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Operation Flashpoint: Red River First Look

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http://ps3.ign.com/articles/111/1110607p1.html

 

Codemasters brings some brains to the battlefield.

 

UK, August 5, 2010

 

War isn't much fun. That's something that may come as news to the millions that stalk Modern Warfare 2's maps until the early hours of each morning, their eyes bloodshot and their hearts racing at the pure thrill of it all. But it's a fact that was writ large throughout Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, Codemasters' sim-heavy first-person shooter that launched a mere handful of months before Activision redefined the parameters of success for videogame blockbusters.

 

Flying so close to what's now become one of the most successful games of all time was both a curse and a blessing; on the one hand Dragon Rising capitalised on the swelling thirst for contemporary battlefield experiences, but on the other it left those looking for thrill-a-minute gunplay a little perplexed at this strange and novel beast, a console-based shooter that didn't shy away from the cold brutality of real-life conflict.

 

"Generally, the impression I get is that 90% of people that played the game loved it," says the energetic Sion Lenton, creative director on Codemasters' Operation Flashpoint games. "They thought it was something different but felt that it was really hard, that it was slightly obscure and difficult. 10% of people didn't think it was hard enough. Out of every million sales, the people that I want to get the game right for is that 90%."

 

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It's something that's evident as we're given a tour of sequel Operation: Red River – and whereas last time out the watchwords were authenticity and of a game that's "as close to war as you'd want to get," this time the talk is of Left 4 Dead and Nintendo's approach to game design. "We were just talking about trying to make the game more fun," admits Sion.

 

Before the series' faithful that have been dodging enemy fire since its PC inception get too aggrieved, it's worth pointing out that Operation Flashpoint hasn't fundamentally changed. Red River is still more military sim than straight-up shooter, its authenticity still leagues ahead of the Bad Companies and Call of Duties of this world.

 

But it's also been studying those games carefully, pinching features here and there to ensure that Operation Flashpoint: Red River is more in line with people's expectations of a modern first-person shooter. On the grandest scale there's the setting; as opposed to the oppressive and frequently dismal island backdrop of Dragon Rising, Red River relocates to Tajikstan, a Central Asian country that's uniquely diverse.

 

Placed precariously between Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, Tajikstan has unsurprisingly had a history of struggle, a Soviet presence segueing into more Asian influences towards the east of the country. It's subsequently a perfect backdrop for Operation Flashpoint: Red River's own fictional conflict, which in keeping with Dragon Rising is between US forces and the People's Liberation Army of China.

 

Tajikstan also supplies a dazzling variety of backdrops and the very first will be the most familiar. Operation Flashpoint: Red River's campaign will take players winding along the eponymous waterway, offering up some 200km of terrain on the journey from the east to the west, and it starts quite intentionally amidst the dust and heat that the recent blockbusters have claimed as their own.

 

"We've made sure that earlier levels in the game look like earlier levels in the Call of Duties and Bad Companies so as not to alienate the player," admits Sion. It soon moves to fresher territory and over Red River's three acts it'll offer more variety than its predecessor ever did, taking in the heights of the local mountain ranges before venturing to locales that display the Russian, Afghan and Chinese influences that create Tajikstan's strange and unique flavour.

 

What's also of note is the fact that there are three acts, as Red River wants to nail the human drama of conflict and bring its story to the fore. A show-reel strung together with clips from Generation Kill, Jarhead and The Hurt Locker makes explicit the influences and it's an admirable bunch for Codemasters' to draw inspiration from.

 

While it quite obviously won't have their narrative and emotional complexity, it's already looking more engaging than the cold-faced Dragon Rising, with numerous details – whether that's more believably delivered marine chatter during the missions or military equipment that's now more tattered, worn and dusty – working together to create a more human environment.

 

It's also to be much more welcoming. "There were definitely features and mechanics in Dragon Rising that pissed people off," admits Sion, and to that end Red River's being built with the user in mind. It's an approach evident in the tweaked radial menu, wherein doling out orders is no longer a case of trawling blind through a maze of often interminable options.

 

One thing that'll be welcomed by the console shooter crowd is improved gun handling that's more fluid and thankfully more helpful in the heat of battle. For the dedicated core there's still the option to fight without a safety net, but in line with the blockbusters there's now assists available with three different flavours on offer.

 

At long range there's now a sticky aim that slows the reticule as it passes over enemies, while at mid-range there's a snap-to-aim that'll be familiar to any Call of Duty veterans and finally get up close and personal and there's Red River's equivalent of the z-lock, keeping the players sights on the target as they strafe around. "A lot of this stuff isn't revolutionary," confesses Sion, "it's basic stuff." But it's these basics that will make Red River a much more accommodating game.

 

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It's all part of a philosophy whereby Operation Flashpoint is happy to admit that it's a videogame as well as a simulation, as told by an all-new experience system that's persistent throughout the game. It ties into a more clearly defined class system; there's now a rifleman, grenadier, scout and auto rifleman, and while they all carry an M4A1 they've also got their own weapons and their own attributes.

 

Combat will cater for strategies that work each of the classes together thoughtfully, and thankfully partner AI won't be as dumb as it was last time out. One brief snippet of gameplay bears this out as a player convoy is ambushed, causing the other vehicles to stop and take up defensive positions while the damaged vehicle is prepared. If such smart behaviour extends elsewhere in Red River's there's the possibility for some wonderfully emergent scenarios.

 

Such scenarios will come naturally in co-op – an aspect that was a clear highlight of Dragon Rising and something that's the backbone of Red River. Tellingly, Left 4 Dead is a constant reference point and a clear lunchtime favourite at the studio, and they've obviously been taking note. "The best thing about the game is something that we don't actually put in it," says Sion, "It's four friends working together, deciding on this strategy or that strategy. That's what it's all about."

 

There are some elements of its more contentious contemporaries that it won't be aping, however. There's no competitive multiplayer, largely to keep the focus on the co-op but also to ensure that Red River doesn't enter the murky waters that some contemporary military games risk treading. "I find it quite unsettling with Medal of Honor. I'm not sure if I want to play as the Taliban shooting American soldiers" says Sion, before returning to a point made earlier in his presentation that the game must remain ethical. "Two British soldiers died [recently], and one of the girls that works here, her nephew was killed by an IED [improvised explosive device] a couple of months ago. I'm not going to go in there and spout about how great our game's going to be and that it's got great IED tech, it's not appropriate at all. That's a live conflict and you have to treat it with maximum respect."

 

It's a line that Operation Flashpoint: Red River is treading with the utmost care, and it's a shooter that's more thoughtful – both in its approach and in its play – than many of its peers. Keep an eye out for more on the game in the run-up to its 2011 release.

Edited by Crusty_Demons

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Everyone wants a piece of the income that the COD series generates. It's dollars and cents and now Devs are to the point where they aren't ashamed to admit it. The Co op was by far the best part of Dragon Rising they should just focus on that.

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The reality and accuracy of the guns in the Dragon Rising was great. I likened Dragon Rising to playing S3 Co-Op, since I played the Co-Op on both a lot. It's not a "horrible game". While the masses may be into COD and that "type" of gameplay. Some really enjoy the use of strategy and teamwork to accomplish a mission. And it's a shame that they have to bow to the masses and sacrifice the way they want the game to be played for a dollar.

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Im pretty sure the first one was horrible. I play shooters of all types. All types. I ran down to Game Stop before the doors opened and got my copy on release day. Went home and played the rest of the day. The next day I went back to Game Stop and demanded a refund. It was borderline fraud.

 

Sim Shooters have never been any good. Only the kings of campers want to low crawl through bushes for 4 hours.

 

Neat idea, piss poor execution. I'll be keeping my $63.84 this time around.

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I thought the first one was great especially on co op not so much on the single player. It would have been better on PC and I will be buying this next one on PC for sure. Console players get screwed on games like this that were built for PC and ported over to consoles. The graphics look better on PC and you get the mission editors to fool around with. The only thing that I thought was falsely advertised was the sand box environment I was under the impression that we could go anywhere and take on missions however we wanted to. Some of my best co op moments ever were had on this game and I look forward to the next one on PC.

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