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Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
Score: 76%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Shooter/ Squad-Based/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:
In 2001, Bohemia Interactive Studio and Codemasters released Operation Flashpoint: Coldwar Crisis. Touted as a tactical shooter/battlefield simulator, it garnered critical acclaim for it's realism and artificial intelligence, largely due to its use of the Real Virtuality engine, which at the time was also being used by the military combat simulator VBS1. An Xbox port of the game was released on the Xbox in 2005. Several expansion packs followed the original release, but, due to a falling out between developer Bohemia Interactive Studio and producer Codemasters, a true sequel was delayed. Codemasters, acting as both developer and producer, recently released Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (OFP:DR).

Advertised as being "As close to war as you ever want to get," OFP:DR sets the player in the midst of a battle on an island in the Pacific Ocean. The game does a nice job making the player feel that they are a small piece of a much bigger puzzle (more on this below), with much of the action taking place off at a distance, just within sight or hearing. Regarding "within sight," OFP:DR is actually quite impressive. The island itself is some 220 square kilometers and the game sports a draw distance of around 35 kilometers. Unfortunately, the graphics fail to really allow for a full appreciation of this feat. The landscape feels plastic and artificial, with little in the way of environmental interaction. Where the soldiers and vehicles are well detailed, most everything else is drab and unimpressive, leaving the player feeling that, despite the draw distances and nice particle effects from smoke and dust, OFP:DR could almost be a last-gen game. While OFP:DR falls short in graphical detail, it certainly does much better in the audio department. From distant skirmishes and explosions to nearby gunfire and overhead aircraft, the realistic sounds of combat surround engage and immerse the player. Closing one's eyes and just listening to the game provides a very intense aural sensation; unfortunately, it makes playing the game a wee bit difficult.

Where the original game was set in the mid-80s amidst the Coldwar era, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is set in the not-too-distant future. The economic crisis has escalated and reserves of oil have begun to disappear worldwide. On a small island north of Japan, Russia has discovered a large deposit of oil. China, already in a border dispute with Russia, has moved to capture the island. Unable to spare the manpower from its border forces in order to retake the island, Russia calls on the United States for aid. Enter the USMC.

In the first mission, the player, acting as a fire-team leader, is tasked with helping retake a small island which will act as a staging ground for the recapture of the main island. In the common trend of many recent games, this mission acts as on-the-job training, walking the player through various aspects of gameplay, such as ordering your A.I. companions and calling for fire support missions. Over the course of the 11 mission campaign, the player will act as fire-team leader for one of two teams, switching back and forth depending on the mission. While not an overly long campaign, the missions are generally well-paced. One noted complaint is the amount of running from point to point with no engagement that takes place. While this may be realistic, it certainly isn't fun, and this is a game after all.

Aside from the main campaign, which can be played either single player or co-op with up to 3 online friends, OFP:DR also features two other play modes. There are six single player missions which can be unlocked using codes that can be gotten either from the game website or from pre-order packaging. These missions are basic fire-team engagements, putting the player and his team in action against superior numbers in various hostile situations. While a fun distraction, these missions did not really add much to the overall value of the game. In addition to co-op multiplayer, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising also features online competitive multiplayer action. Going head-to-head with other players is fun and challenging, assuming that the player finds a suitable and stable host, as lag and disconnects can prove extremely frustrating.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising features three difficulty settings. None of these settings actually affect gameplay, A.I. functions or damage absorption. The only difference is how much information is given to the player on the Heads-Up Display (HUD) and how often checkpoints are encountered. Otherwise, everything else functions the same. On the first difficulty setting, most of the information offered in standard FPS games is present, including ammo count, location of objectives, a health indicator, etc. As difficulties increase, this information lessens. At the most difficult setting, almost no information is presented to the player and there are no checkpoints in the mission, meaning that if a player dies, the mission must be restarted from the beginning. Considering that some of the missions are quite long, this could potentially be a near-catastrophic event, so be careful if you choose this route.

Speaking of checkpoints and objectives, this can prove to be a very confusing aspect of the game. Some of the objectives are given via the on-screen radio interaction from command. These are updated from time to time as the situation unfolds. Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising offers a somewhat open-ended approach to most objectives, meaning that there is no specific route to take or prescribed method to use in order to complete an objective. However, if a player chooses his own route and does not follow the yellow markers on the display, the game will not register a checkpoint. This hampers the otherwise free-roaming aspect. Another burden to this non-linearity are timed events that take place whether you are in place or not. In some situations, this makes sense from a battle simulation standpoint, as there are going to be designated times for certain happenings during a military campaign. At other times, players are left scratching their heads, wondering just why the tank crew went ahead and moved forward before they could clear the last anti-tank crew, the end result being the unfortunate loss of tank and crew and the inability to continue the mission.

In addition to the weirdly-timed scripted events, the strange A.I. that OFP:DR employs will also leave the player bewildered. Some of these issues are just weird, such as an enemy general who, every time he exits his vehicle, marches around in a crouched stance with pistol drawn and pointed like he is clearing a room, while his three body guards walk calmly behind, rifles comfortably shouldered. Other inconsistencies are more annoying, especially in regards to the player's fire-team companions. It is not unusual to move a good distance across the map, clearing several small checkpoints, only then to notice that the team at some point just stopped following, meaning that the player must now wait several minutes for them to catch up. Even more irritating is lack of fire discipline. Why, in a well-oiled machine like these fire-teams are made out to be, would a member crawl directly into the firing lane of another member, resulting in another untimely death? These instances are all too common in OFP:DR and complaints have already become quite heated on the game's website, with Codemasters supposedly working on a fix to address the faulty A.I. situation.

Game Mechanics:
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising offers an easy-to-use control scheme for most basic functions. Movement and looking around are accomplished using the standard thumbstick layout. Weapon aiming and firing is achieved using the (R2) and (L2) buttons respectively. Aiming is very important, as much of this game takes place as long-range combat. There is very little face-to-face squad vs. squad combat. Instead, bullets start flying the moment that an opposing unit is spotted, sometimes from many kilometers away. This somewhat deflates the combat experience, as there is no real satisfaction garnered when the little spot that is firing at you and that you are firing at suddenly gets a red "X" and stops firing. Other actions are assigned to the various face buttons, all in a manner that is fairly intuitive and quickly learned. These controls translate equally well to the vehicular aspects, both driving and flying. The most debilitating aspect of the controls comes in the form of the radial Menu system designed to allow for "easy" ordering of the player's A.I. teammates, as well as call for incoming fire missions. While conceptually intriguing, the number of drill-down options makes this system cumbersome and nearly useless during a combat situation.

One issue that will quickly become apparent during the campaign and single player missions is the lack of control the player has over the equipment that is assigned at the beginning of the mission. While it is nice to find a fallen enemy and pilfer through his belongings to grab his sniper rifle for some more up-close and personal at range combat, it would be even nicer if the player could choose the great sniper rifle to begin with. This lack of flexibility is really inexcusable, especially in continuation missions, where the player has never returned to base, yet is assigned a new load-out prior to the beginning of the follow-up mission. The game offers stat-addicts a bevvy of statistical information regarding kills, varying types of kills, time in vehicles, and much more, but due to the lack of control the player has over item selection, these stats are largely useless outside of pure multiplayer environments.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising offered a lot of promising gaming goodness to the player. Large, open-ended missions, a huge map in an on-going battle, extensive military-styled weapons and a promising, current-affairs storyline all put together in a battlefield simulation type experience had a lot of FPS and military enthusiasts excited to join the fight. Sadly, the effort felt a little less than polished and ultimately failed to deliver an immersive and entertaining experience. It is not a bad game, but in a genre packed with really good games, mediocrity just does not justify the cost. At $59.99 retail, OFP:DR is definitely a try-before-you buy title.

-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

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