November 18th, 2009, 16:01 Posted By: Bratman Du
NA: October 6, 2009
EU: October 8, 2009
AUS: October 15, 2009
UK: October 9, 2009
Genre: Military Sim / FPS
Players: Single-player, Single-co-op, Multiplayer, Multiplayer-Co-op
Billed as an infantry sim, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, makes many claims about it's size, it's realism and it's hardcore difficulty. This is a game I had been looking forward to, I always wade in on the hardest difficulty of any game I have right away. I hadn't played the first Operation Flashpoint game, but I damn sure liked the sound of bullets causing you to bleed out, super hard enemies who spot you a mile off and the need for finely honed military tactics to complete missions.
I was beginning to wonder if the days of hardcore PC only shooters were dead and gone. Halo and Call of Duty and their kind have given us '30 seconds of fun' gameplay, regenerative health, and all the other console/casual devices we've grown used to. So the PC fps games of the late 90s and early 00s didn't really make the transition to consoles at the time, mainly because consoles of that era didn't have the power to compete with PCs. But now that the performance divide between PC and console narrows, we see more and more multi-console-PC releases, often to the detriment of PC versions, and earning the malign of PC owners.
But for those of us who aren't rich enough to keep up with the latest PC hardware, PC games on consoles is very much welcome for the most part. Bohemia Interactive's original Operation Flashpoint was praised by PC gaming mags and websites the world over, however a fallout resulted in Codemasters becoming both developer and publisher of the 'sequel', Dragon Rising.
It shows. What I mean is, this game was developed and published by Codemasters, and it shows heavy signs of design by committee. You can almost tell the parts of the game where some one higher up the food chain at Codemaster decided that being able to put blurb facts on the back of the box took frontseat to a rounded gaming experience.
Let's take the bit of blurb on the back of the gamebox, a 220 km2 open world battlefield. That's all well and good but none, NONE of the missions in the game make much use of this fact, and as of yet there is not free roam mode. Maybe I'm missing something as a mostly console gamer (nowadays), but what is the point of a 220km2 open world environment, when each of the game's 11 or so missions require you to follow orders within a set area. Roaming around outside your mission area usually results in failure. Though I have to admit, it's great to have the option to approach a mission from any angle, but it really feels like there's a lot of wasted space. I'm told there will be a free roam mode added with DLC, but I'm focussing on the release version of the game here.
50 vehicles are your to command! Yet 95% of your time will be spent running. Vehicles are largely irrelevant to most tasks, save for a few missions. They'll either draw too much attention and get you shot, or be so uncontrollable and useless that you're better off on foot.
Ok so far I've gone in angry. Maybe not angry as such, more, annoyed disappointment, but there are some excellent features in the game, graphics aren't something I usually focus on, but I'd like to mention that missions start at a certain time of day, and, from there, they occurr in real time. This means that, when you begin mission 2 for example, at 5:30am, it is initially dark. Take more than half an hour on this mission and you'll notice the Sun rises, and the map gets brighter, negating the protection and stealth that darkness afforded you, and beautifully lighting up the trees and grass. Then you see a badly textured low poly bush and the immersion suffers a bit, or you notice how the fire effects and explosions look like they were created with MS Paint.
When the gameplay works it works well. I really enjoyed a lot of the missions, in both the stealth and firefight sections. Getting your guys (and occasionally gals) in position, forming a tight wedge and ordering return fire only. For a time it's exactly what the doctor ordered. But, there are numerous bugs in this title at launch, and although a patch is promised to update the sometimes great, sometimes erratic AI behaviour, it's pretty poor form to have this many glaring errors at launch.
Two things about this game in particular really bugged me. First, the collision deteciton. I was in a building, looking out a window - standing up - not crouching - aiming my gun out the window, with the muzzle pointing right at an enemy. As I opened fire, the bullets seemed to hit off the window sill below. Now this happens in many games, GTAIV, Halo, Red Faction, Call of Duty. It's usually not a problem. But here I had the gun clearly looking out a window, there was no way this should have been hitting off the window sill.
The second big annoyance, was the weapon selection. Now, I understand that in a 'realistic' military sim, it takes a short time to get weapons out, you have to put the old one away, and take out the new one, and if it's a launcher, lay it down on the ground, and set it up, etc. That's fine, I can deal with that, however, to actually select the weapon is the part that should take no time at all. What happens when you want to switch weapons? You hold 'B' on (XBox360), and about a second later the weapon menu comes up. Why it takes a full second for a simple menu I do not know. Then, to add to my exacerbation, the menu for selecting weapons has a delay, so when you tap up on the dpad or analogue stick, it doesn't move the selection, so you tap it again and half a second later you've gone one past the weapon you wanted.
Now these are seemingly minor gripes, but if a game is going to claim to have ultra realsim, it can't seriously expect us to navigate unresponsive menus in the middle of a firefight can it? If a game wants realism, we need collision detection that doesn't ruin a perfectly lined up headshot. On the hardest mode, with no checkpoints in a mission, you often can't fire a shot until you're ready, as you would give away your position, so when you finally take it and it hits something way below where you're aiming, due to poor collision detection, it's a little bit frustrating going back to the start of a mission which could be anywhere between half an hour to an hour's work.
I respect the decision to try and bring hardcore-ness to the FPS genre once again, but this is not what fans of the series or newcomers were looking for. Codemasters clearly wanted a game that sat apart from the CODs and Halos, but at the same time, they need to think more about how those games came to dominate the FPS genre.
I'm not saying OFDR should have been 'consolized', but if you're bringing such a hardcore traditionally PC only game to consoles, you need to make some compromises, and think about how to make complex controls and game mechanics work with a controller.
Also, I think what defines 'hard' between 5 - 8 years ago and today, has changed. It's no longer about lives, continues, psychic AI and no checkpoints, it's about carefully thought out level design, smart AI that can adapt and react to you and the world around it. As such, I think the hardest difficulty in OFDR, goes too far. I'm not claiming it's too hard, I'm saying taking out checkpoints doesn't make it harder, it makes it annoying. When you've proven you can beat a section of a level or mission, why should you have to do it again when you die at a later, often unrelated part of the mission. It makes it feel like progressing through the game is not about getting better, it's more about doing a mission over and over until you know where to go and what to do, which is just learning by rote.
Even with the promised patch AI fix, I feel there are always going to be major control issues, and often a lack of direction. Coupled with poor interfaces, unresponsive menus, and a lot of running, it's hard to like this game.
Multiplayer is unfortunately not much better. Again, promised fixes for netcode aren't even an issue. Even without lag I feel it would still be a mess. It's never really clear what the point is, it's like Codemasters are making it harder by not telling us anything about the game. Even the manual has precious little info on gametypes and objectives. I usually don't even have to read manuals anymore for most games, usually game feedback and menu items are clear enough to get you having fun in no time.
In one multiplayer mode I believe (but can't be sure) that there four people on each team, with each person having an AI squad at their disposal. Call me crazy but I thought the point of multiplayer was to play against humans, not crazy AI? Save that for co-op. Speaking of co-op, I played a couple of missions this way, but lag and the problems of single player cropped up all too often to be enjoyable.
Summing up, it had so much promise, and when things all come together you can have a lot of fun with this but it doesn't take much googling to find message board after message board about the problems with this game and how angry long term fans are with what was done with this game. Ultimately it fails at what it set out to do, and when it's so alienating to both the casual gamer, and to the dedicated Operation Flashpoint fans, you have to ask - who did they think would like this?
A noble effort to bring hardcore gaming to a console, with some great ideas, let down by some strange design, interface and gameplay implementation choices. When it works, it works well, but mostly, it doesn't come together enough into a cohesive experience.
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