Playing games like Call of Duty must do wonders for the recruiting numbers for armies around the world. Running around at full pace and slaughtering a dozen men with a single clip of ammunition certainly is fun… but then again, war shouldn’t be fun. It’s a matter of survival.
This is where Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising steps in. Getting through this game is tiring and a huge amount of work. Often you’ll just want to run with your head as close to the ground as possible and find places to hide. You’ll panic and start shooting at trees. You’ll also end up just ordering your own men into the fray to stay alive. I’m pretty certain this is what war is really all about.
The Operation Flashpoint series debuted way back in 1991 and was exclusively a PC title. Since this time, it’s spawned a number of expansions and spin-offs but Dragon Rising marks the proper full-blown sequel and more importantly, appears on the next-gen consoles. Unlike the fast-paced arcade-like nature of Rainbow Six and Call of Duty titles, Operation Flashpoint sets out to be a military simulator. Sure you can rack up a decent body count, but you’ll appreciate every one as a single bullet can render you dead in the blink of an eye.
Projectiles like bullets behave realistically, forcing you to allow for distance and gravity variables over long range shots. There are no health bars and the wounded area can affect your abilities just like in real life. For example a shot to the leg slows you down significantly, a shot to the arm screws up your aim and a shot to the head… well, let’s just say it’s worse than a migraine. Players can also bleed to death from a gunshot wound unless you get medical care.
This attention to detail in the game is bordering on excessive. Even just changing weapon from a rifle to a rocket launcher can take up to 10 seconds as you meticulously lay out the equipment on the grass to uncase and load everything before you can even take aim. Charging into an enemy base and expecting to play Rambo is guaranteed to get you killed.
But for all of the amazing attention to detail in the game, there are also some alarming bugs and inconsistencies that come out and slap you in the face. For example, dead guys often don’t “look” dead. You can sneak up on a sniper and put five rounds into the back of his head and he’ll just sit there. So you try and cut him with your knife and he won’t budge. Finally you decide you get in front of his field of vision and the dead dude just stares at you. At fist I thought he was an awesome dummy tactic where they place mannequins as bait to lure you out. But then I soon noticed this was happening with soldiers who two seconds ago were even running around shooting. Other bugs included the game not letting me continue because it thought I hadn’t completed an objective yet – despite the fact that there was nothing else I could do.
A large part of the gameplay is ordering your troops around, adding to the whole tactical aspect of the game. All of your orders are triggered by holding down RB and using the D-Pad to select from a daunting but helpful array of sub-menus. The usuals are here such as suppressive fire, follow me, take cover and halt. But players can also make their four man squad take up formations letting them spread across fields or split into teams. But unfortunately there are bugs in the AI which change the whole concept of team-work into a comedy of errors. In one mission I had to take out several bunkers so I positioned my men behind cover around 300m away from the target. My plan was to let my men supply supressive fire on the base while I flanked them and lobbed a grenade in from the right. It started off beautifully, but before I could even get near the bunkers, my men informed me that they had killed everyone. It was strange because these same men often failed to hit a target who was 20m away and in plain sight. There were other examples too, such as selfishly sending my squad into a building which was filled with armed enemies. After sitting around for a couple of minutes in silence and wondering what was happening I decided to plough in too (and be the hero of course). But instead of finding the bodies of enemies scattered around the place I saw my team-mates standing RIGHT NEXT to them. At which point I was shot in the face. Maybe my team-mates made a deal with the enemy to get back at me for being a bastard.
The only other thing worse than being shot in the face… was rocks. Yes, ordinary ground rocks. There is no jump button in Dragon Rising, so often you will find yourself floundering around and getting stuck on rocks and small boulders. Usually you can navigate your way around them but when it’s pitch black and you are relying on night vision you can’t see them. Rocks are also great at taking out your vehicles, with numerous jeeps and trucks being flipped over or simply getting stuck on top of them with no way of pushing them off. Rocks are also plentiful, making them your worst enemy. It’s a very anti-geology game.
This wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that vehicles are essential to covering the massive amounts of ground given to you in Dragon Rising. The maps are huge, letting you plan out and move in any direction you want in order to achieve your objective. But often these checkpoints are scattered miles apart from each other, and without the use of a vehicle, you'll be running for extended periods of time. Although running doesn’t seem to wear down stamina, the game does utilise a very cool heart-beat mechanic. After running your controller starts to thump just like a heart-beat and you can hear yourself panting. Strangely though, I couldn’t see any side-effect to running 7 kilometers with heavy gear on my back apart from a relaxing massage to my hands from a rumbling controller.
The graphics in Dragon Rising are definitely a highlight, from the simplistic but effective opening animations that lead you beautifully into the story mode with a brief history lesson right through to the stunning in-game visuals. Trees and foliage look every inch the real thing (as do those damn rocks) and character animations look polished as well. Except for when they fail to be triggered and stand there like statues. The game features a huge selection of authentic weaponry and vehicles ranging from tanks and jeeps to helicopters. Night vision and thermal imaging modes are a treat to use and the whole sense of epic scale is captured superbly. The overall presentation of the game is definitely the main selling point, including slick menus and even clever little statistics displayed while a map loads. These can include the number of soliders you killed with a knife, vehicle kills, helicopter pilot kills, distance travelled in kilometres and the unpleasant reminder of how many suicides you have committed.
Fans of Call of Duty games will probably be shocked by the level of realism thrown into Dragon Rising. At times this level of detail can be overwhelming. It is gritty, painful, depressing and raw. Just how war should be. But at the same time, the game can offer an enjoyable experience to the more serious gamer. It offers a completely different side to first-person shooters by mixing in a touch of simulator-like, tactical gameplay that changes the pace of the game. If it weren’t for some frequent and glaringly obvious glitches, this game would have scored a lot higher. But for a franchise that has lasted the ages, Dragon Rising is a very promising reboot to the series and paves the way for an extended life-span on the consoles in the future.