We've seen a plethora of modern military first-person shooter titles appearing in the past few years, but although Operation Flashpoint shares some similar traits, it also has plenty to differentiate itself from the crowd. For one, it has a properly fleshed out campaign, something which is sorely missing in the rest of the genre and that's just the start. Don't think this experience is plain sailing though as there are parts that need to go back to boot camp.
Following the outbreak of a civil war in Tajikistan, the US flex their muscles and move into help calm down the situation. You take control of a man named Sgt. William Kirby, the leader of Fireteam Bravo in the US Marine Corps, who gets involved in the conflict rather quickly. However, things don't stay very simple for long, as just when the US turn the tide in the civil war, the People's Liberation Army invade Tajikistan.
The campaign stays rooted in Tajikistan, but the majority of it will see you squaring off against the might of China's military. In reality, your skirmishes against the Tajikistani rebels serve as an extended tutorial for a much more in-depth experience.
Problems do arise with the characters though, as despite each of your team having a name (Soto, Taylor and Balletto), it's still very difficult to grow any kind of attachment. The only person who shines through with any semblance of personality is Staff Sergeant Knox, who will be your main voice of contact throughout the entire campaign - his voice is provided by the stellar Reno Wilson. It's a shame, because the missions are structured extremely well. It's linear, in that you have objectives to complete, but how you do it is up to you. And this time around, how the campaign holds your hand feels much more natural. There are only a few instances where poor design shows through, like when you need to destroy an APC, but you don't have a weapon capable of doing so.
Despite feeling better on the whole, the campaign is nowhere near as tense though - you'll feel quite relaxed during missions, as opposed to Dragon Rising, where most of the experience was nerve wracking. It's something that Red River seems to have lost somewhere.
The campaign follows around your group of four Marines, each with their specialist area. Soto is a Scout, Balletto is the Auto-Rifleman, Taylor is the Grenadier and Kirby is left to be the Rifleman. You can choose to play any of the classes though, so it's all about personal preference. Each of the classes feels quite different, purely because of their weapon selections and it's a nice touch. There are a few niggles though, like if you play as a Scout and want to pick up an AA gun, you'll have to drop your sniper rifle - you don't have the option to drop your side-arm. It's a shame that the AI couldn't provide this functionality for you, because it's a bit redundant to drop your sniper rifle, run to the location where the AA is needed, fire, then run all the way back to grab your sniper rifle again.
The game handles well enough though, with each of the guns affecting your character's movement. If you're using a light side-arm, like a pistol, you'll notice that you can aim and turn much faster. Use heavy machinegun and you'll notice that your turning arc is much slower, but then you can lay down considerable fire, so it's a good trade-off. It really makes you think about what weapon to use for a specific situation - you don't want to be in close quarters with a heavy, cumbersome weapon. Such situations do highlight the glaring omission of melee though.
Where Red River falls down though, is with the implementation of the AI - on both sides of the fence. Your team are often beyond stupid. They find it exceedingly difficult to just do their job, let alone perform commands. For example, if you're stuck in a duel with someone - you've missed a few shots, so have they. Your squad mates just stand there as if nothing's happened. If you get taken out, they may well try and shoot him, or they'll try to revive you and just get shot to pieces instead, seemingly oblivious to the fact some guy is standing 10 metres away and just took out their comrade. At other times, they will get run over by vehicles, or get stuck on objects, taking them out of the entire mission as they can't escape.From the perspective of the opposition, it's often arguably even worse. It's worrying that Chinese Spec Ops just run around like brain-dead chickens and seem to have no idea about personal preservation. So many times, you can just rack up kills because every soldier will make the same mistake. Picking off advancing forces is even more comical, as they just run down the middle of streets, completely unprotected. Honestly, it seems like the only difference between Tajikistani rebels and the Chinese Spec Ops, is that they have armour.
When playing with friends though, these problems disappear and the problems with the opposition AI become comical, as opposed to frustrating/boring. And while there is a thoroughly expansive single-player campaign, the entire experience can be played co-operatively with friends instead. It changes the entire experience, as then it becomes much more about team work.
The game also has four co-operative modes specifically designed for this, in the form of Fireteam Engagements (FTEs). Last Stand, puts you against increasingly difficult odds, CSAR tasks you with performing a rescue mission, Rolling Thunder puts you in charge of protecting a convoy and Combat Sweep is a real search and destroy mission. Each of them has elements that will appeal to different people, but with score multiplayers and online leaderboards, it'll keep people occupied for more than enough time.
From the perspective of presentation, Red River is a mixed bag, just as Dragon Rising was. It's absolutely fantastic that Codemasters has made such an expansive landscape, but it comes at a cost, the visuals. Weapons look good, but the textures elsewhere are pretty poor, with trees and other such scenery really suffering. The lighting effects have been noticeable improved, but if there was a way that the visuals could be ramped up, with the feeling of scale being retained, it would benefit the series immensely.
The sound work is also pretty mixed. The voice of Staff Sergeant Knox is a real highlight, but the voice of Mustang Actual (who voices the mission briefings), is rather annoying. He does little to inspire you ahead of your upcoming conflict, and instead, insights anger against him, not the opposition. The addition of music in convoys is a nice touch though.
Red River's campaign lasts for around 8-9 hours of solid gameplay - much more than Dragon Rising. It's a much appreciated gesture too, as the missions are actually enjoyable throughout - even if the kill count is a little bit over the top. And with the ability to play it co-op, with the additions of the FTEs, Red River has much more replay value that its predecessor.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River is a game that feels caught in two minds. There are some great improvements, with the structured campaign and the Fireteam Engagements. But it also feels as though other problems have been ignored, while other elements have been lost. The AI is still terrible, the graphics still suffer and the characters in the campaign are just as anonymous as before. The level of tension experienced with Dragon Rising is no longer present either. Perhaps with the next installment they can combine the best parts of both of the games, while also making sure these issues are properly fixed.
|Reno Wilson does a fantastic job as Staff Sergeant Knox.|
|The Fireteam Engagements are a great addition.|
|Campaign feels much more structured this time around.|
|The characters feel completely irrelevant.|
|The graphics need a vast improvement.|
|The AI is horrendous, on both sides of the fence.|