Operation Flashpoint: Red River Review

I still have fond memories of the classic Operation Flashpoint on the PC, it was a clunky and ugly would-be war simulator, rife with glitches, but it’s not-so-trivial offering of playable military hardware, and vast unrestricted maps made it extremely satisfying to play.

What constitutes a Flashpoint game has changed quite considerably since. The vast theatres of war and diverse variety of engagements remain, but everything is broken down into sizeable but more manageable mission chunks with almost too much dialogue separating and permeating them. Loading screens, therefore, are abound and, as is almost excruciatingly typical of FPS games these days, you will spend the time between missions assigning upgrade points to skills and waiting for the next weapon unlock.

I’ll deal with this character progression first, because it really has no place being in the game. Or any bleedin’ FPS game for that matter! You can assign upgrade points to various ambiguously named upgrades, none of which seem to have perceptible effects on your performance. Perhaps I’m not understanding quite what these “skills” are supposed to do, but I really don’t want to. I’m old fashioned, and believe that levelling up is something that happens naturally in any FPS game, as you learn its controls and nuances, and begin to more accurately gage things like bullet drop. As your own experience with an FPS builds, you’ll simply naturally get better at it. So what’s the point ramming in character progression unless it’s to spoon feed you a gentle learning curve of new features? It’s not as frustrating as titles like Battlefield, where you’re cannon fodder until you’ve invested 60 hours “levelling up” and unlocking weapons, but it’s an unnecessary distraction from the visceral and serious action that constitute the game.

Flashpoint seems to take the levelling up to the extreme, making each point in the various disciplines add a minuscule percentage of increased accuracy, decreased weapon-switch time and other such nonsense. These are prime examples of things that depend on the players own skills and reflexes, so including these handicaps seems a bit off. Anyway, like I said, I couldn’t detect any effects from upgrading them- when you play the entire game looking down the tube of a sniper rifle, as I do, you generally don’t worry about accuracy. I’ve never missed a shot that I have been appropriately patient about.

On the positive side, as you progress through the game you will unlock shinier guns that will make your life a whole lot easier and fun, and it’s fair enough that Red River places a limit on what weaponry you can lay your hands on to ensure you’re gaining a level of competence at each level with those particular weapons.

My gripe with levelling up aside, I have a couple more before I move on to raving about just how satisfying I find this game, despite it’s flaws. The lighting in OFP: Red River is obnoxious and unrealistic. When you’re in a building, every window is a glowing square of searing pain which will blind you and leave you disorientated as you stumble from room to room. I stay clear of buildings until I’ve had my squad clear them out. The lighting in OFP wants to be noticed, and ugly, blocky shadows find their way into far too many scenes, doing no favours for the games visual appeal. A night mission was a refreshing break from this lighting disaster, and little touches like the laser sights sending a visible-through-your-night-optics beam of light into the night sky were satisfying.

Crazy lighting aside, the game is also afflicted with some fairly terrible A.I. Both your squad, and the enemy, demonstrate levels of idiocy that will make you laugh and cry at the same time. For example, a jeep with a mounted machine gun was bombing it down the road toward me. I sprayed a few rounds in it’s general direction, in a fairly futile attempt to take out the driver. The response, from the occupants in this jeep, was not to mow me down with the mounted gun, or the vehicle itself, but to immediately disembark and proceed to walk about aimlessly whilst I shot them. Huh?

The extreme examples of A.I. stupidity are uncommon, but the constant undertone of stupid that effects your squad is, frankly, insane. They follow you around like the tail of a Snake in the game of the same name, never wanting for things like cover and seemingly never doing anything on their own initiative. You will need to spam squad commands to keep them on their toes, and if you get shot you’ll be spamming the Corpsman command like there’s no tomorrow to try and coax one over to resurrect you. My squad die often, and are about as useful as a water pistol against an Apache gunship. The game tries to make it clear that the lone wolf dies, but it’s wrong. I find myself using the squad for two things: drawing out enemies so I can snipe them, and clearing buildings. Sniping turns OFP into a point and click adventure, and there’s plenty of room in most missions to get a good vantage point and totally decimate the enemies ranks. What can I say, I was born a camper.

Pointless me-too character progression, irritating lighting, and moronic A.I. may make it sound like Red River is a non-starter. But the game is fun, none the less. The visceral, nerve-wracking, vast and exhausting theatre of war is re-created fairly effectively and is unlike most other games you’ll have tried in it’s unwavering dedication to… pseudo…realism. Expect to spend upwards of an hour in any single mission, and be ready to feel exhausted as the game throws twist after twist at you until you find yourself fleeing for your life though the vast maps. Every encounter is similarly exciting, and you’ll face everything from a handful of dug-in infantry, to mechanised patrols, helicopters, tanks and more, and have to keep your wits about you to get out alive. Moving from point A to B is even an exhausting concept in Flashpoint, you’ll be traversing great distances on foot but can never lose your focus, lest you get shot by the one enemy who, strangely, musters the ability to shoot anything further away than an inch.

Overall, I enjoy the game and will attempt to finish it… I’m terrible at finishing games. Flashpoint is definitely flawed, and not even half as realistic as it would want to be but still worth a punt. I long for a scenario editor, ala the original Flashpoint, to make it onto consoles, but it’s still elusive.