Operation Flashpoint: Red River Hands-On Preview – Dawn of the Red
Written Monday, February 28, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
War is hell, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And as far as military simulations are concerned, on the console there's really nothing quite like Operation Flashpoint. While some have criticised the series for moving away from its uber-hardcore PC roots, realism is still very much at Operation Flashpoint: Red River's heart, one bullet can still be fatal and careful strategy will always win out over mindless gung-ho tactics. War is still hell in Op Flash, that's for sure.
Red River is the second in the series on current-gen consoles and the second to be made internally at Codemasters using the EGO Engine that powers the DiRT franchise. Transporting the action from Dragon Rising's fictional island of Skira, to the very real and highly topical region of Tajikistan, you'll lead a fireteam of four, but rather than lumbering you with three virtually anonymous imbeciles, Red River actually attempts to inject personality into the members of the US Marine Corps, who will be your brothers in arms for the duration of the three act campaign.
It's not just new personalities that your team benefit from, they all have new AI and a streamlined radial menu can be used to issue commands with ease. In the game's single-player campaign, you'll also be given concise objectives marked upon the compass on your HUD. Shown as red chevrons, there's no getting confused when it comes to your goals, and with co-op players able to drop in and out, it helps that there are more precise mission briefings than previous, as well as clear compass markers and the ability to set waypoints for your team.
The engaging briefings are issued by Sergeant Knox, who shepherds the player through the campaign, and this too adds an extra degree of personality to the game. In that vein, Codies has used Generation Kill as its influential touchstone it claims, taking the hard-edged perfunctory military vernacular out of the game and replacing it with something more believable and less 'Oscar Mike' and shouty in style. As a result, it feels more like your part of a team of actual soldiers, rather than a group of command-spouting automatons.
Going hands-on with four different parts of Operation Flashpoint: Red River's campaign, it quickly becomes apparent that teamwork is essential, because as Codemasters notes, “lone wolves die young.” This is sage advice indeed we quickly find, as enemy bullets thump into the dirt in front of us almost immediately, provoking panic as we engage in a 'Last Stand' mission defending a fixed position from incoming PLA troops who launch an all-out assault in increasingly challenging waves.
Starting out on the crest of a hill facing down into a valley, we have the advantage over the PLA marching in from all angles and our sole aim is to prevent them from overrunning our entrenchment for as many waves as possible, before calling for an extraction. It's immediately apparent that the enemy isn't stupid, with some taking up positions on hills in the distance in an attempt to pick us off, while others split into other directions to flank our four-man fireteam. One of our team bites the big one after a few minutes, as we fail to make it to him and patch up his wounds before he bleeds out.
Should you get clipped by a bullet, you can apply your own field dressing by holding down X, which now serves as Red River's all-purpose context-sensitive action button. It beats having to rummage through a menu to find your equipment and it simply feels more logical without dumbing down the game's realistic vibe. You can dress wounds and then heal them outright, which might not be entirely realistic, but it beats retreating to cover to magically regenerate health as per almost every other FPS out there.
After beating five waves with our three-man team before making our way to the green smoke for extraction, we move on to the 'Rolling Thunder' convoy escort mission, which also bears the hallmarks of the game's Generation Kill influences, with a taut journey through the Tajikistan countryside where pockets of insurgents are out to destroy your orderly line of Humvees. Conventional wisdom tells us that the best approach is to keep our foot on the accelerator pedal and that soon proves to ring true, as stopping leaves us wide open like sitting ducks, making having to deal with the enemies hiding in the verges and on the rooftops of the houses lining the route, a necessity in order to progress.
So, following a slow and steady trail down Hell's highway, it's soon decided that we get the gist of that particular mission, as two of our jeeps perform three-point turns like myopic old men trying to steer while under AK-47 fire and we manage to stop inches short of veering off the edge of an escarpment headfirst while driving. It's not a roaring success, but lessons duly learnt, it's time to check out the CSAR search and rescue objective, wherein our team has to destroy heavily guarded helicopter wreckage, in what we're told is one of Red River's toughest missions.
Things start off gently enough however, and as the sun sets on the horizon, we're slowly lulled into a false sense of security. Making our way to the wreckage at the top of an incline is relatively easy, as is destroying the charred mound of twisted steel, but the subsequent action is relentless, causing us to lose both our Grenadier and Scout in quick succession as countless PLA reinforcements pour into the area, meaning only two of us have any chance of making it to the extraction point. Even that is easier said than done though, as we're pinned down by yet more AK bullets. Perhaps we should move on to the Combat Sweep mission...
Combat Sweep is a counter insurgency mode in which you carefully clear an area of hostile targets, as an allied chopper circles overhead, barking helpful commands while marking targets on your new and improved compass and HUD. Solid red arrows on the compass pick out targets and your team will shout out the direction to help you spot them. Blurred red arrows indicate an enemy's last known position, so you'll need to stay frosty and stick together as a team to avoid getting surrounded. Your ultimate aim is to work as a group and execute a clean sweep through the ghost town, destroy the randomly spawned ammo caches and reach extraction unscathed. Make it through without sustaining injuries or indeed casualties, and you'll be rewarded with a massive score. Our score? About 62,000. The current record? Erm... 316,000 apparently. And we completed the mission with no casualties, few wounds and little procrastination. Getting the massive scores may require some practice, it seems.
Upon completing tasks and missions, you're rewarded with XP to assign to your character, which falls under one of four classes – Rifleman, Grenadier, Scout or Auto-Rifleman – and each has their own defined set of attributes and skills. You can assign earned XP to levelling-up for new equipment, or use points to boost the abilities of your soldier, such as tactical awareness, sprint speed or endurance. This not only adds increased depth to Op Flash, but it should also make you feel more invested in your character. That's the idea anyway.
As our extended hands-on session draws to a close, we're left with the distinct feeling that Operation Flashpoint: Red River could well be a marked improvement over its predecessor. Codies has clearly taken on board the criticisms levelled at Dragon Rising, addressing them with an increased emphasis on character, while streamlining the experience without 'dumbing down' the authenticity the franchise prides itself on. Your team is more intelligent, the radial menu has been tidied up a bit and there's a new news-style presentation to reflect the topical influence of the game. Sure, it's come a long way from its roots as a raw military sim on the PC and like it or not, Op Flash has changed. Whether that's for the better or not is purely subjective of course, but for our money, Red River could well be a better game for it.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River is slated for April 26th, 2011.