Everyone knows that there are far too many first-person shooters out there all jostling for attention, especially ones with shouty jingoistic sensibilities - not that that’s always a bad thing, you understand. You could also argue that we don’t really need another shooter beyond the guaranteed-to-be-ace Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 to satisfy our killing needs.
Still, there’s nothing else out there that currently offers the kind of ultra-realistic military thrills provided by Operation Flashpoint and while original developer Bohemia Interactive has been off making the similarly authentic ArmA II, the spiritual follow-up to Op Flash, Codemasters’ in-house team have been hard at work making an officially named sequel with the catchy suffix of Dragon Rising.
Your HUD display changes depending on the difficulty you set for yourself, with the toughest setting removing all on-screen furniture.
Night time missions consist of stealthy infiltration objectives, where a pair of NVGs is essential. Treading on a twig will presumably cause all hell to break loose.
We’ve had an extensive hands-on with preview code of the forthcoming game and can confidently declare this to be the most exacting and brutally authentic shooter we’ve ever played. The uninitiated expecting a CoD style romp absorbing bullets to the chest as you heroically march into enemy territory with an M16 and a prayer can forget it. Dragon Rising will unapologetically eat you for breakfast and leave you to bleed to death in a field.
Op Flash 2 is about as close to experiencing a real war situation without being subjected to the risk of actual death. Truly, this is a thinking man’s shooter that rewards patience, tactics and guile over gung-ho run and gun recklessness. Trouble is, this writer is gifted with the patience of an infant on a raging sugar rush, so it comes as no surprise when foolhardy, ill-considered attempts to complete mission requirements invariably result in a swift slug to the cranium and a slow painful death, face down in the dirt.
Everything about the game is uncompromising, so any enjoyment you might derive from playing will depend entirely upon your fortitude out in the (digital) field. If a slow crawl through long grass to gain access to a valuable vantage point sounds like your cup of tea, but you don’t fancy joining the army for real, then Op Flash will most definitely be for you.
Action hounds like yours truly however, may find the harsh (but fair), one-hit deaths massively frustrating, but wannabe war generals will lap this up. Although the open-world conflict unfolds upon the vast, fictional 220 square kilometre (9 and a half hours to traverse if you’re interested…or a maniac) island sandbox known as Skira (based upon Kiska Island in Alaska, dontcha know), there’s nothing remotely fictional about the depth and detail that Codies have packed into the game.
Commands come straight out of the US Marine Corps handbook and you can issue any of these orders on the fly to your allies. The volume of your voice adjusts accordingly depending on the situation, so you don’t bark an order at the top of your voice in the middle of a stealth mission. Instead, you’ll gently whisper your commands, which may seem like a minor, even insignificant touch, but it does add to the authenticity.
This being a sandbox game means you can commandeer any vehicle you like and rag it roughshod over fields and hills. Just pray that a bullet from an enemy sniper doesn’t cut your ride short.
There are four soldier classes to choose from as well as a host of weapon loadouts. As you’d expect, every weapon is accurately modelled with proper physics and everything. Take care not to ricochet a white-hot cartridge into your own brain though.
And that’s really what Operation Flashpoint is all about - formulating the most realistic and accurate depiction of actual warfare, even if it means trimming away the Hollywood excesses of a Call of Duty title. What’s left may seem like a fatally po-faced and humourless game, but then that’s the idea. Real war is no game and Op Flash does a fantastic job in hitting that point home, Art Lead Mike Smith hits the nail on the head when he says that it’s, “War as seen through a lens.” This is less Rambo, more CNN news coverage then.
Returning to our hands-on and we’re absolutely useless, dying countless times regardless of the effort we make to slowly and methodically shimmy unseen through the undergrowth. Gunfire can come from seemingly nowhere at anytime, so taking the time to meticulously plan your approach is absolutely key. In the spirit of giving the demo a proper playtest though, we enlisted the help of our good friend Alan, a proper soldier at Keogh Barracks just outside Guildford, to see what he thought of the game.
Firstly, he survives for far longer than any of our feeble attempts, his real world training actually giving him the immediate edge. In fact he completes the demo mission with little effort, the only obstacle being the slightly skittish AI (currently a known issue that will be fixed for the full game) that sabotages his extraction as one fellow comrade gets lost and then refuses to get in the helicopter.
Still, Al uses all of the tools at his disposal effectively, capturing an enemy jeep early on to get around faster while somehow managing to avoid stirring the attention of entrenched enemy soldiers. After several playthroughs trying the same objectives using differing approaches, we manage to lump the whole platoon into the jeep, one manning the mounted machine gun and firing away at enemies guarding a SAM site that needs to be neutralised. Suddenly, we’re starting to see the potential for moments of real action within the realistic framework. You just have to know where and when you can let rip.
Great care has been taken with the visuals for Dragon Rising too, so while they’re not necessarily the prettiest - the game is still unfinished after all - they do allow for an astonishing draw distance of over 30 square kilometres, which means wherever you look, you’ll be able to see all the way to the horizon, free of glitches or pop-in.
Dragon Rising is about as close to real warfare as you’re likely to get without strapping on Kevlar and being dropped into a hostile warzone. We know which we prefer.
Prepare to see most of the battle through your iron sights. You’re invariably better off keeping your distance to pick off far-away threats.
A veil of swirling fog often hovers over the battlefield, which is normally a tactical barrier of smoke used to keep the enemy obscured from view, but it adds a real element of tension that you can only imagine is a representation of what a genuine battlefield situation might be like. There’re also some spectacular night time missions that really test your know how with the scant field equipment you’re given, and naturally, night vision goggles are a must.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising might be somewhat sadistic in its slavish devotion to realism, and frequent unexpected deaths from the whip-smart AI enemy await those who ignore the deep, strategic approach required to succeed. Casual gamers will be well out of their depth, but if it’s a challenge you’re after, then Op Flash may well scratch that itchy trigger finger of yours.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is scheduled for a October release, soldier.