It feels like first-person shooters are absolutely flooding the market these days. With Medal of Honour and then Homefront failing to really make a dent in Call of Duty: Black Op‘s dominance over the market, it seems a shooter really has to do something special to stand apart. That’s where Codemasters’ tactical take on the special-ops FPS comes in. The previous two Operation Flashpoint games were heavily praised for their realism; the first, originally released on PCs back in 2001 even used the same technology as authentic military simulators. The second was released back in 2009 to generally positive reviews and was again noted for it’s dedication to realism. Fans of Dragon Rising have been eagerly awaiting what they hope will be the next level of realistic squad-based gaming. Does OFP:RR deliver?
Graphically, Red River is an impressive game, on the whole. Even on consoles the levels feel vast and varied (or at least as varied as Tajikistan can feel). However, with so much going on sacrifices were made, some textures are noticeably more bland than others, and certain features, such as some foliage, can suddenly stand out like a sore thumb. For a game which relies so heavily on impressive distances as well, the draw rate does at times also suffer and pop-in becomes a minor issue. Although the game comes up short compared to recent rival Crysis 2, comparisons aren’t really fair, and the minor graphical shortcomings rarely distract from or hamper gameplay. Where the game really shines, is, well, in the different ways the sun shines. Codemasters have done an excellent job in creating realistic outdoor lighting for all times of the day. Not only is the night-vision the best we’ve ever seen in a video game, but even pressing forward into the setting sun during dusk is impressive; damn annoying to pick off enemies, but satisfyingly realistic.
Satisfyingly realistic should be the watch word of the whole game really, but unfortunately that’s almost where it ends. The sound effects are good, and playing the game with either a 5.1 set up or decent set of cans is the only way to truly appreciate the chaos of war. Unfortunately it just isn’t polished. Conversational segments feel incredibly scripted and cause glitches in other natural sound effects, and even with each other. The voice acting is exactly what you’d expect from a military shooter these days, and there is actually so much general chatter, with your drill sergeant, a man from the typical HOORAH! school of military elocution, and more than a little similar to Jamie Fox’s Sgt. Sykes from Jarhead, being the worst offender. After about the third of his long winded and unavoidable pep-talks I found myself zoning out and thinking about dinner. Or laundry. Oh and I hope you aren’t easily offended, as it seems the members of Bravo team are completely incapable of engaging in any situation without screaming out every thought that pops into their head punctuated with the kind of language that would have granny in fits. And if the kind of language that is reserved for their Asian opponents is anything to go by, then I assume that Codemasters are happy to alienate just about everyone of Chinese descent.
So what about the gameplay? In a word: solid. OFP:RR actually plays very well and offers a sufficiently different and engrossing experience to tear you away from Black Ops. Well, if you really are still playing Black Ops by now that is. Is it good enough to tempt gamers away from Bad Company 2: Vietnam? Yes, but I don’t think it’ll hold onto them for long. Unfortunately, some of the realism has been sacrificed to produce a more streamlined, accessible and action packed experience. Sound like a good thing? Not really. Sure, sections of the previous game could have been streamlined, I mean, if I wanted real war I would have signed up for the corps. But some of the sacrifices seem to have been made purely in the name of mass appeal, leaving you feeling somewhat unsatisfied on both accounts: I wanted either a more engrossing and realistic experience, or one that delivered more action.
OFP:RR commits two absolutely cardinal sins that unfortunately prevent it from being a great game either in single player or online. The first is, like the previous title, AI. There is a noticeable improvement in your team’s AI this time, and once you get used to issuing orders from the radial menu you will definitely benefit from the experience, but when they do screw up, it can be beyond frustrating. If this game is anything to go by, American soldiers are actively encouraged to RUN IN FRONT OF A TEAMMATE’S GUN! Ahem, sorry. Whilst the campaign and co-op missions are much more fun and satisfying to play with a group of friends, that’s all you get. Although Dragon Rising’s competitive online modes did divide fans, Red River appears to address those criticisms by removing them altogether. To me, this seems like a terribly wasted opportunity. The campaign is longer than any recently released FPS, and there is a separate mode that allows you jump into a variety of challenging missions to try and nail the top scores, but your opponents are always the same mindless AI soldiers.
Level design is also unfortunately inconsistent. Although the action and variety does ramp up later in the game, you are forced to progress through just a few too many mission which feel like little more than running from point A to point B and shooting anything that moves in between. XP and upgrades have also been introduced this time around, and although you can earn it both on and offline, with no competitive mode and not a whole lot of variety between the classes it too never truly satisfies.
So, if you haven’t got the gist of it yet I will spell it out for you: I liked OF:RR, at times it is a very entertaining tactical shooter which genuinely offers a different experience from most FPSs out there. But the game seems to come up short from being a must-have title in almost every area: from distracting to downright annoying and drawn-out chatter, watered down realism, no deathmatch or competitive online play, and frustrating AI; I really wanted to love this title, but I couldn’t.