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Conflict: Denied Ops
Score: 55%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Pivotal Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 16 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Squad-Based/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
One of Conflict: Denied Ops' core problems is that it feels too much like a game. Have I gone crazy? Probably, but that's a completely unrelated issue. The entire experience feels incredibly mechanical and relies too much on dated, outdone gameplay scenarios rather than building what could be a really cool teamwork mechanic.

It all begins with presentation. Although the graphics are solid, they aren't incredibly impressive and feel more like plastic playsets rather than living environments. Everything, including rubble, has a very rigid, geometric feel - which makes it incredibly easy to see exactly how the level designers want you to proceed through each area. The color palette, like so many other games this generation, is incredibly dark and drab.

One of the game's key bullet points is the ability to destroy most objects in the environment. Although it holds true to its word, it ends up supporting the game's "playset" feel. Conflict sticks to the time-honored videogame cliché of including numerous exploding barrels and other flammable materials in each level, which is the source of much of the game's destruction. There are also a few easy to identify destructible set pieces, though there isn't much of a gameplay reason to destroy them other than just doing it because you can.

Although there is little visual difference between the 360 and PS3, there are a few noticeable framerate drops with the PS3 version. The drops are a minimal annoyance and really don't affect gameplay that much, though it is worth a mention for anyone who has a choice between the two versions.

Audio, especially the dialogue, is hard to endure. From the start, it is made abundantly clear that Graves and Lang, the two protagonists, don't like each other. This is played out through the numerous one-liners the two spit at each other throughout the game. Both characters also do their best to hold up to their respective stereotypes. Lang is a cocky rookie who feels the need to drop F-Bombs with the same frequency some people use "like", while Graves is the battle-hardened veteran.

At any time during a mission, you can switch between the two agents, heavy gunner Lang and sniper Graves, with the press of a button. The transition is seamless and works rather well. However, the gameplay doesn't support this type of play all that well. For one, the gameplay differences between the two agents are negligible; there's little difference between the two outside of the weapons that seem grafted to their bodies, and even then there isn't much difference in how situations are tackled. Although each is advertised as having unique skill sets, neither really feels all that different. Lang is supposed to be the heavy damage guy, yet Graves seems to do just as much damage. Meanwhile, Graves is supposed to be the "stealth guy", yet the opportunity to use his skills never comes up. At times, it feels like missions were planned without considering how each character's skill sets could be best used.

The same goes for the teamwork aspects - which should be the game's core mechanic and where the fun comes from. The general theory behind the two-man play style works and can lead to scenarios where Graves is ordered to cover Lang with his sniper rifle, while Lang goes for another objective. While this sounds great in theory, the mechanic doesn't lead to compelling gameplay. Situations almost never require that you use the teamwork mechanic and your partner is sometimes more of a liability than an asset. Although the teammate A.I. is pretty good, he doesn't exercise basic common sense and will follow your orders to the letter, even if it means his death. You can order him into a position and he won't leave for anything, regardless of whether or not he has cover or if he's blocking your path. One "fix" is to bring a friend along in multiplayer games, but even the addition of a friend doesn't improve the situation.

It doesn't stop with overly-direct A.I. - there are also times where artificial barriers are put in place for no good reason. For example, in the very first mission, you are allowed to drive a tank until reaching an invisible wall that forces you to go the rest of the way on foot. There's plenty of open space for it to travel through, and nothing happens to the tank to disable it, you just can't go on because it was decided that you can't. Enemies also have a tendency to spawn out of thin air, even in rooms that you've already cleared out.

The A.I.'s to-the-letter approach to orders ends up playing a big part in Conflict: Denied Ops' overall difficulty. Even with the random enemy spawns, the game itself isn't that hard and is mostly a point-and-shoot affair. However, since your teammate seems to have little regard for his own life, you end up spending an inordinate amount of time babysitting him. Unless directed otherwise, your teammate will stick with the last order given. In other words, if you tell him to resupply, he'll stick around the resupply area until you tell him to move.

The A.I. is also pretty selfish. If one teammate falls in battle, the other can revive him. Most of the time you end up saving your A.I.-controlled mate since he doesn't have sense enough to get out of the way of bullets, but in the event you need saving, he's usually too busy to come and help.

Game Mechanics:
Conflict: Denied Ops' controls manage to be completely playable while, at the same time, being incredibly awkward. For the most part, Conflict follows the same general setup as most FPS's on the system, except that it also maps several related, yet different functions to the same buttons. For instance, throwing a grenade and switching grenade types are both mapped to the (R1) button; which action the button performs is determined by how long it is held. Though this makes sense, it is incredibly awkward to use. It isn't uncommon for a player to hold the grenade to "cook" it, or wait for an opportune time to throw it. However, in Conflict, you almost need to "dumb throw" grenades, otherwise you'll bring up the selection screen. The same goes for switching weapons (press (triangle) and opening your inventory (press and hold (triangle). It's a novel idea, though it doesn't work and ends up making gameplay cumbersome.

The one-click command system suffers from a similar problem. Commands are issued by pressing (or holding) the (L1) or (L2) button depending on the stituation. Commands are generally easy to give, though the issues aren't always clear. Clicking in an area will usually send your teammate to that location, while clicking on an item, such as an ammo box, causes him to perform that action. Movement works great, but the action-based icon doesn't always pop up, so you'll have to click on an area a few times before it registers.

The most disappointing aspect of Conflict: Denied Ops is that there are actually some really good ideas buried underneath the mechanical, ho-hum gameplay. Unfortunately, the potential of these ideas is never really followed up on or exploited in any way. As a result, Conflict: Denied Ops isn't easy to recommend to even the most hardcore of FPS fans.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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