Hands On Playtest: Operation Flashpoint

“Now we know that playing with friends is a lot of fun, so for this reason we’ve included up to four player co-op in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising.” An excited whisper gathered decibels before quickly settling down, awaiting eagerly in anticipation to know more. This was the first time that my eyes laid sight on Operation Flashpoint, the genre-defining military conflict title. With the original skipping me by, I knew little about the second outing for this war simulator, so when the gritty realism came to light, it was a bit of a surprise to me. Not because I wasn’t expecting it, just because of how much of a simulation it is; so close that the US Marine Corps say “it is the closest experience you’ll ever have to an actual military engagement.”

Codemasters have done as much as possible to try and take what is essentially one of the most hardcore titles out there, and make it more accessible whilst not losing that realistic feel. This happens time after time, companies try to widen their target audience and end up missing most of them. I therefore find it incredible that Codie may have actually done it. Remember, this is not an arcade shooter, nor is it a tactical shooter; this is war – just you can retry if necessary.

From the perspectives of a Special Forces officer and an infantry marine, you engage the full force of the Chinese PLA on the huge open-world island of Skira. At a pretty sizable 220 km2, it’s safe to say that this is one of the largest open-world environment for a first person shooter to date. Although, that number doesn’t actually mean that much to me as I couldn’t picture how big that was either, so luckily they elaborated. First, showing the current mission and roughly how far you had traveled using the games map, they then zoomed out, and out and out; it was massive. It would take a marine (in-game), nine and a half hours to travel end-to-end, and still sixteen minutes by helicopter. For a first-person shooter, this is pretty unprecedented.  The entire island is open to explore at any time, with a gorgeous 30km draw-distance, which their streaming technology allows. Not only does this mean a lack of nasty pop-in, but apparently, from a particular mountain on the island, you can see the entire island. All I know, is I want to go there. This draw-distance means more than just graphical beauty though; it will allow layers to see flash points around the island, some that could be a long way away.

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Codemasters have seemed to only include something if it holds a purpose; such as the real-time day/night cycle and weather system that is included. Both have a dramatic effect on engagements, with the dark providing great natural camouflage for snipers, whereas fog hinders pretty much everyone.

All of the 60+ weapons are the spitting image of their real-world counterparts. They look the same, both in shape and texturing, with rate of fire, accuracy, damage inflicted all based on the real thing. Even the sounds were recorded from the guns themselves, and entire reload animations mean another thing you need to take into account when battling for your life. Accurate tactics and equipment are used throughout, with US Marines used as consultants during development. There are no ‘magic pockets’ to store a host of weapons, and even a bleed system means there is no hiding behind a rock and waiting to miraculously heal. Depending on the severity of your injuries, relates to the speed at which you lose your eight pints of blood and eventually bleed to death. Hit in the head, hit in the heart, or any other fatal blow, and that’s it you’re dead. Regardless of difficulty, you bleed as you would, take injuries as you would, deal damage as you would.

This is where Operation Flashpoint may have hit the bull’s-eye in trying to cater to a varying degree of audiences. With three varying difficulties, only one thing changes – the amount of help you get. On all difficulties, a headshot will kill you, the enemies won’t suddenly become easier to kill, and they won’t become idiots all of a sudden. Remember, this is war after all. What is present on your HUD is the only difference. The easier the difficulty the more markers and assistance you receive via your HUD, unlike hardcore, there is no HUD whatsoever, you are on your own. The aids given to those who perhaps are not as hardcore as the games original fan base should enjoy the game, with the extra help and additions, without hindering the more hardcore player.  The in-game map plays a large role in regards to eliminating your enemies – especially on the easier difficulties – showing you the locations of enemies you can see; it also shows the last known position of recently engaged enemies, which as a marine you would probably know.

Obviously not being like other shooters sets Flashpoint apart a bit, where most other shooters rely on high accuracy, this is more about tactics. Using actual US Marine Corps formations and tactics, the key to victory is hugely reliant on your decisions. Spread your men wide or keep them tight, attack direct or flank from both angles; there are a lot of variables and different tactics for you to utilize, which ultimately may decide the outcome of the battle.

Flashpoint screams realism and hardcore grittiness. The menus are beautifully stylised, as is the motivating soundtrack, but how does it feel to play? I was surprised how immersed it felt and how quickly I sank into the role of medic. During the hands-on we got to experience four player co-op on one of the opening missions. With Pvt. Alpha running command of the squad and the main gunner, Pvt. Bravo acting as demolitions, myself as Pvt. Charlie played the role of medic with Pvt. Delta providing cover as spec ops. Each marine has their role and it is pretty important that you stick to it, so I try to ensure that I didn’t die so that I could heal my comrades if they began to bleed out, and die they did. It was hard, we got picked off pretty quickly, but I wasn’t frustrated, not at all. We should have done tactics better, we didn’t communicate, however that changed quickly. “Bravo, hold your fire! Delta flank left! Alpha orders please?” Commands were given and executed and we flanked the hostiles and dispatched them, quickly and efficiently. It actually worked, I was so thrilled and from that moment I really enjoyed the game.

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It wasn’t all smiles though, there were some pretty major bugs in the game – including one which required an entire kit reboot – but they were the sort of things I expect to have been corrected by release. This is an interesting game though; single player will be totally reliant on your tactics, co-op will be totally reliant on you and your teammates, but you still don’t feel like a super soldier, just a damn good soldier. In addition, there will also be PvP multiplayer for eight consoles, with each player controlling a four-strong fireteam, producing 32 character battle, although further details have not yet been announced. Overall though the gunplay was solid and responsive and the game felt very smooth and thoroughly enjoyable. The missions weren’t overly difficult and the open-world style of the game was present just from a brief play. How sophisticated the AI is and whether there are any major niggles would require more time with the final release though.

This is a game that the hardcore will love, but the more casual gamer could enjoy also. I expect a lot of SOCOM players to pick this up and never before has a headset been essential. For me, if three friends pick this up, I have my team and I’ll be ready to go. A demo is expected to hit systems prior to the full retail release on October 11th.

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