Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Review
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is described as being a realistic military FPS that requires you to issue orders, attack objectives in a variety of different ways, and in general, conduct a cautious yet aggressive campaign across the large island in question. And while one could argue that the game’s inherent challenge proves the developers hit their authenticity goal, the lackluster mechanics and overall presentation contribute more to the difficulty, thereby causing a serious problem. There are multiple problems concerning both the control and the strategy involved and in the end, the experience is more frustrating than entertaining. All in all, despite the promises, Dragon Rising feels more like a title that could’ve been released about five years ago. But even then, accurate reviewers wouldn’t have been able to dismiss the shortcomings and drawbacks that force you to eventually say, “yeah, this is boring and annoying at the same time.”
Dragon Rising controls like most first-person shooters, although you can alter the control scheme to your liking. But you will quickly notice the jerky movement, which is supposed to appear like realistic movement from a seasoned military veteran. Instead, it looks more like your character is skipping when sprinting and his side-to-side movements when in a prone position on the ground are just plain bizarre. Sifting through your available inventory is okay but it could’ve been streamlined to correspond to a radial menu, like the one you use to issue orders. Instead, you have to hold down a certain button to bring up the inventory menu, and then cycle through the options with the directional button. It’s not bad and it’s not necessarily a flaw, per se, but it could’ve been better implemented. As for issuing orders, it’s another aspect of the game that isn’t exactly terrible but again, they could’ve done a better job with the control execution. The radial doesn’t have a “back” option, for instance, so if you make a mistake, you have to release the R1 button and try again.
This is just one of those niggling little annoyances that started to get to me after a few hours. Yes, it’s realistic to have the action continue while you look at the map, but if you wanted to be truly realistic, why couldn’t I look down at a map in my hand? Thereby giving me the option of looking up and keeping a watchful eye…? Just an idea. Then there’s the AI, which is dreadfully erratic. At times, your three allies will take down the majority of targets with little effort while other times, despite your best strategic intentions, they’ll all drop like flies. These things can happen on the battlefield, of course, but all the tactical options occasionally seemed entirely useless. For instance, there was one objective that required me to secure an installation that sat atop a hill, so I figured the best way to advance would be to be cautious and try to flank the stationary guns. Well, that failed miserably so just for kicks, I decided to go straight up the hill with my three teammates in tow; an idea that would’ve immediately been shot down (get it?) on any field of combat in history. And yet, everything went smoothly. …huh?
Perhaps my biggest problem with the entire game was the lack of visibility. The graphics aren’t great to begin with, as Arnold will tell you, and because the vast majority of all your targets tend to blend in with the environment, you often only see little dots or flashes of movement. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game almost always discouraged aggressive styles of play; get too close and your death is almost guaranteed. But at least I could still take down enemies that appeared to be a long way away, and without much in the way of difficulty. The basic shooting and maneuvering controls are solid and I didn’t have any problem with collision detection, so that’s a bonus. I can barely see the dude, but I still got him, you know? But what’s with opposing enemies being able to hit me when they’re 200 meters way and I’m in a prone position in tall grass? If you want this game to be authentic, present us with a fair challenge, not an unfair one. That’s just old-fashioned cheating.
Then you’ve got the unbalanced voices and sound effects, which are another detriment, and the field dressing mechanic that also feels wrong. When injured, you have to apply a field dressing to the wound and this takes some time, as it should. However, it shouldn’t always take the same amount of time – it should depend on the injury, correct? And why the hell can’t allies heal themselves?! Why am I responsible for playing as the field medic, too? This caused me to be reluctant when sending my squad away on a little errand and as a direct result, my ability to effectively manage the situation dropped. As for the rest, it’s all just very “meh.” The single-player campaign does allow for the freedom we were promised, as you really can attack most objectives any way you wish. Calling in air strikes is always fun, the number of strategic options is impressive, the basics of the gameplay are decent, and you do get a small thrill of satisfaction after completing a particularly tough mission. But it’s all bogged down by the errors I spoke of above and in the end, the whole experience just feels…muddy. That’s right, it plays just like it looks.
...And it looks awful. Operation Flashpoint is yet another one of those redheaded multiplatform games that the publisher didn't want to invest too much time into, and thus the developer had to toss together a generic piece of code and split it (poorly) between the Xbox 360 and PS3. On the Xbox 360, Operation Flashpoint is a decent looking game, but on the PS3 it's a whole other story. Muddy textures riddle the screen, with pixelated foliage being quite the distraction when you've sunken yourself in it. The framerate could stand to be improved, and the image clarity, while allegedly 720p, doesn't look very sharp. Character detail is nowhere near the standard set by other FPS games such as Killzone 2, or even Modern Warfare. This just isn't a very pretty game to look at.
The audio isn't bad, on the other hand. Your partners speak to you frequently by offering status updates, alerts, and so forth. There's a decent amount of voice acting throughout the game, and not much of it is very cringe worthy, it's all fairly tolerable. The most crucial aspect of a shooter to me is how the guns sound, and Operation Flashpoint does a good job in bringing that sound to life thanks to its attention to aural authenticity. Because Operation Flashpoint tries to focus on the realism, don't expect any wild audio that you can really dive into with a sound system - it's not that kind of game.
All in all, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising didn't make a spark for a good reason: it's just not very good. It tries to focus on realism but fails to capture it with clunky mechanics and A.I. that seems to cheat. If realism is what Codemasters was aiming for, they should've taken a look at the old Tom Clancy game s, especially Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear, as the formerly-known Red Storm did a fantastic job of crafting a truly engaging experience. Perhaps with time and polish the Operation Flashpoint franchise may amount to something better, but as it stands now, this is something you pass on.
12/14/2009 Arnold K. and Ben D.