Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
I Never Finished the original Operation Flashpoint. I got to a mission where I had to escort some convoy of trucks over a large distance, and singularly failed to do so.
Believe me, I tried to protect my AI companions, but they just kept getting blown up. I can't even remember how they bought it - mines, rockets or merely plain old bullets - but they died, again and again. Again and again and again.
There was also that mission where you're told to escape to the beach. You start in a forest bereft of allies and have to make it past the entire enemy army without getting spotted once, because if they saw you, BAM! you were dead.
One shot to the face from a tiny set of pixels that had just appeared on the horizon sent you right back to the beginning. Or to the solitary save point you were allowed.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising doesn't have save points, it uses checkpoints. Whoa there, hold on a minute. Don't go slouching off, grumbling about consoles and whatnot. It's not that bad. These checkpoints actually work. They don't always work, but they do the job better than the solitary save game in the first game did allowed. This is one game you'll actually finish before your hair falls out and you start looking longingly at cardigans in shop windows. If you want to keep it real and are into masochism, you can always just the game on Hardcore mode and not have any saves at all.
For those of you who are baffled by the words I've just written, let me elucidate. Dragon Rising is a game where you get to play as a US soldier in the liberation of the fictional island of Skira. The people you're booting out are the Chinese People's Liberation Army, who've decided that the oil reserves contained underneath Skira are worth killing for. They plonk their troops in, Russia gets angry, the US is called in, and Uncle Sam proceeds to kick some PLA ass.
LISTEN UP MAGGOT
Your first mission is essentially a tutorial, although it never once drags you by the pubes down certain routes. There's also no patronising "Press W to move forward, left-click to fire" either. It errs too much on the 'let the player get on with it' side of things, telling you the name of the command you need to issue, but not which key that corresponds to.
A quick scan through the key commands list will sort you out, but it does interrupt the flow a little. This doesn't happen a lot, though, so it's more a minor little quirk than anything else. Nearly everything in the game is intuitive and easy to get to grips with, except perhaps the radial command menu.
This will probably get the most attention from irate fanboys. The deal is that you press Q and a radial menu appears. You then press one of the WSAD keys to pick a subsection, and so on. It's clearly designed for an analogue stick and can be a bit clunky, especially when you're bogged down in combat and all you want to do is tell your guys to defend a position or engage an enemy.
A small number of commands can be issued on the map, but generally, if you want to tell your guys what to do, you'll use the radials. It takes time to get used to where certain commands are and how to get to them quickly, but once you do getting your comrades to do what you want is easy. Usually.
This is a game that relies heavily on AI, but sometimes it'll fall over. However, it's nowhere near as bug-ridden as its rival ArmA 2 was on release. There aren't amusing/frustrating moments like finding your CO's mangled corpse under his desk at the beginning of a mission for no reason. What'll happen instead is that maybe one of your guys won't duck down quick enough behind a wall and get his head blown off by a lucky shot. Certainly, it's annoying, but unless you're playing on Hardcore mode, they'll get revived when you pass through the next checkpoint Unrealistic this might be, but it does mean your frustration levels won't boil over if your guys do something a bit dumb. It might offend some people's sensibilities, but it sure beats going back miles back to the last checkpoint.
Perhaps the best thing about Dragon Rising is how you feel challenged by a difficult game, yet never so frustrated that you throw the mouse down in anger and hurry for the uninstall button. Sometimes you'll get killed by a great shot from an enemy soldier, which'll force you to repeat a significant section of a mission. Yet instead of frustrating you, it makes you think of new ways of approaching that mission. If you're getting pinned down by tanks or vast numbers of soldiers, perhaps when you do it again you'll approach the situation from a different angle to see if that makes a difference.
This is a game of exploration and options, where the solution isn't just "go this way or not at all". It's challenging and hardcore, but always accessible. You'll almost certainly make mistakes and be cursing either luck or ineptitude (either your own or your allies') but you'll also be learning all the time, thinking about new ways to achieve the goal, and because it's virtually all driven dynamically with very few scripted events, each time the outcome will be slightly different.
This is probably true of most open-world games, but I don't think I've ever felt it as strongly, as innately, as I did : when playing Dragon Rising.
I This same freedom of expression I continues into the night missions, not all of which involve special operation types and silenced weapons. Indeed, the first one you embark upon is particularly tricky due to the fact you really have to keep that trigger finger in check. One shot and the whole place lights up and, given that the area is swarming with PLA troops, not to mention the deadly threat of patrolling gunships, it is crucial to be sensible in your choices. Going in all guns blazing will not only make you fail your secondary objective (don't be seen) but will result in your quick demise.
You might be able to bandage your wounds if you take a non-lethal hit but that's not easy to do in the middle of a field with bullets kicking up dirt around your prone body. Speaking of healing, you've also got a medic as part of your squad, someone who can help in patching up your AI squad mates or just giving you a shot from a magic syringe. This replenishes the blood you've lost and is another attempt to make the nonhardcore experience a little less unforgiving. Again, if you crave realism, stick it on the Hardcore mode.
Missions themselves are reasonably varied, both from the start of the game and in how they develop. There are the aforementioned stealth missions where you'll have to secretly blow up a fuel dump or some anti-aircraft guns, plus you've also got rescue, beach assault and capture-and-hold-location missions.
They all involve shooting a load of PLA troops, of course, but often you'll be sufficiently intrigued by the objectives of the next mission to bring in the whole "one more go" factor. The military fetishists out there are going to be a little disappointed with the range of guns, weapons and so on that are available. While there are enough different types of gun or vehicle to keep a layman like myself satisfied, those who have an interest in military ordnance, ArmA II has the edge.
And you can't be a sheep or a cow in Dragon Rising either. The mission editor won't be as comprehensive as the ArmA II modding toolset Bohemia recently released (which is on this issue's DVD, in case you're interested), but there's certainly sufficient depth, especially when you start getting involved with the LUA scripting language to create elaborate scenarios. Whether you'll be able to create those amazing night battles so prevalent on YouTube, we'll just have to see.
Another direct point of comparison with ArmA II is performance and issues thereof. Because Dragon Rising is, to be blunt, more of an game than Bohemia's effort it also runs a hell of a lot better. Let's face it awe-inspiring in terms of depth and complexity ArmA 2 might be, it sometimes forgets it's actually a piece of entertainment not a military training simulator. Dragon Rising never once forgets that it's ultimately meant to be fun, but any issue of it being dumbed down can be dismissed by all but the most obsessive realism nuts. Indeed, it's actually difficult to see how this game will succeed on the consoles. Concessions are made to the use of pads - radial menus, checkpoints that revive your comrades, and so on - but if you're willing to look past these things, it's a difficult game.
This is a game that requires patience, a quality most console gamers, it's fair to say, don't have in abundance. This isn't just your PC snob talking here: Dragon Rising never really feels like it has been co-developed for any armchair gamer - whether on the PC or a console - unlike so many big-name games released nowadays. It's a great relief to be able to write those words as so often we're left pandering to the perhaps-unfair belief that console gamers can't handle anything remotely complex, having to suffer the lukewarm button-mashing tedium-fests that are sloppily ported over.
Also Dragon Rising doesn't crash (at least, it didn't for us). Even running on maximum graphics setting - one gripe K would be the lack of advanced graphics' settings to tweak - we never ran into any frame rate or performance issues. The B graphics are good without being anything spectacular, so it should run P well on the majority of reasonably B specced machines.
The original Operation Flashpoint I had a reasonable multiplayer element. While it wasn't great, it was fun for a while. It was also bollockingly hard. m Dragon Rising's take on this should be & better. As we're playing the game before p the game goes out on sale, nobody else I has a copy of it so trying out the multiplayer function is effectively out of the question. Well take another look at it in a future issue, once the game is out on general release and the multiplayer servers are populated.
What we can tel I you about is the I campaign co-op. This is superb fun. We all know playing with other people is great and Dragon Rising doesn't buck the excellence trend. It's pretty much exactly the same as the single-player experience, just with the added bonus of idiot human players mucking about.
While ArmA II had the potential to be superb Dragon Rising actually is, because it doesn't suffer from all the technical issues of the former game. Helicopters don't land on your head, they don't refuse to land if you to do something a little out of the ordinary, and you don't have to chase important NPCs over several kilometres because they got spooked by a bit of gunfire. (All of which we've seen happen when we've played ArmA II.)
Tbe only problem you might have is an AI driver (of any vehicle) not having great pathfinding if you're in the commander's seat giving move orders. Usually they're fine, and this applies to the single-player as well. But sometimes trees can confuse drivers a bit, so they ignore the plants and plough through.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising has achieved the singular feat of being a military simulator that's actually fun to play on more than just a "Look how much stuff is here!" way. Codemasters have remembered that the most important thing for a game to be is fun. At the end of the day, if your CO disintegrates for no reason and you can't proceed with the mission, it doesn't matter how accurate the spark plugs are on the vehicle you're driving, you'll get fed up and sack it off. What you want to do is be given an objective, go there and shoot some baddies, without any weirdness occurring.
Dragon Rising makes this activity challenging but always pleasurable. It might be helping you out a bit too much at times with its life-giving checkpoints and magic syringes, but sometimes a bit of assistance isn't a bad thing. Some people will doubtless hate it saying it's not a par on ArmA II, moaning about how it isn't realistic enough or that the PLA don't have accurate uniforms, but I advise you to ignore the naysayers and play the game. It's not perfect, there are little problems and niggles that can be found if you look for them, but none of them spoil the game or ruin the playing experience.
This might not be the proper successor to the original Operation Flashpoint, but as a game in its own right, it's a stormer.
Download Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Imagine If You were playing a war game and you suddenly noticed that the weapon you were wielding was held together by eight-sided nuts instead of the statutory six-siders. You'd naturally be horrified, the integrity of the experience would be compromised, and you'd probably never touch it again.
Thankfully, that actual problem has already been rectified, and the person responsible presumably sent to Codemasters' version of Guantanamo Bay. That said, the bloke who spotted this heinous error does admit to occasionally questioning his own sanity. A lovely story, we're sure you'll agree, and a pertinent example of the painstaking attention to detail going into Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising, which is already threatening to he the most authentic military simulator ever made. Or at least since the groundbreaking original game, which is now a ripe seven years old; a lifetime in game development, and indeed modern warfare.
As brand manager Andrew Wafer explains, "We took the concept of what Flashpoint was, the first game, and we really tried to refine that and build upon that in terms of the scope that we wanted to do. That comes down to not just the authenticity of things - like how the modern military works - but things like the size of the environments, the power of the weaponry, elements like multiplayer and the command structure and tactical manoeuvres. It's about being able to move around in these big environments, make your own tactical decisions and orders, and utilise a vast array of realistic vehicles and weapons to do that. It's about big battles, it's about big military warfare. It's not small skirmishes with a couple of troops, it's about fighting forces which are equally matched, big global superpower armies."
To recap, those superpowers are the good old US of A in the form of the US Marines Corps (with the correct demographic breakdown, naturally) and the Chinese, in the form of the People's Liberation Army. The realistic scenario sees the two sides scuffling over the rights to an oil-rich island off the coast of Russia, north of Japan, with America sticking up for the Ruskies.
Based on an actual location, the island is known in the game as Skira, although the topology and geology has been lifted - thanks to Google Earth -from a real-life island in Alaska. Not content with pilfering an entire island, Codemasters have engineered an erosion system and a water system, with functioning oceans, lakes and rivers. There's also a bloke whose sole job seems to be building trees, piecing them together branch-by-branch, replete with a detailed damage model. Throw in a bit of weather and a day/night cycle and you're left with 220km2 of living, breathing landscape.
To put that into context, it'll take the best part of three and a half hours to drive from one end to the other, or 20 minutes to fly. And while what you see on these pages are "visual targets" as opposed to actual screenshots, the whole thing is being put together using Codemasters' Neon/EGO engine, as used in the visually resplendent Colin McRae: DiRT and more recently, Race Driver: GRID.
Operation Flashpoint 2 will naturally feature very different types of vehicles, with no less that 50 different variants, comprising tanks, helicopters and all manner of acronym-based affairs, each modelled down to the most anal levels, both inside and out Apparently, all of this information is freely available, although as senior producer Brant Nicholas jokes, "I think we're on the Pentagon's 'currently being watched' list."
The Chinese data has unsurprisingly proven slightly harder to attain, although as Nicholas muses, "I'm actually wondering if there's going to be just as many Chinese playing this game as people from other countries around the world online. That adds a fun element, I bet there's going to be real-world competitiveness actually involved in playing online."
As for the core single player campaign, it's some 30 missions long, and begins with an invasion of the island, with you playing the part of a lowly grunt receiving orders, before moving through the ranks to the stage where you're the one barking the instructions. Whereas the co-op mode will require actual intelligence, playing it solo will clearly involve a large reliance on the AI, an aspect that the development team is keen to emphasise.
Clive Lindop is the senior designer and AI lead, and enthuses, "One of the things the AI is very good at is looking after itself. The AI uses real military playbooks. We took infantry manuals, spoke to guys from the US Marines about their experience I of actually fighting in those environments and created an AI system around that.
"The AI looks at the environment, looks at the tactical situation and what I you're doing and decides what to do I based on all that information. And what kind of kit you've got, I whether he's got friends nearby or not, how much ammunition he's got, what his morale's like, how heavy the fire is coming at him. They won't just run out into a lot of bullets. They'll measure all those things.
"It's also adaptive. If you fight differently in a mission from the way you did last time the entire battle will unfold differently. They'll react and make their tactical decisions based on the situation, depending on what their objective is."
By way of example, we're shown a mission where a small squad is charged with the task of flanking an enemy machine gun nest. There's an overhead map portraying the positions of allies, enemies and corpses, and the whole thing could theoretically be played out as a rudimentary RTS game. As in the first game, you rarely get to see the whites of the enemy's eyes, as this is realistic long-range warfare, comprising such established tenets as suppressing fire.
A key improvement from the original game immediately becomes evident, in so much as the enemy can see the wood for the trees. As Lindop explains, "People awarded qualities to the original AI that it simply didn't have. It couldn't actually see trees. It could see trunks, but it muldn't see foliage, so it made nese amazing 500 yard shots and you'd die."
By way of a further example, Lindop says that the enemy's ability to flank you was down to the errant path finding, with the AI largely unable to walk in a straight line. As he says, "What we've done this time is we've kept those experiences that people perceived and made them functional.
We had to wait for the technology to catch up. We very much aim to deliver two things. One is to deliver people's expectations of what that experience was, and the second is to turn up the ante. We really want to deliver the experience of modern warfare, the lethality of that experience."
While there is something vaguely unseemly about podgy men cradling replica weapons and drooling over what is essentially military pornography, in their defence Codemasters aren't seeking to glamourise war.
"The goal is to depict a representative but not over-the top way," says Nicholas. "You're not going to see giblets flying everywhere. There's a difference between gratuitous and representative damage. So our goal is not to have gratuitous giblets like Quake, we have context sensitive damage where if you get hit say, in the arm, the texture will actually seep blood in that area. No other game does that. You can have flesh wounds, you can get incapacitating damage, you can get catastrophic damage. A flesh wound is dangerous - if I don't get attention in a certain amount of time I will bleed to death. Just like real life a light hit can be deadly."
And just like real life, it's intended to be a genuinely shit-the-bed terrifying experience. As Lindop says, "I think people will walk away with a serious respect for the guys that stand out there and do it. Even in the game when .50 calibre rounds are zipping past your head you think Tm not getting up.' As a soldier I could choose to leave my squad. It's an open sandbox, it's like the real world, if a soldier goes AWOL, a soldier goes AWOL".
The venerable franchise appears to be in safe hands. Purists may baulk at the development on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and the use of the words "fun" and "accessible". To be honest, OpFlash 2 doesn't seem to be either, which is good, and it looks set to redefine the military experience for a war-sawy audience numbed to atrocities by nightly TV reports. A massive undertaking, there's a definite "done when it's done" mentality, with a loose release date of simply 2009.
Tanks for the memory and a chopper
We read Wikipedia, so you don't Have to...
- M1a2 Abrams Tusk
A variant of US staple the Ml Abrams with improved armament protection and electronics, this battle tank is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff who oversaw the US Army's actions in the Vietnam conflict. Used in Iraq, they can be vulnerable to roadside bombs (IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, in army jargon).
- M2a3 Bradley IFV
As anyone who has spent any time with the military will have been reminded, this is not a tank: it is an IFV, or Infantry Fighting Vehicle, used for carrying troops around. When you're stuck in the back with bullets pinging off the exterior, you know you're in a war.
- AH-1Z Viper
An upgraded version of the Cobra - hence it's nickname the SuperCobra - this four-bladed gunship is primarily used by the US Marine Corps. In the game you'll be able to fly it and live out your Apocalypse Now fantasies by laying waste to great swathes of Chinese infantry.
You Know How it is. You're walking around jauntily, safe in the knowledge that you're the hero, that you're the one that's going to save the world from the evil communist/alien/terrorist menace, then a bullet, with all the proper physics and trajectories implemented properly, tears out your windpipe and you choke to death on a mixture of your own blood and the mud you just collapsed into. Then you realise you're a hardcore military simulation.
That's just how things go in the world of ultra-realistic military games, such as Operation Flashpoint and its rival ArmA. Death can come from anywhere, at any time and with extreme prejudice, as they say in the US.
From what we've played of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, it isn't just a jollied-up action-fest tainted by the foul stench of console corruption. While you can see nods to the machines our half-brothers insist on using, like the radial menus used to give commands to your squad, that doesn't mean this sequel is a watered-down arcade game. In fact, while we wouldn't say it's as brutally realistic as ArmA II, only the insane will scoff at Dragon Rising for not being realistic enough.
Be Vewy Quiet
The preview build we got our hands on contained two missions, but both of these were large enough in scope to indicate that there's going to be plenty to get stuck into when the full game arrives.
The first was your standard infiltration mission: you lead a four-man team on a quest to disable a Chinese early-warning system, enabling your fleet to get into position without alerting the main enemy force to their presence.
After completing this - it has to be done within a certain time frame or the fleet has to abort the mission - you then move on to securing a coastal village and a landing zone, or perhaps even driving around looking for secondary objectives to complete. Interestingly, fulfilling one of these opened up another one, so pursuing these seem to be worth it.
The second mission involved a beach assault This is a realistic game, remember, so we're not dealing with scripted excitement here. Thanks to your death-defying antics in the previous mission, you've been able to get onto the beach unmolested by enemy artillery. There are still enemies scattered about the place who'll happily pump lead through your brain given half the chance though, but you can use the squad commands to just send your buddies in first and then pick up the pieces once they get taken out/killed the enemies.
You see people on TV or in films complaining about the perils of command, but it Jk seems pretty swish to us. Send the grunts in first then take the glory once a mission has been completed. Easy.
Early builds of the game made us slightly wary of how the AI - both enemy and friendly - was going to pan out. The usual assurances were bandied about by Codies - claims that everything would be OK in the end, glitches would be fixed before release and so on. Usually this sort of thing is treated with an "Of course," and a resolute "...but we both know it won't be," spoken quietly inside your head. However, we've been corrected on this one, as the AI is definitely much, much better than it was before.
While we're not going to go on record and say it's 100% perfect - a game of this scope will never be bug-free, especially with its AI routines - but from our experiences, there aren't any soldiers refusing point blank to get into jeeps or dead Chinese soldiers riding around in a ghost car.
You've probably taken a good look at all the pretty pictures dotted around these pages already. You may even have chuckled at some of the mildly amusing captions too. Let's concentrate on the pictures though, for now.
Dragon Rising is using a bucket-load of the same code as GRID and the upcoming DiRT2, so the engine is robust and shouldn't fall over very often. What it also has is a draw distance of approximately 32km, so you can stand on top of the dead volcano situated on the eastern side of the island and, provided the dynamic weather conditions are aligned correctly, see all the way to the other side. (The volcano still doesn't have a secret ninja training base. But we're working on it.)
The scale of the island is important to the gameplay too. Missions last a substantial period of time, so you've got time to take in the scenery and devise devious tactical approaches using the in-game map (from which you can issue orders). While you won't be going from jungle to snow to swamp back to desert - there's enough to keep amateur botanists interested. There are a few of areas of interest -such as some salt flats, the volcano and rocky beaches - to keep the island from being soulless. We'd like a mountain with a snowy peak, but you can't have everything.
You don't necessarily want to hang about admiring the foliage though, especially if you're playing on hardcore mode. This is the closest-to-real setting that takes away all the HUD apart from the list of voice commands you've issued. There aren't any checkpoints either, other than one at the start of the mission, so if you decide you want to play it like that, good luck. (Yes, Dragon Rising uses a checkpoint system - no other saves are allowed.)
The good news is that you don't have to go it alone - the entire campaign can be played in a four-player co-op mode, so you and some hopelessly inept teammates can try to finish the game. All games that have the capacity to should have co-op modes, and we're delighted that Dragon Rising has one.
There are two other multiplayer options. The first, Annihilation, is a straight deathmatch, but the other mode is definitely the most intriguing.
Infiltration involves one team of up to 10 special forces troops attempting to accomplish an objective guarded by 22 defenders. We're positively salivating at the prospect of getting involved with a large game of this online. A potential Fight Club, anyone? And that's a suitably positive note to end on.
Most mission, map or level editors are hellish things for us laymen. We're happy to look wide-eyed at them before refusing to ever touch one again in fear. Let those clever mod people handle that sort of thing. But Codies say Dragon Rising's is all about ease of use. It might be presented in the usual way, but -unless you get involved with the LUA scripting language - it's just a case of simply dragging and dropping all the units you want onto the map.
Obviously things get more complicated when you delve into the designer's inner workings, but if you just want to test a basic scenario, or see what would happen if you had overloaded the map with units, it's a cinch.
Sadly, there aren't any of ArmA 2's animal units, so you can't watch the battles unfold while running about as a sheep.