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 Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

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PostSubject: Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising   Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Icon_minitimeTue 6 Oct - 21:45

Codemasters’ Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising arrives at UK retail this Friday as the successor to 2001’s Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. With the original release developed by Bohemia Interactive – having since moved on to the ArmA series, each of the two instalments considered glitchy successes in their own right – this sequel developed internally at Codemasters faces competition almost solely from it’s predecessors’ author. ArmA II released earlier this year, and while it maintained a respectable visual standard it’s clear from only a brief look that Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising delivers more confidence in both the quality of it’s setting and furniture. But in the age of high-definition clarity, visuals aren’t everything, and there needs to be a lot more substance in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising if it’s to stand-up as the most realistic war simulator available in today’s market.

Set on a poetically interpreted vision of the real-world island of Kiska, renamed Skira here, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising casts the player as the squad commander of a US fireteam sent to the island to support Russian military operations on Skira as they defend against Chinese incursions on their mainland border. The game begins with an introduction to the island of Skira and how little else but war has featured in its history. And now, with untapped oil reserves found, little else but war appears to be in its future. With Russian forces predisposed, there are few friendly faces on Skira, and ensuring the safe passage of US military both locally and in the wider operation is essential for success.

The island itself is beautifully detailed throughout it’s stunning 220 km2 area, with recognisable landmarks scattered throughout. The first mission tasks the player with assaulting the area located around a lighthouse (as a secondary objective), and many other such features exist throughout it’s landmass. The sheer range of terrain types is also fantastic, and more than simply an aesthetic change as with the knowingly bland Red Faction: Guerrilla. Skira provides Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising with beaches, lush green fields, dense forests, military outposts and civilian housing, steep inclines and long winding valleys, lakes and flatland. A large mountain ridge provides some fantastic tactical opportunities and the dormant volcano will be the highlight of the map for many, but the real star of the show is quite simply how seamlessly it all fits together, without loading delays or draw-distance issues.

The structure of the missions the player is tasked with provide plenty of room for interpretation. Each mission consists of both primary and secondary objectives, though the secondary is not essential for completion, and on the default difficulty setting are clearly labelled destinations. Most objectives typically involve taking-out a specific military asset, creating a path for friendly units or capturing and holding significant area of the map, though in reality such story dressing disguises the fact that all involve the same combination of deliberately cautious ground assaults. The freedom in approach comes in that of the equipment you choose to utilise and the use of your teammates within the environment.

The weaponry a player is equipped with provides decent offensive capabilities at both long and short range, and can be equipped with numerous modifiers to the realistic ballistics system, but it’s the number of additional firepower options available that offer room for improvisation. Calling in barrages of covering fire or smoke drops can dramatically change the pace of an assault, and one of the most impressive elements of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is that foundation in not just real-world properties for it’s landmass and player abilities, but also that of tactics. If it would work in real-life, it’ll probably work in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. A headlong rush into an enemy camp will inevitably be dealt with swiftly, but an orderly, cautious crawl through the surrounding overgrowth, suppressing an enemy while ordering your teammates into a flanking position will be more effective.

Using the environment to your advantage is essential, and more than simply strafing between the walls connecting of an open doorway as with corridor-based shooters. Going prone will provide a steadier aim, but can limit your visibility in long grass, and finding a path allowing rear access to an outpost may theoretically give you the advantage, but if it’s a long march across open ground you’ll most likely meet heavy resistance earlier than you expect. Luckily, when playing alone (the game provides co-operative gameplay for up to four players simultaneously – each taking the role of a different member of the fireteam) your Artificial Intelligence (AI) teammates are fairly reliable. Given a direct order, they will generally obey without problems, however when a more general “assault” command is issued you may find their shots hitting a lot of nothing, leaving you to do most of the legwork. The AI is generally smart enough to respond when called for medical assistance, which is certainly an essential element as there are a few times throughout the campaign that you’ll rely on the feature more than you would probably care to. The occasional bottleneck exists, in which plans will be formulated through trial-and-error rather than composing instinctive assaults, and these moments can become repeatedly infuriating when playing on Hardcore difficulty.

While the default setting provides little more than a one-hit kills scenario, there is an increased likelihood that the first bullet may only graze the player, acting as a warning shot more often than not. Hardcore difficulty, however, removes all remote assistance, and makes that bullet more likely to hit the sweet-spot. All on-screen prompts are removed and the enemies can be deadly while still being a spec on an adjacent ridge. The chance of heroic moments is greatly reduced here, as while Normal difficulty may allow the player a small amount of disregard for the enemy’s effective range, Heroic will quickly see any false move met with deathly consequences.

The range of vehicles available is decidedly broad, though few feel quite as authentic as they perhaps should. They soon prove their worth, as traipsing across the great mass of Skira will inevitably become a lengthy, lifeless experience, and travelling between objectives is generally best performed with a planned route and a predetermined exit strategy. Without these, you may well find yourself a victim of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising’s often bizarre Checkpoint System. We would advise multiple manual saves, as Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising will occasional break any chance of a successful assault design by saving at a very inopportune moment.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is built using Codemasters’ proprietary EGO Engine, as with the recent Racing releases Colin McRae: DiRT 2 and Fuel, and is distinguishable as a product of the same template. The minimal loading screens provide a series of varying statistics from the entirety of your Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising career, and textures will rarely pop-in at a break in the suspension-of-disbelief. The quality of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising’s in-game visuals lies somewhere between the two aforementioned Racing titles, with a visual field far more expansive than Fuel, yet more limited in scope than Colin McRae: DiRT 2. The draw-distance is simply stunning and the environments are gorgeously modelled, offering distinctive trends in varying locations across the map, but the Character Models are notably poorer than many recent, perhaps more limited, First-Person Shooter releases and much of the animation is decidedly jerky. The sound quality is magnificent, with bullets popping from their barrels rather than banging and vehicles being instantly recognisable by the sound of their engine. It seems strange that the players’ footsteps make no sound on certain types of terrain, and that swimming seems to do little to alert enemy troops until at reasonably close range, but in reality the player will have little time to consider these advantages.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is undeniably a challenging game. Perhaps the closet videogames have come to depicting a real war zone; mistakes cost lives and only the most skilled will secure victory. But despite this difficulty, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is rarely unfair, with most abrupt endings being obvious in their fault. It’s a game of calculated manoeuvring and pin-point accuracy in executing planned assaults, and to that end there simply is not better game on the market. With three players, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is the ultimate co-operative experience, but alone it’s equally absorbing.

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