Many first-person shooters (FPS) these days focus on intense action and non-stop thrills, as opposed to the more realistic simulation of war. Classifying itself as a tactical military game, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising looks to distance itself from the typical FPS as it attempts to realistically portray what modern infantry combat is really like in a game that's definitely not for the faint of heart.
After many years of conflict and strife, Skira Island has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed. What was originally under Japanese rule quickly became a territory that the Russians were interested in, but since then, there have been many conflicts revolving around its ownership. The game focuses on the present day, and China has invaded the island after the discovery of a large untapped oil reserve. Needing assistance, Russia calls on the United States, and the Marine Corps are sent in to try and resolve the conflict. This is all explained in a stunning opening cinematic that does an excellent job of hyping the player up and preparing them for the conflict that they are now heavily invested in.
However, aside from the purpose of the overall mission, there isn't much else to be learnt. The missions are all linked together, but it never really feels like the previously completed missions really influence the actual bearing of the overall conflict. It would have been nice to see more cinematics, like the one initially seen, that detail how the conflict is progressing, and emphasise what's been achieved, while focusing on the importance of what's still to come. Each of the missions are unique though, and no two feel the same. The objectives that need to be fulfilled will definitely make for a lot of variety with regards to play as well.
The sheer scope of the game means that achieving an objective can be done any number of ways. The developers strived to accurately create the entirety of Skira Island, which ends up with players having access to a game world that's around 220km. This means that it's actually possible to avoid conflict entirely, and in some cases, this approach is definitely recommended. Due to the realistic nature of the simulation, it's possible to be felled in an instant if an opponent scores a critical hit. There is a full-body damage system implemented, and getting shot in different parts of the body will suitably affect a player's performance. Taking a bullet in the arm will decrease aiming ability, while taking a bullet in the leg will hinder running speed. Taking these risks into consideration definitely makes players appreciate the risks of engaging the enemy, as any conflict could potentially be fatal if the odds are stacked in the wrong way.
To make things slightly easier, the player has access to three squad mates, all of whom can be ordered to do various things via a command window, or from an overhead map. Each of the squad members can be individually commanded from the perspective of engaging units, securing perimeters, laying down suppressive fire, and even rules of engagement. It gives players a lot of extra depth, and means that the game can be made very tactical should the player wish. However, one of the major problems with the AI is when specific orders aren't issued. Generally they seem fairly useless, and will make incredibly stupid decisions. It's not uncommon to enter a building in order to seek cover, and find the AI standing outside directly in the line of fire. Despite being shot to pieces, they will quite happily stand there and die. They are also incapable of driving any vehicles, especially helicopters, which can suddenly crash into hills, or just fly around in circles. The poor AI isn't restricted to the allied characters though, as opponents seem to be affected in similar ways. It's possible to shoot a PLA soldier in the arm, and they won't react at all, and neither will nearby PLA soldiers. One thing that is completely nailed are the weapons, especially those used in night-time missions. There is quite a large amount of variety for players to use in missions and each of them feels suitably powerful. The only slight complaint comes with a lack of weapon selection. The load-out is always pre-determined, and other weapons must be picked up off opposing soldiers. It means that some weapons can only be used once or twice throughout the entire campaign, and some of them are the most enjoyable weapons. Players can also use missile launches, and call in heavy fire support in the form of artillery and other airborne devices. These only help to emphasise the scale of the conflict, although it's not nice to be on the receiving end.
As previously mentioned, there is a lot of variety in the missions that are present within the game. Some of them are focused more towards direct conflict, requiring enemy encampments to be cleared out, while others are more stealth based. The night missions are a definite high point though, and are easily the most enjoyable missions found in the game. This is partly due to the weapons that can be used, but also because it's much easier to catch guards unaware. It creates a real sense of achievement to complete a level without being spotted and safely getting to the extraction point after an espionage mission has been undertaken.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising should be commended for its sheer scale, and the draw distance is rather impressive. However, there have been some concessions made with the graphics. The textures generally aren't the best and the character models are quite poor. There are also quite a few bugs present in the game, which might diffuse the realism that the game is trying to convey. However, one element that does help to seriously emphasise the realism is the sound. The developers made sure they got live samples of each of the guns being fired, and it definitely shows as they all sound great. The voice work is also spot on.
The game is difficult enough even on the standard difficulty, but for those who truly want an accurate simulator, there are two further difficulties: Experience and Hardcore. In these modes, there is essentially no hud, and no cross-hair. There are also no checkpoints, so missions must be completed in one sitting. It's definitely challenging. There is also a fully complimentary online segment of the game, which enables four people to play the campaign co-operatively, or play in 8 man (4 vs 4) competitive matches. Unfortunately, the ideals of the game don't translate that well to the competitive play. The whole experience seems completely disconnected and doesn't really engage the player.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is shining example of how good a tactical FPS can be. It has the depth there for players who want it, plenty of variety throughout its campaign and it encourages players to steer clear of the 'run and gun' mindset. However, for all its achievements, it suffers from bad AI, and there are some very apparent graphical concessions due to the sheer scale of the game. There are online components, and playing through the campaign co-operatively with friends only helps to enrich the experience, but the competitive modes do not translate well.