can Codemaster's Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising prove itself every bit as difficult and fun as the original?
Loved Damage System: Getting shot in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising can have a lasting impact on how you play the missions. Besides headshots killing you instantly, you can get tagged in the legs, the chest, the arms, the head. Injuries show up on a little version of your character on the screen, if you don't fix yourself up fast (or have a medic do it) you'll eventually bleed out. And even when you do patch yourself up you still won't be able to run sometimes. The end result? More cautious gameplay, more thinking before you move. Perfect for this type of game.
Sound: I've played my share of first-person and third-person shooters and, next to America's Army 2, this game has some of the best sound effects out there. You'll hear a sniper bullet whine by your ear urging your to drop to the ground and use the report of automatic fire to pinpoint an enemy and listen for footsteps to alert you to nearby bad guys.
Difficulty: Played on the average setting, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a brutal, unforgiving experience. If you don't pace yourself, using tactics and squad commands, you're going to be shot down in seconds. And those one-shot kills you land can happen to you too, so don't stand in one place for too long.
Realism: From the whine of bullets and full body damage modelling to the relatively open map, which allows for just about any sort of approach you want in a map, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising plays more like a training exercise than it does a run-in-gun shooter.
Hated Save System: Managing and creating save points in a game can be an art. Too many and players will just trudge through the game, regardless of loss of life, knowing that they can respawn metres from where they dropped. Too few and you have Dragon Rising, which has you play for 30 to 40 minutes, cross vast tracks of terrain, take out multiple units and then die only to do it all over again. The save points improve as you near the end of the game, but the beginning is brutal and unnecessary.
Line of Sight: When a single shot can kill you instantly and save points are stretched between unforgiving distances of objectives and terrain, having a game that can't render an enemy on the horizon doesn't just look bad, it guts the action. In almost every map I played there were enemies who phased in and out of existence as they wavered on the edge of what the game could handle showing me, making sniping a near impossibility.
Brain-Damaged Friendlies: Your squad mates can be life savers, helping you flank enemies or patching you up after you've taken a shot to the chest. But man can they be stupid. It's shocking how many times my men came to patch me up and then just stood over me with a med kit in hand, watching me die, or refused to mount a vehicle, or walked directly in front of me while I was shooting. Or the one time I had to restart a section of a mission because my squad had commandeered a jeep, drove to the other side of the map with it and then refused to join me at the extraction point. In a game so reliant on squad, this level of artificial intelligence problems is unacceptable.
Plot: Maybe this is a plus for some gamers, but if you're going to bother having a storyline, even a rudimentary one, then invest a little time in creating a story arch, characters with first names, some meaning. Look at Modern Warfare. It was a core shooting experience, but still managed to deliver a evocative and interesting story.
Not So Online: I'd love to be able to tell you what playing on the Playstation Network is like with Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, but I was never able to even connect to the servers. Going online I found a six-page thread about the problem and promises from the developer that they were looking into the issue. Apparently the same problems can be found on the PC and Xbox 360 versions of the game, according to the thread.
Buggy: This game could have used a bit more time in the cooker, it also could have used a thorough once-over after it was finished. From spastic animations to clueless friendlies to missions that won't end to missing radio communications, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a mess.
Despite the problems, and there were quite a few, I did love the concept of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. I think games these days are too forgiving. Gamers, especially "hard core" gamers need some tough love. That means permanent death in massively multiplayer online games, overwhelming odds in strategy titles and one-shot kills in shooters.
Playing through the game was a painful, but fun experience. The bugs and overwhelming problems with the title made the time spent gaming often frustrating, but those times when the game was working properly it sang.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising was developed and published by Codemasters for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on October 6. Retails for $US59.99. In Australia, the Xbox 360 and PS3 version are on sale October 15 for AU$109.95 and the PC version on October 22 for AU$99.95. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the single-player campaign, but was unable to join any multiplayer servers over the course of four days.
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