Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a tactical squad based FPS published by Codemasters and released on October 6, 2009 for the PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. In this game, you play as the leader of a Marine squad taking on missions for the US against the forces of the Chinese on the island of Skira, based on the Alaskan island of Kiska. I've never actually played a tactical FPS, but my friend prepared me for it with caveats about the enemies' intelligence, the deliberate nature of progress in the game, and how trying to be Rambo will just get you killed. I looked forward to playing!
The backstory in this game is quite detailed yet the intro only covers minute details. I recommend the manual for the full backstory. It is the year 2011. Skira, an island north of Japan is being targeted by the People's Republic of China due to a newly discovered reserve of oil and natural gas. Russia asks the United States (their allies) to deal with the situation due to the problem of encroaching Chinese forces on Russian land. Then the game begins.
The developers sought to recreate the 100 square miles of Skira based on its real life terrain and length, giving the graphical presentation a sense of realism. There is no procedurally generated terrain here. The environs look great, with various trees, rocks, bluffs, and other terrain ideal for cover and flanking operations. This naturally is a big part of the game. The soldiers and teammates suffer from repeated character models. It didn't bother this reviewer very much, but it should be noted.
Besides the above, the character models are rich and detailed, looking what I expect a tactical Marine to resemble, replete with all their combat essentials and the many weapons and tools they employ on their missions.
There are many instances of visual greatness, like calling in a surgical strike from navy carriers miles away or having an airstrike destroy a particularly well-entrenched opponent. The destruction and power of such strikes are really dramatic moments, made all the more so by their rarity. Perhaps it is best that you can't rely on these strategies all the time.
There isn't really any music during the game, probably to add to the realism. The menu music is something that I wouldn't call bad but is certainly bizarre, consisting mostly of guttural chants and something that sounds uncomfortably like someone coughing up a load of phlegm. I guess the score from Akira by the Geinoh Yamashirogumi is no longer the oddest music I've heard...
Sound effects are superior and play a huge role in your success. Be it from the whizzing of bullets to indicate enemy positions, the sound of dirt getting kicked up from near hits, or the large amount of bravado-enhancing voice acting in the game, Dragon Rising's sound effects are varied and pretty darn great.
Gameplay follows the standard of the tactical shooter genre, with the player in command of a 4-man squad consisting of several different specialists. You have a medic for wounds, a radio operator, and another. Each of your team members carries specific equipment designed for different objectives. The commander (you) issues all orders to your squad via the game's radial menu (the right bumper on the Xbox 360). You can order them to lay down suppressing fire during firefights, order flanking maneuvers, and many other strategies. Occasional problems with your squad's A.I can unfortunately affect whether they DECIDE to follow your orders or NOT. I observed this a few times, and often had to count on myself alone to make the strategy work.
Perhaps this was a result of my limited understanding of military maneuvers, but it was still troubling. The overally complicated radial menu doesn't help matters. I think a system similar to Vagrant Story's would have worked great, in which the shoulder buttons serve for each squad member, with the right bumper maintained for uniform commands.
To command one guy, you hold down the Left Trigger, and then further commands pop as you continue to hold it down, which would allow you quick access to the deeper strategic commands. Letting go of the shoulder button would quickly revert to the initial radial settings. This would make keeping commands much more streamlined and efficient.
Another good alternate for the radial menu would be to just put all the orders on one wheel that you flip around with the analog stick with color coded by type of order if necessary. Either of these suggestions would do much to improve the squad command system, which is especially vital to mission success on higher difficulties.
When it comes to this game's challenge, there are 3 different difficulties, but they don't affect the number of objectives or enemy A.I. Instead the higher the difficulty, the less information you receive via the HUD. On Normal, enemy positions are called out, you have waypoints between objectives, and your squad's wounds are restored when you reach a checkpoint. For each higher difficulty, bits are removed with hardcore having none of the above. One could say that hardcore is the closest you can get to a real life military excursion in this game, where you have to rely on enemy fire giving their positions to you.
Aside from the difficulty levels, this game has a challenge that varies from mission to mission. It is often advisable to follow the objectives closely, as it is possible to get to a checkpoint where it's basically unwinnable without starting the level over, depending on how things have gone up until that point. I had a lot of trouble storming a village without backup; yet with assistance, the defenses were swiftly defeated.
Dealing with replay value, Dragon Rising possesses the standard additional mission objectives, which can be fulfilled for both additional fun as well as for the benefits they can bring to later mission objectives. I will be trying the higher difficulties eventually. This is the kind of situation in gaming that seems impossible at first (how can one ever learn to find objectives without waypoints or enemies without your allies' help?) but as you play through the game, it is almost like you absorb the gameplay, and as the challenges become second nature, you wonder why you ever found this difficult? Operation Flashpoint is like this, making replaying feel like part of the whole game experience, not something additional.
In summation, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a great experience in a genre that gets not nearly enough love from video game publishers. While the reasons are pretty clear, the creativity and realism of the squad-based shooter cannot be denied. Much like this reviewer, you are sure to be taken in by the sheer scope of this game; as you work toward accomplishing your mission, there is a real sense of urgency and suspense that is hard to duplicate in other video game genres. I'll definitely be looking forward to more of these types of games!
- Ugly Bob
Here's some gameplay footage!