Bulletstorm showed us that first person shooters had gotten stale, and that with an injection of humour, plenty of quick fire pacing and a dash of inventiveness with regards to some tasty weapon combos, the genre was suddenly fun again – gung ho, gripping stuff that hopefully made a few people sit up and take notice.
But, that said, not everyone went for Bulletstorm’s rather unique take on the biggest selling pigeon hole in the industry – some like their shooters to involve a bit of thinking, tactics, strategy, and whilst People Can Fly’s game was great fun, it’s hard to imagine it appealing to everyone. At the other end of the spectrum, then, is Operation Flashpoint: Red River.[advert]To be honest, I used to love the original Ghost Recon, that was hardcore enough for me even though some will be scoffing at such an adjective. Regardless, playing with mates over a LAN on Macs was always superb fun, it was hard enough so that you had to think ahead, and bullets were deadly enough to down you with one well placed shot.
Codemasters’ Operation Flashpoint series feels, to me at least, like the logical progression of that series – especially since Ghost Recon went almost entirely the other way, the later games don’t feel nearly as tactical to me. Red River, the latest Flashpoint title (out today) offers players the chance to make the game as tactical as they want.
So, Hardcore mode, the key draw to something like Operation Flashpoint, attempts to put the player firmly in the boots of a US Marine, and make the game look and feel as engaging and realistic as possible – but does it work?
Kind of. For starters, you need to play the game in co-op mode. That’s not just because the AI is particularly frustrating (it can be) or that the game feels like you’re constantly ordering your team around (you can be) but that, and this was a criticism leveled at Dragon Rising too: from what we’ve played single player just isn’t really that much fun.
It’s like Red River is designed for four players to buddy up and form a fireteam – the distinct roles on offer cement this notion right from the off, and you can’t help shake the feeling that you’re missing out by playing solo. Thankfully there’s full drop-in drop-out on offer (the game basically sets up a private multiplayer even in single player) so it’s just a case of pinging some mates when you’re online.[drop]It’s all about the co-op, too – there’s no competitive multiplayer, further emphasising the developer’s goal – to bring together like minded gamers and shove them straight into this warzone. You’ve probably heard that there’re two other fireteams along for the ride, Alpha and Charlie – you can, for the most part, ignore these and just get on with your own squad.
In addition, Codemasters have tried to up the excitement factor, whilst keeping things authentic. In the main, this – for me at least – involved far too much time in the back of a truck listening to a foul mouthed squad leader and too short pockets of combat, but then, as we’ve only gotten through the first couple of hours, things might ramp up considerably further into the game.
But when you do get the chance to get trigger happy, in the whole things aren’t bad – medium range combat is fine, it’s decisive and immediate, but long range battles can be a bit of a chore, especially as the enemy seems to have either much better scopes or far more bullets to waste trying to hit you. If you’re on your own, too, don’t always expect timely medical help from the AI.
But, anyway, Hardcore mode. With most of the HUD removed, you’ll need to listen to the comms and basically figure everything out yourself – the bullets are more deadly, your tactical decisions more crucial and the tension becomes really quite impressive. The threat of death is as real as it’s going to get in a game like this, and if that’s your bag then you’ll be happy.
But for the less enthusiastic gamer, Codemasters have dialled down the ‘normal’ mode to incorporate everything you need to just get from A to B with minimal fuss, and the ability to patch up your own wounds means that, assuming you can find cover, you’re highly unlikely to have to sit through a loading screen to try again, especially in co-op.
It sounds like I’m not overly enthused by Operation Flashpoint at this point in the game, but that’s not really true – it’s a different game to most out there now and needs a particular approach – you need to set aside a good few hours, clear the decks, ramp up the sound. The graphics won’t blow you away (they’re frequently disappointing) and the audio’s repetitive, but the gameplay’s solid enough.
We’ll play more, and then pass on our verdict. If you’re getting the game today (or tomorrow), let us know what you think.