Review: Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (PC)

Short Version: While a fairly fun and unique game in itself, the game is rather short, the AI is lacking, and fans of the original will surely be disappointed at the lack of variety. Laggy online play doesn't help it either.

Game Rant guest Ken J reviews Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

The year is 2001 and Codemasters releases a game called Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis developed by a foreign game developer Bohemia Interactive Studios. The game is technically a first person shooter, but this isn't like any first person shooter anyone has played at that time (you can argue not ever since). Yes, you are playing in first person view, yes you're going to be holding a firearm most of the time, but that's about where the similarities end. The game takes place on a fictional island in 1985 during the height of the Cold War in a hypothetical conflict between American and Soviet forces. It was known for its open-endedness and for its brutally realistic injury model. One shot in your chest or head and you're dead. Luckily, the same can be said for your enemy. I will be making a lot of comparisons between Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising and the original because that is the standard a lot of fans hold it to.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising takes place on a semi-fictional island called Skira. The reason why I say it's semi-fictional is because the island itself is modeled after a real island off the coast of Alaska, the history behind the island is based on an island off the coast of China, and the name is just made up. The game revolves around a hypothetical conflict between the Chinese PLA and American forces. The story has American forces helping the Russians fight off the Chinese, yet strangely you never encounter a single Russian in the game.

You play as a fireteam leader commanding three AI teammates via a context sensitive command radial. You can issue commands such as changing the formation, you can tell your AI to assault a building, engage certain targets first, defend a position, etc. etc. The system is fairly slick and is a bit less confusing than the command system from the original, but the problem with this system is that once you issue a command, the radial doesn't go away. You actually have to hit the command key again to make it go away before you can move again. This is sort of a problem toward the beginning and is an issue if you're trying to issue commands while under fire. Sometimes you forget to hit the command button again before you try to move and you end up issuing more orders instead of moving. After a while you get used to it more but I think it's much more intuitive for the radial to disappear once you have issued a command so you can move right away in case you're coming under fire.

Another gameplay issue I would like to point out is the lack of free-look while driving. There was maybe 2 or 3 missions where you had the opportunity to drive a jeep or truck around. The problem here is that once you jump into the driver seat of a vehicle, your view is locked straight forward, you can't look around or anything. When you're driving around grassy dunes full of rocks and small trees, it's good to know where you can safely turn, or how far you've driven in relation to your next waypoint. If you're trying to flank the enemy, you have to keep checking the map or you can turn the whole car so you can see the waypoint, either way it's pretty inconvenient and unitinuitive.

A lot of people had high hopes for the game because for the better part of a year they've been spouting off about how they are focusing on realism, how they are using real tactics straight out of the USMC handbook, how they are getting advice from real military people, and so on. Yet when I got the game, I can't help but notice how they got a lot of details wrong that any military advisor would have pointed out. First of all, they got the reload animations all wrong. Even Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 got them correct and that game isn't even meant to be realistic.

Secondly, the muzzle flash has to go. Muzzle flashes looks cool in movies and video games, but in real life combat, especially during low light operations, it is a death sentence. Most military weapons are equipped with flash hiders. They do exactly as their name suggests, they eliminate muzzle flash. The reason for this is, first, muzzle flash give away your position visually, and secondly, they kill your night vision. If your eyes are adjusted to low light, and you fire your weapon and there's a great big movie-style muzzle flash, now you're no longer adjusted to the low light conditions. The reason why this is an issue for the game, is that when firing your weapon in first person iron-sights view, which is the view I prefer to use while engaging targets, the muzzle flash more or less takes up your entire view. So if you're using the M249 SAW for example and is trying to mow down a row of enemies, your view is completely obstructed and you don't really know if you're aiming right or not... It's a stupid effect and has no place in a "realistic" combat simulator. In real life, you would only see some smoke shooting out of the weapons muzzle.

Speaking of the weapons, I tend to put my weapons on semi-auto a lot while playing games, especially if I expect to do any medium range shots, and more especially if the weapon's only options are three-round burst or semi-auto. However, that's a very bad idea in this game. Apparently they programmed it so the animations have to complete before you can fire off another shot, so shooting in semi-auto means shooting VERY slowly... In real life you can crank out about 5-7 shots from a M16 on semi-auto in a second fairly accurately. In Dragon Rising, no matter how fast you try to click your mouse, it takes about half a second between the shots. That has gotten me killed several times where I had it on semi-auto and then an enemy pops up close to my location and I can't shoot him fast enough before he kills me. The same can be said about the handguns. The animations for the handguns are very poor and the fire rate is also very slow, they also seem to recoil a lot more than in real life. I'm an avid shooter and have been for about 15 years. I know how weapons behave and this game got them wrong.

One of the biggest let-downs of the game is the horrible AI. They kept boasting about how great the AI is prior to the release, but once you play it, you'll quickly realize that it was all hype. The AI is pretty poor and there are so many better examples of good AI in other games already out that you wonder how they could have taken such a step backward. Your AI teammates get stuck very often, they seem to lack the concept of taking cover when they're taking fire, they start engaging enemy when they are clearly too far for them to get accurate shots at them, they sometimes engage an enemy while their view is actually obstructed so you'll see your AI teammate shooting at the wall of a building... It's a mess, and definitely needs to be fixed. Of course one of the advertised features of this game is a 4-player online coop mode, so this isn't an issue right? Well, that's true IF you can get an online game going. I've tried it and found that I can only connect to a game maybe 1/5 tries, and even when I'm successful, I find the games to be quite laggy at times. What they need are dedicated servers, which this game lacks unfortunately.

The last gameplay issue I have to bring up, is the weapon damage. I've noticed that it sometimes takes as many as 7 to 8 hits on someone to kill them. Even shots to the torso. The only exception is the headshot, which fortunately still kills in one hit, but chest shots should too, or at the most 2 shots. And as if that's not bad enough, they didn't program any reaction to the shots either. So someone can be running or taking shots at you, you can hit him in the chest twice, not only is he still alive, but he's still moving around and shooting at you as if nothing has happened. At the very least the shots should knock him down or at least distract him enough to where he stops firing for a few seconds. Come on.

Most of those issues are apparent to anyone who plays this game, but here are some issues that fans of Cold War Crisis will definitely be disappointed to find.

Missions are "technically" open-ended, but in reality they are not. The reason is, they give too much time constraint and too many surprise objectives pop up while you're in the process of completing the main objective. This forces the player to take their suggested routes and waypoints, which is a HUGE disappointment for me since the thing I loved the most about OFP: Cold War Crisis is the fact that once they dropped you into the battlefield with a mission to accomplish, they left you alone to carry it out any which way you liked. This added a lot of replay value for me since I wanted to find new and unique ways of completing every mission.

Another thing missing from the original is the sheer variety of the types of missions in the game. In the original you got to play a regular grunt, a squad leader, a tank commander, an A-10 pilot, a spec-ops operator, a Cobra helicopter pilot, a transport helicopter pilot, and one mission even let you play as a POW trying to plot your escape. The game never got repetitive because the gameplay kept changing and you got to use all types of weapons and drive all types of vehicles. There was even a mission that was a large scale all out war between two large forces. I think there was over 100 combatants on the screen at one time, it was crazy and downright intense.

In Dragon Rising, you get to play either a normal fireteam leader with 3 AI teammates to command, or a spec-ops fireteam leader with 3 AI teammates to command... That's it. I think I got to drive 3 vehicles in the entire game, a jeep and two trucks. The game actually gives you the ability to drive vehicles, the problem is that every "cool" vehicle you see in the game, ie. tanks, APCs, helicopters, etc., are always occupied. Nowhere within the normal story were you given the clear opportunity to make use of these vehicles - Which is definitely disappointing. The game also seems to have a limit of maybe 15 people on the screen at any one time. This limitation means you will never be in the middle of some crazy battle surrounded by bad guys and good guys. It's always just you and your small fireteam and a fireteam strength group of enemies. Get's kind of boring sometimes.

Lastly, there are a few details from the original that fans will miss. One is the almost endless supply of weapons and ammo you can get from the dead bodies of your enemies in the original. You can do the same thing in Dragon Rising, except now bodies disappear when there's too many bodies or after a certain length of time. And that length of time is actually not that long. I've seen bodies disappear as I'm running toward them to scrounge for ammo. Very annoying. Also, in the original, small trees can be knocked over with vehicles, like if you're driving a jeep, if you ran into a small tree, you'll crash into it and your vehicle will stop, but the tree will get knocked over. But more importantly, APC's and tanks in the original can both simply run over small trees and keep on trucking, and tanks can even knock over large trees, well, except those that make up the patches of wooded areas in the game. Well, that's gone now. Now all of the vegetation, no matter how small, are permanent. So yes, if you drive a 70-ton tank into a small tree with a trunk diameter of 3 inches, your tank will BOUNCE off of it. You read that right, your 70-ton M1 Abrams will bounce off a small tree. Also in the original, you were given one save that you can use at any time during a mission. It only one so you had to use it wisely. Well, now they have gone with the typical console checkpoint system, so there is absolutely no way you can save a mission halfway between checkpoints, which is pretty disappointing. I used to save when I've accomplished something that was pretty complicated and time consuming to do.

Let's be clear though, the game isn't ALL bad, but I felt those issues need to be understood for anyone thinking about spending their hard-earned money on the game. There are some things about the game that are very good. The graphics are awesome in the PC version of the game. I find the island to be very detailed and all of the grassy hills, trees, and other things look very authentic. The sounds in the game are awesome, tanks sound awesome (as they drive by you since you can't drive them yourself...), your weapons sound great, and the voice acting is surprisingly good. The animations in the game are fairly well done too and I'm so glad they didn't limit sprinting as much as other games do. I hate when I'm playing a game and I come under fire and my character can't even make it across the street without going out of breath.

The game also features real-time day to night cycles like the original which is very cool. And while for whatever reason the image on the cover of the box and the images used in the menus are mirrored images (characters are all left-handed apparently and the weapons appear backwards with the ejection ports on the left), the actual weapons in-game are modeled correctly with the ejection ports on the RIGHT side where they belong. At the very least, they didn't make that idiotic mistake *cough*Far Cry 2*cough*Stalker*cough*.

In conclusion, while it's definitely a very unique experience compared to the typical run and gun shooters with the "cool down" period style health regens or whatever, I think people expecting Operation Flashpoint with slicker graphics will be severely disappointed in this game. I do recommend the game if you are itching to try something more realistic than what we've had to choose from in other popular shooters, but I have to state that while it's much more realistic than most, it's still very far from being considered "realistic." Heck, if they would have simply rehashed the original game with the improved graphics, I would dare to say that would just about make game of the year and there would be far less complaints. Fans of the original might enjoy ArmA II, which was developed by the same people who made the original, so the ArmA series is kind of a sequel to the original Operation Flashpoint, but not officially. I have to warn that ArmA II lacks the polish of Dragon Rising and is very buggy still and the voice acting is horrible!

What did you think of Operation Flashpoint 2?

If you want to give this game a shot, it is available on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

Our Rating:

2.5 star out of 5 (Fairly Good)
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