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Operation Flashpoint: Red River
Score: 71%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Simulation/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
Operation Flashpoint: Red River is a console rarity. Though it looks like any other war-based shooter, it aspires to something much different. Rather than presenting the action-packed "war porn" found in other console shooters, Red River presents a more realistic look at war. It's a noble venture that is unfortunately crippled by A.I. issues and numerous design flaws.

With the realistic bent comes realistic visuals. Characters are detailed, but at the cost of the environments. The sense of scale is really impressive, though there isn't much to see in the environments. There's a noticeable lack of detail, which is only magnified considering the amount of time spent driving around the area. For all I know, Red River might present an accurate look at Tajikistan's landscape, but even if that is the case, some artistic license is acceptable.

Voice acting is, for the most part, good. Your Sergeant spends much of the campaign rambling on about everything and finding new ways to use certain sentence modifiers. Some harsh language is expected, but there's a line. I enjoyed some of the squad chatter, but it tends to drone on, eventually becoming background noise.

Weapons fire and other ambient effects are incredibly solid and almost make up for the game's other audio shortcomings.

Operation Flashpoint: Red River keeps the realistic vibe going with a mission that is slightly more grounded than what usually goes on in war games. You're part of a four-man team send to Tajikistan in pursuit of a group of insurgents. The operation starts as a find-and-return mission, but things escalate once the Chinese get involved. The story is good, though it takes too long to get to the point. The first part of the game is dull; it only picks up when the Chinese show up.

The working idea behind Red River is great; a (semi) open-ended shooter based on squad-based tactics. The heart of the entire operation is the radial command system, a menu you'll become intimately familiar with over the course of the game. Like the gameplay, the system works only in theory. The command menu offers a number of orders, which you can assign to single troops or the entire unit. Though functional, the system feels too cumbersome, especially during combat missions where you want to fight, not dig through menus to find the right commands. It's not a terrible system by any stretch of the imagination; it just needs to be a little faster to use.

Another issue is the narrow mission path. Although you're presented with what looks like an open field, the game is very specific about where you're expected to go during a mission. In a few situations, this is a detriment since enemies can show up in areas you're not supposed to enter.

The experience has its moments. Some engagements are fun and there are a few neat mechanics running through the game. The upgrade system is similar to other shooters, specifically Call of Duty. New load outs are always a great motivator. I also like the "bleed out" damage indicator. If you're hit, you need to hit a button to quickly patch yourself up, otherwise you'll die. Other elements add some frustration to the system, but it's better than the instant healing used in most games.

You will get your best look at what makes Operation Flashpoint: Red River different from every other shooter the first time you're shot. In Call of Duty, you can usually soak up a couple of rounds before you finally die. Not here. One bullet is usually enough to drop you or your squad mates. It adds a fun bit of tension to enemy encounters, though the A.I. quickly turns the tension to stress.

Friendly A.I. is bi-polar. Sometimes your squad will listen; other times they have complete mental breakdowns. They'll wander off, refuse to seek cover or sometimes walk right into your shot. A lot of time is spent patching them up while exposed to fire. It's a draining experience.

Game Mechanics:
The tactical side of Operation Flashpoint: Red River is its standout feature. Since one bullet is usually enough to take anyone in your squad down, and enemies are sometimes crazy accurate, you have to think through your approach to every situation very carefully. I enjoyed this aspect of the gameplay and found it incredibly satisfying, though only when everything worked out. That was a rare treat, however, so I spent more time trying to figure out the best way to approach a situation with minimal squad assistance, or at least planning the best route to medic support. What your squad lacks in smarts, they make up for with accuracy.

Four-player co-op is available, and probably your best chance at seeing the tactical intricacies played out to their fullest. Finding four people to play with, however, was difficult; I can only speculate on that aspect of the gameplay.

I enjoyed the number of assists available. There's a map, an aim assist and even a waypoint system. Though they diminish the realism, they make up for some of the other shortcomings. It's much easier to deal with erratic A.I. when you have some overhead notion of what else is happening. Assists can be toggled on or off.

Red River deserves credit for attempting something different. Considering the number of shooters on the market, it is hard to stand out. Though it has its moments, the overall experience isn't very fun. If you can manage to grab four friends and want to tackle a realistic tactical shooter, Operation Flashpoint: Red River has a little more to offer. Otherwise, it is more stress than enjoyment.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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