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Review: Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
by Jacques Hulme

A single bullet is a powerful object. Described by some as a work of art, and by many as a waste of human life, whichever view you take, there is one word that everyone uses to describe it - deadly.

In games, bullets have never taken this 'deadly' form. Many games bring us tactics and some realism - take the SOCOM franchise, for instance - but most just bring their own ideas to the table. However, the Operation Flashpoint series has always been close to this realism. The original, released in 2001, flew out of shops. It brought freedom but, most of all, this realism to the crowds. People ignored the silly controls, the evident bugs and instead just played. That's when you know a game is good. People just... play it.

The original developer, Bohemia Interactive, have moved on to publish the equally successful ArmA series, and now Codemasters (the original game’s publisher) have taken up the torch. They've got quite a name to live up to, and fans of the first are expecting a lot. Thankfully, Codemasters have seen the huge market that is consoles and have also released the game on the two big ones of this generation.

The main game takes place on a small island off the north coast of Japan by the name of Skira. Set in 2010, oil is still running out and this small island holds a ton of it. The island, owned by Russia, is invaded by the Chinese and the Russians call for their allies, The USA (REALLY!?) to help clear the island. The first 3 missions, a little like training missions, can be done all together in just one run. Apparently, this was going to be the idea that ran through the whole game, you take on a mission and if you fail you can keep playing but your defensive line is pushed back. However, this idea was scrapped when the dev found that you could fail every mission and still make it to the end of the game.

You fight with 3 other team AI if you play single player. They do provide some fire, but are mostly pretty useless. If you send one of them to heal another member, then don't be surprised if he stands up out of cover to do it. This can be very annoying, and can mean that you have to move to help both of them, instead of holding the enemy off. It can make some missions very difficult, such as the third mission where you defend a village. It wouldn't be too difficult if your team would stay in cover and go where you tell them. I ended up in a small room upstairs, while under fire, with no support from my team. Thankfully, be it with luck or skill, I did manage to hold off all the Chinese while they were running up the stairs.

The enemy AI, in contrast, is good. They use cover well, heal team mates and - without strong resilience on your part - will dominate the battlefield. Depending on which difficulty you choose, you can expect to take 1-10 bullets before needing to patch up. At some points you'll be crapping yourself with a grey screen – an imminent sign of an untimely death. With diligence and persistence I made it through - and even managed to get half way through the campaign on hard!

Graphically, the game is rather good. It's realistic – in fact, perhaps one of the more realistic ones of this year. Explosions will make you jump into the nearest cover, be it a tree, a hole or even a burning car. It's a game that needs surround sound as almost every bullet that flies by will have you cowering and whimpering in the nearest corner. Controls are great on PC, as you've got a whole 104-key, custom-mapped keyboard to work with. However, mastering them on consoles is a tough job especially when under gun fire; annoyingly, there were a few times I died due to the controls. Say you’re running to cover, under fire and you want your team to move where your cursor is. Be prepared to have to stop halfway across the battlefield to issue the command. It’s a very annoying problem that could have been fixed easily.

It's a game that's been built on PC and then ported to console, as an after thought. As such, there are a few things you can't do on console. The map editor, annoyingly, has been pulled out. It's a great shame as the original spawned some awesome home-brew, and consoles really need some of that kind of lovin' right now. However, perhaps an even more annoying point is you can't directly run over the whole island, like you can in the PC version. (if you do own it on PC and decide to run from on point of the island to the opposite it's going to take you around 9 hours in real time, so make sure you've got a mini fridge with you).

A big draw for gamers will be the online. Unfortunately, at the moment it's awful. The servers are terrible beyond description. I'll give a quick outline of how it all is. Click Multiplayer, Online. Wait 2-3 minutes. Get error message. Repeat steps 1-3 five times. Finally make it online, click friends. Add a friend, even if that friend is already on your PSN friend list. Join game, get kicked back to step one. Try again, up to 20 times. Get annoyed and put game away. I'm not even exaggerating that. However, on their Twitter account, @Flashpointgame, stated, "We're working around the clock, analyzing online data with partners to ascertain how they can correct server issues." A bit of hope! More recent news also says that DLC may be hitting with the patch - that's fast work Codies. Nice one.

So Operation Flashpoint is great - really realistic, down to the last bullet. Running into the enemy is not the way to do it and you'll die in a few seconds. Tactical decisions and movements are the way to do it, and you'll be rewarded with the next level. Don't rely on your team to give you cover, as they'll hardly help themselves - the best idea is to either use them as cannon fodder or wait until an online patch comes out and play with friends. A typical play through on the easiest difficulty will take a day, tops. A harder difficulty will take a little longer. Trophies/Achievements will take as long as a patch takes, as you won’t be able to platinum the game without the one online award. All the others will take around 2-3 playthroughs - but by that time, you might be a bit bored.

I feel a little harsh giving a mere 6/10 to what was actually a very good game. However, without a decent online, and with the dozy AI companions, I can’t give any higher. I’m sure though, after a patch has been released, that the game will be a solid 8/10. However, until then…


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- Jacques Hulme

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