If by chance you’re considering joining the Army, you might consider giving a serious military sim like ArmA II, Operation Flashpoint or this sequel, Dragon Rising a go before marching into the recruitment office to sign up. Frankly, the prospect of vigorous exercise, fresh air and eventual death is enough of a turn-off for us, but after playing Codies’ Op Flash 2, we’ve been unexpectedly shot dead enough times to make the decision stick.
Thank goodness then for games like Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising that allow us to look down the iron sights of a soldier in a realistic battlefield situation, without the impending risk of sudden death or horrific injury.
Reload animations are suitably macho…and realistic. Obviously.
You might want to check what’s going on atop that smouldering hill.
Plonked into the stomping black boots of the leader of a four-man squad stationed on the fictional island of Skira where Chinese PLA forces have set up encampments all over its 220 square kilometre expanse, your job is to weed out the enemy utilising advanced military tactics straight out of the US Marine Corps handbook.
Resorting to console-friendly pop-up radial menus - that may slightly aggravate the hardcore PC crowd - issuing orders to your team is both simple and streamlined, making establishing and executing your strategies reasonably effortless. The AI is such that they carry out your commands with military efficiency, which is handy given the nature of the game. It’s all military, see.
It’s also useful because Dragon Rising is a tough, demanding game that involves slow and steady progress in mounting a tactical assault upon entrenched enemy targets. No Call of Duty-style running and gunning here. A single bullet can be fatal, so crawling through grass in a prone position is essential practice for getting into the best position possible.
For the less patient player, there are a number of gameplay assists that ease the steep difficulty somewhat, so where the full-fat unassisted game removes the HUD, checkpoints and any kind of helpful feedback, the lower difficulty levels provide all of the above. As the unassisted experience proved too strong for our lily-livered console-centric palette, we opted to play with the help switched on - dying face-down in the dirt with a cranial puncture wound without a checkpoint is too bitter a pill to swallow when you’ve worked your arse off to complete an objective.
For the devoted hardcore however, playing through each of the campaign missions devoid of checkpoints or help of any kind offers up a sadistic test that will sort the men from the boys. Regardless of the level of challenge you choose, the AI remains a constant, so the enemy put up just as much of a fight as they do at the highest setting.
You'd think staying behind the tanks would be a good idea. It’s not.
At time of writing, no one was available for a quick co-op sesh. We’re sure it’s great though.
Whichever way you slice it, Op Flash 2 is a tough game, even when you consider that its predecessor and genre stablemate ArmA II are marginally more unforgiving. Still, there are very few concessions to realism in Dragon Rising, and what compromises have been made in making Op Flash 2 a little less daunting, serve in alleviating the frustrations that come with mission failure.
Checkpoints resurrect fallen comrades, which makes no sense whatsoever, but we welcome the addition nonetheless. Besides, if you take issue with respawning squad members or visual aids, then they can easily be switched off if you insist on playing the game in all it’s unabated, hyper-real glory. Just don’t come crying to us when you’re riddled with bullets and left for dead on a hilltop.
In the event that you do start losing blood - normally from a shot to the limbs or torso - a red gauge appears in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen indicating how much of the red stuff you’ve got left coursing through your ruptured arteries. Swiftly applying a tourniquet from your field medikit to the affected area is of paramount importance therefore, lest you end up a drained pallid corpse lying in the mud.
Learning to think and react like a real-life soldier gradually becomes second nature as you battle your way through each increasingly harsh and exacting trial thrown your way. Things start off gently enough, easing you in with a straightforward search and destroy mission, where you and your team are tasked with taking out a SAM site before calling in a laser-guided air strike on an enemy inhabited beachfront village.
Windows detailing the controls occasionally spring up where relevant to ensure that you’re acquainted with the waypoint markers and intricate functions hidden beneath layers of clearly presented menus. Nothing is more than a quick press of a button away, which is testament to how expertly adapted Codemasters’ in-house dev team has mapped the intricate PC control system to the control pad.
Your basic FPS controls are nice and intuitive, with the more complicated commands and extra functions such as fire rate adjustment, night vision or infrared placed on the right shoulder button and D-pad respectively. Hardened PC gamers might bemoan the sequel’s increased focus on accessibility as an effort to appeal to the short attention spans of the couch potato gamer, but the resulting game is one that is massively playable on whatever platform you choose to enjoy it.
There’s all sorts of military hardware at your disposal. These tanks are badass for sure, but you can call in your own airstrikes and artillery too.
Stating the obvious in Op Flash 2 # 64 – “A bullet to the head is usually fatal.”
Op Flash 2 might be in its element on mouse and keys, but it’s heartening to see that the PS3 and Xbox 360 hasn’t been palmed off with a watered-down version of the game. Visually, the game looks functionally pretty across the board, generally free of any major glitches. Impressive given the island’s grand scale and 30-kilometre draw distance. Codies’ EGO Engine that powers the remarkably good-looking DiRT series produces equally spectacular results in Dragon Rising. However, ground-based vehicles aren’t as robust as you might expect, with jeeps feeling a little too floaty and bouncy for instance. The helicopters are a tad more satisfying to control however.
OPERATION FLASHPOINT 2: DRAGON RISING VERDICT
Involving, immersive and well-balanced, Dragon Rising is brutally challenging but seldom unfair. Despite occasional AI tics and the odd glitch, Codemasters’ tough military shooter will compel and entertain in equal measure. Oh, and frustrate at times too. Be forewarned that a great deal of patience is an essential prerequisite for Op Flash 2. Nonetheless, the authenticity and attention to detail in Dragon Rising is to be applauded.