Reviews

Operation Flashpoint: Red River – Review

Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Codemasters 
Publisher: Codemasters
Singleplayer: Yes
Splitscreen: No
Multiplayer: Co-op 2-4 players
PEGI: 15+

With the console market dominated by first person shooters that have spent far too much time in the company of hollywood action films it’s little wonder that we have so little in the way of realistic shooters that require tactics, patience and – shock – intelligence to play. At the same time it’s also a niche market because the current generation of gamers have grown up on a diet of said hollywood styled shooters, so companies are afraid to bring such games to console in fear that they simply won’t sell.

However, Codemasters give it a damn good shot and released Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising in 2009, and while it was heavily plagued by bugs and problems it developed a hardcore following who loved its more thoughtful take on shooting people in the fact with really cool guns. It’s two years on and now we have Operation Flashpoint: Red River, and it’s a big improvement over the first, but sadly some things just haven’t changed.

Red River takes place in 2013 when the marines are sent in to deal with a civil war in Tajikistan ( yes, it is a real place). However, Tajikistan borders China, and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) of China don’t take kindly to the American army being so close to their borders and the result is all out way. While the story may be fictional it’s close enough to reality to create a believable sequence of events that hits close to home. Its story still isn’t the strong point of the series, but Codemasters have tried to inject more personality into characters and overall game. Your squad is more talkative, and while you won’t really give a damn about them it does help. Staff Sargent Knox steals the show, being your fairly loud Sarge who swears plenty, but he’s so well acted that by the end of the game you’ll find that you quite like the loud-mouthed sod.
During travel sequences your squad will now banter, and heavy metal music plays over the radio giving it much more personality than Dragon Rising. It also helps that you’re no longer a small four-man squad on the middle of nowhere, but part of a whole squad who are then part of army. The grander scale suits the game.

Codemasters have also attempted to bring the hardcore nature of the game to wider audience by adding in the ability to choose and modify any of the four classes – Rifleman, Scout, Auto-Gunner and Grenadier – using a choice of gear. They’ve also thrown in aiming assists to help out those who have been playing waaaaaay too much Call of Duty. It may not allow a born and bred COD player to jump in, but it does ease the transition somewhat. Your compass will show previous and current enemy positions, dropped weapons and objectives. Have no fear though as you can still turn off the assists and ramp up the difficulty to Hardcore for that true Flashpoint experience.

You see, Operation Flashpoint: Red River isn’t like most shooters; a single bullet can end your life with no hope of revival, and running get you utterly destroyed. So, the key is patience and tactical thinking. In Call of Duty, and even Bad Company 2, combat is often done within 50 Metres, but in Red River it’s usually at around 200-500 Metres, so bullet drop comes into play, as does carefully aiming your shots and squeezing off single shots at a time. The result is the tense experience that Dragon Rising gave us, with every crest a danger zone and every building a potential death trap. of course you still have your team to command during these fights, and the command system has seen some streamlining. it’s still not an exceptionally smooth system, but it’s certainly more functional than before. The cost however, is that you have a few fewer orders to bark at them.

This also brings up Red Rivers biggest problem: AI. Dragon Rising hardly set any bars, and in the two years between games it seems as though zero improvements to your squads AI has been made. In fact, they’re arguably worse. They’ll botch up orders, fail to shoot enemies a few feet in front of them, never get in cover and often refuse to heal you when your bleeding out. At best they’re incompetent idiots who can seriously dent your missions progress, while at worse they’ll often get wiped out in the first engagement and get you killed trying to save them. The enemy AI is hardly any better; they’ll run in circles, stand in the middle of the road and fail to use cover tactically. They don’t react the battlefield as it changes and the only flanking maneuvers they use tend to be scripted. The result is battles are less like games of chess as you attempt to outmaneuver each other, and more like a duck shoot with their only threatening aspect being some bloody scary accuracy.

A big draw of the game comes from the big focus on co-op, with four-players able to play through the campaign or undertake standalone co-op missions such as rescuing downed helicopter pilots or defending positions. However, there are only a few missions for each category, and Red River does not contain a competitive multiplayer experience like it’s predecessor, but doubtless DLC is on the way to expand on the co-op missions. Once you get some mates in to replace the shoddy AI things start to really pickup, and while it’s entirely possible that your teammates are dumber than the AI, it’s far more likely that you’ll be able to get some great tactical gameplay going, and once you do Red River takes on a whole new lease of life.

Red River has compromised in a few other ways though: while Dragon Rising gave you a lot of freedom to play with in terms of wandering around, but Red River doesn’t give you much space to play with. While the vistas are impressively large and gave the impression of a massive game area, the reality is that you can’t venture far. Theres also just a single night operation, and you only get to drive a Humvee a few times but nothing other than that.

The wonky hit detection from Dragon Rising has been vastly improved upon, but it still exists within Red River with the occasional moment of frustration as bullets pass through enemies mere feet away with zero effect giving them plenty of time to simply turn around and blow your skull open.

There are also problems with pacing, and many little bugs and glitches that I encountered along the way like AI shooting at a wall for no reason, your weapon disappearing and vehicles refusing to move or getting stuck, but they’re far from game breaking.

At the end of the day Red River is a solid sequel to Dragon Rising, and certainly provides a better gameplay experience, especially if you happen to have three friends with the game as well. Without those friends the game doesn’t do as well, but will doubtless find its place with a hardcore following.

The Good:
+ It may not be realistic, but that First Aid pack heals everything!
+ Co-op with friends
+ Getting to choose a loadout for a mission.

The Bad:
– Getting an hours work ruined by one lone bullet.
– The freaking AI!
– Numerous little bugs and glitches

Scores:

Graphics: 7.5
Some beautiful vista’s are there, and the sky looks amazing. They’ve also added some color in! But it’s nothing special.

Sound: 7.5
Some good voice acting is in there, but a few cases of bad acting as well. The music gives the game a nice touch of attitude as well. The guns still sound a bit weak though.

Story: 6
Enjoyable, but hardly stunning. It’s a simple tale of war, but Sargent Knox helps keep things feeling fun.

Gameplay: 7.5
A few compromises have been made, but a quick trip to options reverts this back to the hardcore experience that fans will love.

Lifespan: 7.5
The campaign will last around ten hours with medals handed out based on how well you did, so there is some replay value there. The co-op missions also throw in some time but there isn’t a huge amount of them.

Overall: 7.5
A definite improvement over Dragon Rising, and fills the void that is the lack of realistic military shooters on console while delivering enough assists to help get new players in, but I can’t help but feel that it has split it’s personality somewhat by doing so. Still, if you’re after  a game that’ll give you a better feeling of what it is to be a marine, this is it.

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