Operation Flashpoint: Red River Review
As soon as you begin the campaign you will realize that as a welcome breath of fresh air, this war game does not take after the balls-to-the-wall seriousness of Call of Duty, but it also aims to be more than a standard first-person shooter set in a modern warzone. After the slideshow intro you are dropped in a mini-boot camp in Tajikistan, and from the shooting range you join a convoy heading directly into battle along the border with China. Your satisfaction from then on totally depends upon your expectations with games like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty on the market. If you are looking for the evolution from CoD then you will be disappointed, but if you are craving something that offers an alternative perspective to the “you’re the only hope in the world” theme of CoD and instead focuses more on what real soldiers might go through in today’s warfare, then this game could be just what you have been missing.
Visually, this game is ambitious. It sports mostly smooth frame rates and some dynamic shadows and lighting, but at other times the lighting seems reckless and the environment skips a beat when drawing itself. Character models look decent, but the terrain textures look about a decade old up close. The environment would not look nearly as bad if they had just provided better contrast; everything blends into each other, and it will often be hard to pick out enemies from the canvas of muddy brown that is everywhere. Thankfully there is a compass on the top of the HUD that will put red dots in the direction of tangos, but that doesn’t help much at range, in areas with buildings, or when the enemy is shooting at you through foliage. It could be that the stopping points are not that great, or that your orders aren’t always the most tactically sound. Whatever the case may be, this game aimed high in visual quality and fell a few steps short, but as a whole the game does look impressive. This is especially true when riding in a vehicle and you’re allowed time to view the horizon, mountain lines, and sky from afar.
Shooting is tight and satisfying. Compared to Call of Duty, this game doesn’t send near-endless waves at you but maybe once per level, and hitting an enemy is effective where in CoD you may only stagger or slow an enemy with body-shots. Unlike most shooters where you simply follow the path through enemy positions, in this game your squad along with other squads work to push forward and take territory. This means that you will cover great distances by foot, and while possibly authentic it would have been much wiser to have more of this time spent on giving you mission details instead of you and hundreds of footsteps between each fight [missions can easily take an hour or more to complete]. Though on the surface this may sound like an every-day shooter, each encounter in this game is made more satisfying after the built up anticipation. With added responsibilities of fulfilling objectives and keeping your team alive as well as not leaving friendly squads out to dry, you should feel a greater obligation to look after more than just your own skin.
Sadly, the AI struggles with consistency. Your team does not have the ability to heal each other, which is frustrating when all are hurt and you have to nurse each one while bullets fly around you. Teammates are better than you at shooting 80% of the time it seems, but for the other 20% of enemies your squad will apparently forget how to use a firearm. They also can’t follow you very well, or their programming dictates that whenever you stop they are to set up a defensive perimeter rather than stay behind you or behind cover. Every time an ally falls in battle you will usually find his dying body out in the open because he was going in front of the cover for some reason. As far as enemy AI, they will vary from being able to snipe you from 300 yards away and turning into conscientious objectors. Basically, firefights in this game are intense if not confusing. If the intended effect was that of an authentic battlefield, that mark may have been missed with enemies that are just a bit too accurate and squad mates that don’t respond correctly to all situations. If everyone plays their role you will feel like you’re in the middle of Black Hawk Down, but more often than not you’ll end up in a malaise of questionable programming.
The tone of this game is summarized from one of the lines from your CO Knox, “Quit sword-fighting over there. Zip it up and let’s go.” He’s a key part of the game because he’s barking at you every minute. He walks the line of Full Metal Jacket-funny and being as annoying as a tiny anime sidekick, but for the most part he is a motivating force. This tone of wise-cracking military banter might be a major factor in someone curious about this game because it speaks more to the real testosterone-driven world of being in the US Armed Forces – it’s full of R-rated language and is often hilarious. It adds character to the game itself, and possibly compensating for the lack of character in anyone in Bravo Team (that’s your squad).
You are ranked in each mission and by leveling up you unlock equipment and firepower. You will also earn points to increase attributes such as running time and weapons-handling. And though it’s not the easiest thing to do, you can switch your role and the roles of anyone in your team. You will probably instantly go for the scout because most of the enemies will be at long range, especially in the early game, but urban warfare and close-quarters combat take up a considerable part of most missions. These customization options are nice, but none of these things add up to much, unfortunately.
Every mission starts with a detailed briefing with slick animations and quality voice-work. Presentation is great all-around, and you have to applaud Codemasters for not skimping on the audio, though you may not agree with all or any of the song list.
In the end, Operation Flashpoint is an ambitious game that tries its best to compensate for its various shortcomings, and Codemasters deserves a lot of credit for not mimicking Call of Duty or coping out to make a mediocre title. This game would have been a triple-A game as a launch title when the Xbox 360 came out, but in 2011 the uneven pacing, bland environments, occasional bugs, and uneven AI are all the more obvious. However, this game as a whole can often times make you feel like you’re in this war-torn region, that these are the kinds of operations actual marines carry out in real life. With squad mechanics and co-op mode you may find yourself falling in love with this underdog of a title. It’s not a CoD-killer, nor does it try to be, but with some tightening of the gameplay here and there this franchise could eventually emerge as the top dog.
Final Rating: 82%.