Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
I knew this valley would be a deathtrap. Rolling grass for six hundred meters, high tree line perches on the perimeter, moonlight glare turning helmets into fireflies – this is a sniper’s hunting trail, and I just ordered my men into the heart of it. But there’s no point in being hard on myself. I had no choice. Our birds were on their way. The only way to provide cover was to cross the valley and take out the SAMs. We almost made it. We could have made it. Even with death looming from every direction, I suppressed the snipers long enough for my squad to sprint into cover. Sure, my efforts rewarded me with a bullet to the chest, but the blow shouldn’t have been fatal. From the blackened tree canopy, my boys flanked the snipers to open a clear path for our medic to patch me up. But he never arrived. He didn’t take a bullet of his own, and he didn’t freeze up from panic. As I lay there bleeding out, I could see he was stuck on a boulder, running aimlessly in place, unaware that his current path was taking him nowhere. It wasn’t a bullet that killed me. It was a *** bug.
Such is life in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. When this game is working the way it should, the intensity is nearly unbearable. You can feel your character’s heart racing through the controller’s vibration, and if you catch the glimpse of a tracer bullet going overhead, you thank the makers that you are given a second to drop into the prone position. From 300 to 400 meters, enemies are cunning strategists, spreading out into different formations and flanking at opportune times. Countering assaults with tactics of your own is easily handled through a slick menu system. Again, when the functionality is working, the simulation-like battles are enthralling tests of skill unlike any you’ve seen on console.
The entire campaign (which spans 11 lengthy missions) can be played cooperatively by a group of four. This is the ideal way to play Flashpoint. Yes, it is an empowering experience to tell your AI squad to assault a building or to cease fire for a stealth operation, but you never know what you are going to get from them. They may malfunction, read a situation wrong to the point it makes them seem suicidal, or worse yet, ignore everything you say. Human teammates reduce the frustration and make the game all the more enjoyable.
But playing this way doesn’t fix the game completely. My team lost the ability to use health packs, would respawn with invisible weapons, and would finish levels only to find out we failed an objective along the way but were never told. While enemies are intelligent from a distance, you can see their AI buckling in close-quarters skirmishes. Sometimes they’ll just stand there like mannequins taking bullet after bullet.
The realistic scale is instrumental in opening the doors for strategies, but to a fault. Most levels are bogged down with vast amounts of walking. Vast as in most of your time in specific levels is dedicated to the trek leading up to the fights. Vehicles are a rarity, and even if one can be found, the slippery controls often spell suicide for your team. Running 1.5 km to an evacuation point with no conflict along the way is not a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Nor are the competitive modes, Annihilation and Infiltration. Spawn points are too far removed from the action, and only having eight human-controlled players on these vast maps doesn’t make for exciting engagements. Throwing idiotic computer-controlled soldiers into the mix and refusing players a choice of weapons before rounds doesn’t help either.
Basically, only play this game if your friends are willing to run at your side. When the game is functioning as intended, it can be brilliant. But don’t let your guard down. Problems will arise, and your most difficult challenge may be combating a bout of boredom.