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Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Review

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising pack shot
Developer:Codemasters Studios
Genre:Military Simulation / First Person Shooter
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://www.codemasters.com/flashpoint/
Release Date:October 9th, 2009 (UK)
Reviewer:Andy Hemphill (Bandit)
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This game should have been brilliant. It's hard to describe how much potential this game has under its disk's shiny surface. Building on the brilliant military simulation of Operation Flashpoint, Dragon Rising should have been a worthy successor, filled with tense action and a ripping yarn of war and loss as the Chinese invade the island of Skira and the US Marines storm the beaches in retaliation.

Instead, what we got was a buggy, underwhelming and thoroughly mediocre shooter which falls flat on Codemasters' promises.

The premise is simple- the oil-rich island of Skira, a hotly contested bit of land, has been invaded by the armies of China. Russia, who are in possession of the island, call on the US for help to repel the invaders, and the US responds by sending in a carrier battle group and several battalions of Marines to clear the island - this is where you come in.

Playing as either the commander of a special operations unit or of a more traditional Marine invasion squad, you have to battle your way through the 10-or-so missions, achieving objectives and spearheading the assault. Plot isn't a big factor in the game though, so there isn't much more to say other than you have to follow orders. There's no bigger picture here, which I suppose is consistent with the life of the frontline squaddie.

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The problems with the game start to rear their heads as soon as you hit the ground in the single player campaign though, starting with your AI teammates - they're idiots. Following you like sheep, the three other men of your squad often get stuck on the scenery, fail to take cover, ignore movement orders and tend to get shot a lot.

They are, however, very good at noticing enemies at a distance and are very good shots, which comes in handy when the majority of the game centres on long-range fire. The menu system you use to aim your stupid troopers is also flawed.

Working off one of the shoulder buttons, the radial-style menus can only be accessed when you're standing still - not ideal when you're running from a Chinese attack helicopter. Even once you've got the menu open, you then have to navigate through two or three consecutive menus to get to your desired command, be it an order to hold fire or a command to call in an airstrike.

The next issue is the weaponry. While the game does feature a convincing variety of military hardware, the fact that the mission loadout screen does not allow you to chose your own weapons is a gargantuan flaw - If I'm leading a recon mission, I want a sniper rifle, not a bog standard M4. (You can, however, kill your teammates and steal their weapons, but I wouldn't advise it.)

The gunplay also feels awkward. The weapons take an age to reload - as you'd expect in a 'realistic' military shooter - but the scopes seem underpowered and the targets are so far away that hitting anything is a challenge.

And even if you do hit an enemy, some Chinese troopers seem to be able to absorb bullets, while a shot to the head from three miles away is enough to kill you in an instant - you learn to move from cover to cover pretty fast.

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The problems continue with the enemy AI itself. While the Chinese are smart enough to flank you if they're in greater numbers, if you're up close and personal strafing around an enemy is enough to confuse them. They also struggle with doors- I witnessed an enemy open and close a door three times, all while I emptied my rifle into his head.

Sometimes when you kill an enemy their bodies freeze midmotion. While most enemies fall to the ground (and disappear after 30 seconds - how's that for realism?) at least 10 of the soldiers I popped just froze in place, immobile.

These bugs aren't the only ones prevalent throughout the entire game either - dropped weapons vanish, equipped weapons develop strange geometric shapes on them, grenades appear as if from nowhere and Chinese snipers constantly kill you, even when you're behind a solid building three miles away - it's a never ending tide of errors.

That's not to say anything of the mission design, which seems to consist almost entirely of 'go here, kill that, walk for 30 minutes to the next target, blow it up, walk for 30 minutes to the extraction point' - how about a Jeep or helicopter please? I know the game environment is massive, so why make me walk everywhere?

The graphics aren't much to speak of either. Skira is a massive, open environment, but it seems to be presented almost entirely in greys, greens and blacks, with scant colour. The weapons are modelled nicely though, as are the vehicles and troopers, but their animation is sketchy at best. Some of the best moments with the graphics occur when the bullets are flying, and mud and blood start to cake your screen - it's an effective touch, and really ramps up the tension of a firefight- especially with the crushing difficulty- this is no run-and-gunner.

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The sound design is excellent however. The weapons all sound meaty and powerful, the soldiers cry out in pain and swear in their best American accents and the sound of bullets whipping past your head is a constant heart-racer.

The voice acting is a complete contrast though, consisting almost entirely of military jargon, spoken in a horrible monotone mixed by the computer in the style of old football games: "Charlie. Two. Move. To. Grid. One. One. Two. One. Over," and so on.

It seems that so far I've been painting a pretty bleak picture of OpFlash, but now for its one redeeming factor - multiplayer.

Thank God for this game's multiplayer. All the bugs seem to matter a lot less when your hapless AI teammates are replaced with thinking, breathing human beings. Provided you can find three people who want to take game seriously, Dragon Rising becomes a blast. Planning assaults, executing sniper attacks, watching each other's backs, it all starts to make sense when you play the game with real people.

Yes the bugs are still there, but generic shooter-feel aside, executing a plan of attack perfectly is a real treat with a human at your side, and the variety of missions- armoured assault, airborne assault, recon and defensive missions alike (even with the ridiculous amount of walking you have to do) are so much more fun with other people along for the ride.

The game also features a half-decent competitive mode, where eight people get control of eight four-man teams and face off against each other, or a brilliant little mode where a large force of lightly-armed soldiers defend an area against an infiltrator unit, but the real meat of the game is the co-op, which is simply brilliant.


I'd say it's a quite a shame that Codemasters probably fell prey to Modern Warfare 2-itis, so desperate to release the game before Infinity Ward's monster of gaming that they sent it out unfinished. This game, with a couple of extra months of polish (and the ability to choose your own weaponry!), could have been something special.

As it is, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is an extremely mediocre single player experience backed up by occasionally brilliant multiplayer modes.

The bottom line
5.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Great co-op multiplayer
  • Good set-piece moments

Not so good stuff

  • Dodgy menu system
  • Bad A.I.
  • Fixed weapon selection
  • Very Buggy

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