Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is as close to a real war situation than most gamers are going to get. In this genre-defining military conflict simulator, Flashpoint brings as new challenge FPS fans in this realistic dynamic shooter.
Right from the get go Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (OFDR) will alienate a good portion of its target audience-- the shooter crowd. Flashpoint isn’t your mom and pops old run around frag-fest like Call of Duty, or even Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. OFDR is a full out war-game that pushes the boundaries on realism in a challenging and diverse battlefield. Dragon Rising might not a be a perfect game, and you will hear about all this a little later, however in the long run, it still proves to be worth a look, if you’re into the simulation side of shooters.
Dragon Rising isn’t the first Operation Flashpoint game to be released. The first release from this series was Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis (2001) and then Resistance (2002) both released on the PC. Then the Operation series made a jump to the console world with Operation Flashpoint: Elite (2005) which was released on the original Xbox. I never had the chance to play the earlier editions in the series, although now that I’ve experienced the “second” Flashpoint game, I’m very curious to see if the first bundle of releases are all about. For the fans of the first few games you should be aware that Codemasters ditched their developer Bohemia Interactive to creature Dragon Rising from the ground up.
Thinking back the last time I enjoyed the pleasure of running through a realistic styled shooter was back during the original release of Rainbow Six (1998), or Ghost Recon (2001). Not to confuse anyone, but Dragon Rising isn’t really like Rainbow Six in its original over planning team tactical gameplay, although Dragon borrows from the same style and source material... “real life”. When you have a game that falls into this realm of realism it becomes enhanced. So even if your only marching up a hill trying to flush out the enemy from hiding, every move becomes as life-or-death situation because on stray bullet is enough to put you down, or cripple you. Don’t be surprised if Dragon Rising takes a few runs before you get the Call of Duty out of your system. This game can not be played like your average FPS. Doing so is near suicide, unless your one with the horseshoes.
The Good, The Bad, and the Glitchy
The biggest perk to Dragon is the realism in the handling of the weapons along with the amount of control you have over your squad. Weapons are expertly detailed and react with the same pull. velocity and rate of fire as their real world counterparts, and even though you don’t get to play with an overwhelming number of them, they are still a lot of un each time you pull the trigger. Adding on top of this is the most detailed squad command feature seen in a game. From the squad’s formation to their status and behaviours, Dragon gives you a lot of options to play around with. In the begging commanding your squad will feel a little too overwhelming, but once you get rolling you will surprise yourself in how much you start to use it. One feature that I did miss from playing too much Rainbow Six is the ability to mark targets before you attack. This is a great feature to add to game that employs this style of gameplay. It's not in Dragon Rising, so lets hope Codemasters can sneak it into the next Operation.
Having all the options to control your squad is great, however it only goes so far because of some questionable A. I. The artificial intelligence on both sides of the fence is a little below other team-based games with problems in every area of their behaviour. In each conflict you can't be sure what is going to happen as your squad can react strangely along with the same behaviour coming from the other side. Things like standing in clearly hazardous spots during oncoming attacks or path finding issues come up fairly frequently, hurting the overall sense of realism. The times it hurts the most is when you are bleeding out, calling for the medic, and eventually die because he couldn’t find his way around a small 10ft stone wall. Ouch. Yes this can happen, and it will.
Beyond the problems with the glitchy A.I., Dragon Rising also has a problem its pacing. Too many missions force you to rush through the game under a timed deadline without a clue to your next objective. After the first mission (which is perfect) things start to speed up from methodical pace to an impatient level. If this was a way to make the game seem more exciting, it doesn’t work, it feels unnecessarily rushed and unfocused. It doesn't help that the objectives are not always clearly stated and you will likely have a spots during a mission where you're only following checkpoints without understanding why you are headed in that direction. The objectives should have been more clear and it would have been nice to have some kind of prompt to let you know exactly what you have to do.
Adding to this frustration is an auto save feature that comes in when you hit a checkpoint. This in theory isn’t a bad idea, except sometimes it picks the worst times. The game can literary save in the middle of a gun fight, so just hope you don’t take a bullet before it saves. This could have been avoided with a little fine tuning, or by letting the gamer save on will. Continuing my issue with the checkpoints is that your squad automatically regains their health when you make it too a checkpoint. The whole deal of having “realism” is to avoid anything to far fetched. Well, reviving dead members, or healing them fully is a pile of baloney. You can fix this by raising the difficulty, however then the game can feel unbalanced depending on your skill level. It feels like Codemasters had a good heart adding all these features; however they don’t all work out.
A few gamers might also have an issue with the limited amount of missions. Dragon Rising has 11 missions that very in completion depending on how you play them. These missions start out feeling inspiring and slow turn into more of the same. Another problem is that the game sets up this huge introduction about the seriousness of the conflict (more on this later) and yet, you never feel like your making a real difference in the grand scheme of things. This really doesn’t hit home until the last bullet has been fired, but Dragon Rising is a little anticlimactic. Plus, 11 missions is a little low, even four more would have been nice, however given the co-op option and multiplayer game, Dragon Rising is varied enough to make it worth the purchase. If Codemasters want people to hold on the game they should plan on future DLC, hopefully it’s already in the works.
Stuck in the Middle
it’s surprising that Dragon Rising can feel anticlimactic when you’re dealing with such a believable setting. The storyline behind Dragon Rising is a frightening look into the close future (2010) as conflict between Russia and China on the island of Skira (Kiska, Alaska in real life). The reason for this conflict is the obvious one of an untapped oil reserves found on the island which lays in-between the two nations territory. A war breaks out to and America steps in on the side of the Russians to help capture the island. WWII buffs will recognize the Aleutian Islands as it was captured by Japanese forces and later liberated by the American and Canadian army. This island in its desolation from the rest of the world and sparse population makes it a perfect call for the games setting.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon rising is a good looking game when it’s at a standstill. Standing still, or slow movement almost seems photo-realistic as Codemasters has done an excellent job poking out the detail of the characters and the environment. Why I mentioning the clause “At a standstill” is because the draw distance has a lot of pop up and the textures like bushes are deceivingly low-res. Dragon Rising is one of those tricky games that looks amazing one minute and then dull the next. Even putting that aside the real culprit is the pop-up loading of the draw distance. It's constantly refreshing making the Xbox 360 version of Oblivion look good in comparison. Speaking of the Xbox 360, the X360 is a little sharper on the visual front than the Playstation 3. This is most noticeable in the games textures and colour spectrum. If you are gamer with both systems I would look at picking up the X360 version first.
Pushing aside the few flaws in the graphics, Dragon Rising actually has some impressive visual effects. The most notable one is the use of smoke, dust and fire. The game engine calculates everything from the wind to the day and night cycle which causes smoke and fire to travel with the winds velocity. This looks amazing and if there was an award for best looking smoke from a smoke bomb Flashpoint would win. The first time you see dust spread out from a thrown grenade, or one of these miraculous smoke grandees your mouth will be open in awe. It is that cool. In the visual effects department I would put Operation Flashpoint on par with Far Cry 2, another game that uses the same type of mechanics.
In the audio side of things OFDR doesn’t suffer from any problems. The sound is punchy and solid, exploding out of your 5.1 surround sound systems-- or if you're privileged enough to own a 7.1 system, it is also supported. Every inch of the sound development is painstakingly realistic with great voice acting done by your squads, and the enemies banter. Each bullet shot out of each gun sounds unique and solid. Each shot is so clear that you will hear the bullet leave the chamber, the shell will pop out and hit the ground while the bullet is still zing across the map to connect with its target. This is all done is crystal clear clarity sounded perfect. Dragon Rising is one of those games that don’t have a lot of musical magic going on, but it still delivers. If you don’t own surround sound, you will be missing out on one of the games best assets.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising had all the makings to be a spectacular game-of-the-year experience with its ultrarealism and open-world mission structure. Unfortunately for all those who expected wonders, it’s not going to happen. Based on the first and second mission alone you might think "Dragon" is going to ultimate warfare shooter, but sadly things simply fall apart. What seemed like an all out simulation of modern combat turns into another game plagued with issues that eventually sink the ship. I’m not entirely discounting Dragon Rising as a failure because it still has a number of redeeming qualities, however it just doesn’t live up to its own over-hyped expectations. This is one game that should still be on your radar because it is different from the pack, yet as a full out purchase I can’t recommend it, unless you are totally into the realistic military genre. It’s too bad Dragon Rising can’t deliver on all fronts making it a safe rental for all shooter fans looking to try something new.
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 10.23.09