Operation Flashpoint: Red RiverESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Codemasters Studios
1-4 players (local)
2-16 players (online)
Optional hard drive install
Drop in/out cooperative play
XP system to spend on new weapons, attachments and abilities
In the sea of today’s warfare games there is often little to differentiate one game to the next. Codemasters’ Operation Flashpoint series is a decidedly hardcore take on modern combat. Boasting authentic USMC tactics, weaponry, and equipment, and set in a real location with contemporary geopolitical themes, the next release in this franchise, Operation Flashpoint: Red River, should be a tactical war gamer’s delight. I had a chance to play thorugh the retail version of this game, and here are my thoughts of how it stands up.
Red River’s graphics are best described as functional. It doesn’t compete with the really good-looking games available today, but they are good enough and it helps to keep your attention focused on the gameplay and not just how the game looks. Character and gun models look fine. There appears to be more detail on squadmates than the enemies you fight. This is most notable in the abundant cut scenes which play out using the in-game graphics engine.
The environments of Tajikistan are somewhat barren. Not having been there personally I imagine this is simply what the area looks like. Don’t expect a ton of detail like you see in games like CoD, Battlefield, or even the recently released Infamous 2. That being said, the draw distance is quite good. This is especially important as some of the engagements do take place at long range. The best comparison I can think is that things sort of look like an older Ghost Recon game but with more modern visual. There’s a smattering of spartan trees here and there and some average thin-looking long grass over top of mediocre ground textures. Don’t expect a ton of environmental detail here.
Codemasters has put a lot of effort into distressing weapons and things over time during the game. Unfortunately, unless you’re really looking for these things (I was because I read about them in a news release) these smaller touches might just get overlooked.
Things fare a little better with regards to the game’s sound. There’s a ton of chatter over the radio at all times thus a lot of dialogue in the game. The voice acting is fine and the chatter between NPC’s aims to provide that sense of authenticity the game is going for. You have to listen carefully though as there are a lot of verbal cues and clues that will help you meet your objectives. Some of the dialogue does get a little repetitive too early into the game for my liking, especially when you kill enemies.
The rest of the sound effects are simply average. I’m a fan of attention to detail when it comes to how a game sounds and its sound effects. Guns do sound different and things go boom to varying degrees, but there’s just nothing that really stands out. Maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know, but it wasn’t to me. The majority of the sound effects are pretty canned. Oh, and no musical score during gameplay. Some might not like that but I thought it was an authentic touch.
While so many of today’s war games tout realism, Operation Flashpoint: Red River’s whole angle is to bring authenticity to the table and they stick firmly to this niche. While Red River touts a customizable gameplay experience for all levels or intensity of gamers, this one is aimed squarely at that more hardcore player. It is a fine line to walk. Fortunately I think Codemasters does a good job walking this line. The game takes place in Tajikistan (yes it’s a real country, I looked it up) amongst today’s political environment. I always appreciate settings that use modern issues that people can relate to and it also helps position this game stay authentic. You are a member of the USMC and your job is to lead your own fire team of four into the fray.
A more hardcore game like this is going to come with a steeper than normal learning curve. Codemasters doesn’t do the you many favours by throwing you right into the action after an all too brief tutorial. Things really start off quick. There is help during the first few missions that Codies touts as the tutorial being blended in to the narrative, but too often I found it to be trial by fire. It’s authentic I guess, and I died a lot! The controls are abundant, but very complex, with several combos using the shoulder buttons to get to the command types that you want. Take the time to learn them because you will not want to be messing around with them in the middle of a fire fight. It will just lead to death. That said, the complexity of the controls means that there’s a ton of stuff you can do. You control your fire team through a two-tiered menu system mapped to the directional pad that allows you to control your team’s tactics. Additional commands are mapped to other button combinations. Like I said before, it can be somewhat daunting to learn but after you do so you realize that the game offers an incredible amount of control.
Authenticity is by far the name of the game here. A lot of my friends and colleagues miss the Ghost Recon games of old which leans towards realism versus power ups and recharging life bars. Red River has this and then some. If you are wounded and need repairs you physically have to stop and heal yourself. This is a two stage process and takes several seconds, probably more than 10 by my count. This makes you think twice about simply hitting the heal button every time you get shot. When you’re in a firefight, it might make all the difference between living through it or dying and having to replay from your last save checkpoint. Realistic re-load times, gun jams, inconsistencies with weaponry acquired in the field, and bullet arcs are all further examples of the dedication to authenticity and realism here.
Thankfully, Codemasters have done what they can to make such an experience as accessible to all types of players. Such things as radar, auto and snap to aiming, and healing options are all available. You can dial in the settings to suit your play style. There is also an XP system in play. Playing single or multiplayer earns you XP that allows you to unlock new weaponry, new attachments, customizations, and abilities. While it is a pretty typical set up it does add another layer to the gameplay experience and a small sense of progression outside of the main narrative.
Unfortunately the AI in this game really stinks. Members of my fire team were constantly bugging up against objects and wouldn’t follow my commands. I can over look something like this if it happens now and then, but this happened often in this title. It really is unfortunate and I hope it is an issue that is fixed through a console update. I also noted that my AI teammates did not have many survival instincts. In a game that touts such authenticity I would expect someone being fired at to take cover. Enemy AI is a little better but not much. Occasionally bad guys do take cover but all too often, especially at longer ranges, they would simply stand there long enough for you to correct your aim and put them down.
As far as online modes there is only cooperative play here. This is absolutely okay with me as I really, really enjoy online cooperative play, but I suspect this will deter many shooter fans from trying this one. The game supports up to 16 players online with players breaking up into fire teams of 4 similar to the campaign.
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