Summary: While it's not the true sequel to Operation Flashpoint, Dragon Rising is billed as a modern tactical sim just like its predecessor. Does it live up to these claims? Read Vandy's take in today's review!
A large economic boom has caused China to deplete their oil reserves. However, when the credit bubble bursts and the global recession arrives, millions of jobs are lost and they are left without a means to acquire the oil they need. This leads to political destabilization and popular support for radical action. Meanwhile, sizeable quantities of oil are discovered on the Pacific island of Skira, which was taken from Japan by Russia at the end of WWII. China claims rightful ownership of the island, having originally colonized it centuries ago.
The Chinese military has mobilized to threaten Russia for the rights to the new-found resources. During a full-blown military standoff at the Sino-Russian border, PLA forces seized the island practically overnight. In honor of the formation of an alliance when the Cold War ended, the United States is asked to recapture Skira in an attempt to quell a disastrous conflict on mainland Asia. The USS Iwo Jima is deployed and the USMC takes charge. You play as 2nd Lt. Mulholland and Sgt. Hunter in various roles throughout the course of 5 days and 11 missions to aid in accomplishing this task.
A slick introductory cinematic explains this scenario as the backdrop of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, the tactical shooter from Codemasters. If you believe them when they say itís the sequel to the highly-regarded original, you would be wrong to do so. Bohemia Interactive, the creators of Operation Flashpoint, parted ways with the publisher and somehow managed to retain the rights to all of the intellectual property except for the name. They went on to create spiritual successors ArmA: Armed Assault (Combat Operations in the US) and ARMA 2, which was released earlier this year.
For whatever reason, Op-Flash 2 PC retails for only $40. This might seem a little bonus, but as it turns out, you would do well to take it as a warning. When you begin playing, it soon becomes apparent that this game is a pretty lazy console port, but how much will your experience suffer? Turn the page and find out!
Right away, you will notice that your characterís movement is a lot more practical, fitting of the genre. It takes time to drop down into the prone position, as well as to rise back up to stand. All throughout, your view wobbles and you see your free hand go down to brace yourself. Head-bobbing is even more severe when running or crawling Ė those of you who are susceptible to motion sickness should beware. If youíre moving along steeper mountainsides, youíll walk more slowly and find yourself unable to sprint.
Continuing in the vein of realism, the weapon ballistics are impressive, with guns modeled directly after their real-world counterparts. Weapon animations were apparently mo-capped with the help of real soldiers, or at least people who know what theyíre doing. The coolest of which is seen when loading an anti-tank weapon, when it is placed on the ground instead of being held up with one hand. There is plenty of weapon variety for both factions, while further diversity is achieved via add-ons like thermal imaging scopes, IR laser sights, and grenade launchers. Also, you are often able to call in fire support such as mortar or artillery barrages and air strikes.
Missions range from assault/capture to sabotage, to prisoner rescue. Basically, youíre always personally saving the day. Most games are like this, but it shouldnít be that way if the aim is realistic modern warfare. Time limits or casualty requirements are used to rush you toward completing tasks, which makes sense in terms of realism, but seriously hinders the fun. It might as well be a linear shooter like Call of Duty if you donít have the luxury of exploring and finding new and interesting ways of beating missions.
Player skill tends to overcome the absence of strategy in this game. You can pretty much ignore the tactical part and play Rambo, so long as youíre good at gauging range for bullet-drop and can pop off headshots quickly. Regardless of the extensive amount of weaponry available to you, you will never use your knife or pistol, and will rarely use anything that doesnít have a scope on it. Grenades and mines are hardly ever useful, and smoke is completely unnecessary since the enemy has a hard time hitting you from 100 meters, let alone from far enough away to warrant such cover.
Difficulty levels donít affect gameplay directly, only how much information you are given on the HUD. Lower difficulties have map markers and periodical saves, as well as squad members respawning or just healing at checkpoints. Hardcore is a must for realism buffs, requiring you to listen for announcements of enemy locations, examine teammatesí bodies for signs of injury, and keep count of ammunition supplies in your head. No matter the difficulty, itís always possible to be dropped by a single hit, though itís not too common. Wounds to various body parts will impair vision, gun control, or running ability, and can cause you to bleed out if they arenít treated quickly enough.
AI doesnít change with difficulty, either, and unfortunately is pretty shallow more often than not. They occasionally flank you, but then theyíll ignore you or fail to hit you in an open field at close-medium range. The first enemy I ever encountered stopped firing after I killed his friend, so I approached to find him kneeling and not responding to me 10 feet in front of him. He was saying something in Chinese, so I thought perhaps he had surrendered, but then my teammate shot him. He just as easily could have shot me, and several times I have not been so lucky.
The AI will open fire with you unmoving and directly in front, their penchant for friendly fire seemingly knows no bounds. Nor do they seem to care for their own lives, judging by the fact that they never use cover unless you explicitly tell them to. This puts you at quite a disadvantage, since enemies have no trouble diving behind sandbags, barricades, or even tree trunks.
Your AI squad mates are expendable, and there is no consequence for treating them as such. Babysitting them just gets you in trouble, and youíre the one that actually needs to survive, so screw them. Besides, you almost never need their help in defeating the opposition; in fact, they usually just get in the way. This is particularly true if youíre like me and never bother to micro-manage them. I only ever tell them to follow me or heal each other, or sometimes have them stay put or hold their fire.
The islandís 220 km2 of terrain is ambitious, but largely unremarkable. Thereís not much point in the freedom of such an environment if all it means is you have to run a kilometer between objectives. I swear, at the end of one mission, I was running for almost 10 minutes trying to egress to the extraction point. Of course, vehicles are sometimes provided to cover lots of ground quickly, but the physics are pretty awful. I found this surprising, considering Codemastersí other major franchises are racing games that I really enjoy. You canít even use the mouse to look around while youíre driving!
Destructible environments came as a pleasant surprise. Sure, itís not anything to look at Ė literally, bits and pieces just disappear Ė but when you shoot a fuel tank outside a house and it explodes, taking off a huge chunk of the building, itís pretty sweet. The first time it happened to me, I was up in an airfield control tower. An enemy tank came by, and BOOM, I fell from the 3rd floor down to the 2nd. Soon it was little more than four half-walls and part of a roof that I was hiding inside.
First of all, you cannot lean in this so-called tactical shooter. The only reason for this has to be consolitis. I donít understand how they can add weapon hotkeys but not the ability to lean around corners to avoid being shot, though. Itís inexcusable. You also cannot jump, which isnít as big of a deal and isnít unusual for this type of game anyway. You can vault over fences or sandbags, but for smaller, more uneven things like rocks or foot-tall ledges, you can get stuck and have to go around.
The quick command radial (comm-rose) is very awkward, using WASD to navigate and execute orders. This means you have to completely stop moving, which discourages its use. On top of that, it has to be manually closed after issuing a command, and toggling your selection of AI teammates with number keys is also a pain.
I immediately noticed that mouse look is a bit sluggish. Turned off V-Sync because it is usually the culprit, but that made no difference. I eventually got used to it, though. It might help some to fiddle with combinations of mouse DPI settings and in-game look sensitivity.
Common actions sometimes border on unresponsive, apparently due to your character being really stupid and only able to do one thing at a time. So, you have to stand still in order to switch weapons. When switching to the barrel-mounted grenade launcher, I kept reloading it for some reason, and you canít interrupt that process. Even after itís completed, thereís an inexplicable delay of about a second, during which you cannot aim or fire.
The usual deathmatch and assault modes are playable with up to 32 people. The maps are limited to 4 square kilometers in size, however. At least itís an improvement on the console multiplayer experience that claims to be 16 vs. 16, but is really 4 vs. 4 with 3 bots per person.
Op Flash 2ís visual quality is nowhere near that of the videos and screenshots previously advertised. The models are okay, lighting is good, but the textures are terrible quality and the palette is the same old, washed out ďgritty and realisticĒ look. Only this time, everything is also covered in muddy sprite-smoke, an incredibly ugly depth of field effect, or both. Though this is true of most other games with so much vegetation, anti-aliasing is pretty much required to smooth out all of the jaggy grass, bush, and tree sprites. To top it off, there are pretty much no post-processing or shader effects, so it looks like itís 2005 again.
The bright side of all this is that it runs very good. As evidenced by the minimum requirements (7600 GT or X1800 XL) it isnít very demanding, so if you have modern hardware, itís easy to get really smooth framerates on the highest settings.
This gameís sound effects are fantastic. Weapons sound great, except when several machineguns fire at almost exactly the same time and get that weird echoey amplification effect. Bullets whiz past you and thump into the ground, mortar explosions that came just a bit too close will rattle you, and your pounding pulse tells you when youíre tired. You hear a single casing hit the floor, punctuating your kill. Switch weapons or equipment and you hear the zippers and shuffling around on your person. Even footsteps on various types of surfaces sound so right.
Lots of accurately modeled weapons. Realistic bullet physics and other weapon properties, cool gadget add-ons.
Graphics are disappointing. It doesnít even look as good as a lot of console games nowadaysÖ
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