Operation Flashpoint: Red River – The Review
A class apart from the Call of Duty series, this one’s for those wanting something different.
It’s 2013, and you, as part of Outlaw-2-Bravo of the United States Marine Corps, are heading into Tajikistan to trace down and wipe out an insurgent group. The group, by the name of ETIM, has mortared a US forward base, and you are out to eliminate the threat. However, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) also moves into the area for the same purpose, and fire is exchanged in a case of mistaken identity. The flashpoint erupts. Now you must get out alive.
That’s basically the preamble of the story, to give you an idea of what it’s all about. The task of creating a really realistic battlefield is taken on by few in the video game industry, but Codemasters has taken the challenge head-on, and they’ve succeeded. Partly, at least. The idea was to recreate what it’s like for men going to war in the Middle East, and it’s done adequately.
This is a game that focuses more on tactical approaches to the battlefield, instead of on impossible heroics. You simply can’t just go sprinting right into and through enemy lines, and take out the rifle company from behind. Nor can you plant explosive charges on the door, and as soon as the charge goes off, pick out the entire squadron of men behind the door in slow-motion. Reminds you of a certain game, doesn’t it? Well, you must say farewell to that kind of gameplay if you are to take down a single enemy in this one.
Operation Flashpoint Red River takes a much more realistic approach to loadouts and roles as well. Firefights are centered on the real-life idea of the assault folks suppressing enemy fire, while the more accurate blokes pick the bad guys off one by one. For this, you have a team of four people with you, either controlled by friends in cooperative mode or by the AI in single-player mode. The AI is controlled by a slick radial menu, and the interface is more streamlined than it was in the first Operation Flashpoint, Dragon Rising.
However, there’s a slight problem. The AI follows your orders like, well, a robot, doing exactly what you tell it to do. So, if you’re injured and you order your AI to aid you with a Medkit, they’ll simply try to saunter through the few hundred yards of enemy position between you and them. Or, you could simply tell the AI to charge a building, and they’ll rush headlong into the complex and be wiped out in a few seconds. So you need to do some real careful thinking, tactically (remember, that’s the key word here), before issuing orders. Oh, and don’t try rushing anything at all yourself, either. Sprint through a doorway, and somebody will put one between your eyes before you have seen him. As long as you’re intelligent going about your teamwork you should be fine, though. No need to complain if the AI did something foolish, it was foolish you that ordered the action in the first place.
Which leads on to another aspect of the game. The beginnings and the ends of missions. Here, there are no impossibly macho set-pieces on offer at the ends of missions. Instead, what awaits you once you’ve taken out that artillery is a long jog back to the waiting jeep, and once you clamor aboard there’s profanity to be had. Lots of it. Sergeant Knox, the leader of your party, will be the star (and only) performer of this show, and he will swear every swear under the sun. Initially, it’s entertaining. Soon, it becomes tiresome. Oh, and did I mention the jeep rides to the drop-off and from the pick-up points are extremely long? Could be that Codemasters is trying to put forward the downtime and waiting around that US soldiers in the Middle East face, but if only there were something more by the way of team banter than an endless one-man rant of the most creative swears mankind has ever invented.
But that’s just the point. Accessible realism is what it’s all about. The game is trying to strike a middle ground between shoot-em-up games like Call of Duty and a proper battlefield sim like previous versions of Operation Flashpoint. And it does this pretty well, too. It’s just unfortunate that some COD-ers find it too hard and some simulation junkies find it too simplified.
The excitement does increase when in cooperative mode, where you are not in control of your entire team, but each is an individual, acting on his own. The duties of your role are also an important factor now (you choose from the all-rounder Rifleman, the sniping Scout, the explosive-lugging Grenadier and the heavy-weapon-wielding Auto Rifleman). Interaction is via a voice chat system, and it’s much more fun to be jogging alongside your friends than it is to run along with automatons trailing a hundred yards behind. However, the lack of a multiplayer competitive mode is really felt; this game could have been one of the established online gaming titles. This is somewhat offset by the Fireteam missions in co-op mode, which forego the long drives and put you directly in the middle of the action, with an objective or other to be achieved.
This is not to say that the regular missions are just silly; there is an awful lot of relief and a sense of accomplishment when a mission has been completed. Relief more so because the combat encounters are a tense, drawn-out affair, where you have to choose your moments precisely and your actions wisely and patiently. The missions do get slightly repetitive towards the end, as if the game modeled perfectly a tight, tense military encounter in the Middle East but then kept dishing it out again and again to the player, with only scenery changes.
Speaking of scenery, the visuals are very good, and looking out over the bleak, rugged and rocky Afghan landscape does give a certain amount of pleasure. The draw distance is immense, and you can feel the breathtaking vastness of the surroundings. What you cannot feel, however, is the freedom to move about. The game does not allow you to stray off the given path much, like previous Operation Flashpoint titles, and rewards you with instant death should you persist. Which is a loss, really, because you feel caged in; you can see the trees in the distance, but you can’t reach them.
In sum, this is one game that set out to fill the gap between hardcore soldier simulation and the COD league, and it did so in a fair manner. The gameplay is intense enough to make the game rather realistic, and the enemy AI is very clever and helps notch up the realism. As it is, one bad guy covered behind a bunch of rocks can cause a jolly racket (and a jolly lot of death too), thereby ruining your entire operation within a few moments. The message given to us is, be careful. History will not remember how dramatic your failed frontal assault was.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River is refreshingly different from the other first-person shooters out there. It has chosen a different path from that of the macho nonsense route that all of the other recent first-person warfare games went, and it has chosen it well. Only the execution stands slightly lacking. This game could have been so much better, and the miss-outs (maybe they were intentional, we don’t know), such as competitive multiplayer play and a free-roaming open-world sandbox environment, keep this game from being truly great. As it is, the game is good only, with occasional ‘flashpoints of brilliance’, as the guys over at IGN put it so poetically. Oh, and if only they’d cut down on the swearing…
- Emphasis on tactical approaches.
- Realistic gameplay.
- Class/role-focused combat.
- Good co-op multiplayer experience.
- No nonsense.
- Taking care of your AI team sometimes is too much to handle.
- No competitive multiplayer.
- Not open-world.
- Too much tiresome swearing. (Somebody shut Knox up, please.)
The official website is here.