Review: Operation Flashpoint: Red River
Operation Flashpoint: Red River is the sequel to Codemasters' 2011 Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. Does it provide players with a hardcore realistic tactical shooter, or is it a missed opportunity?
- Worth The Time?No, not overall, but cooperative multiplayer can provide a worthy incentive.
- Things LovedThe shooting mechanics, the tactical and challenging missions, the cooperative multiplayer modes.
- Things HatedThe lacking visuals, the alarmingly poor friendly AI, the dead single player, the lack of entertainment value outside of the cooperative modes, the enemy AI's staggeringly far-reaching sight, having to resort to trial-and-error to complete certain sections, no competitive multiplayer.
- RecommendationIf you're looking for a slow-paced, tactical shooter with heavy emphasis on realism and caution, this is for you - but only if you will be playing the cooperative mode. The single player just doesn't provide enough reason to play this game, and neither does it showcase what this game is really about. Overall though, you wouldn't be missing out if you gave this a skip or, at the very least, waited to get this at a lower price.
- Name: Operation Flashpoint: Red River
- Genre: First Person Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online co-op (4 players)
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Codemasters
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Price: R361-399 (PC), R542-599 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
Operation Flashpoint: Red River continues on the franchises’ quest for tactical combat in an ultra realistic war setting, and while its predecessor Dragon Rising was a decent enough game at times, it never reached a level of greatness that was hoped for, which means expectations were on the high for Codemasters to improve in this sequel. Sadly, to make a long story short, they didn’t, and rather confusingly even managed to retain many of the flaws that played a hand in bringing the last installment down. The ideas are here and some of the core concepts are recognised, but unfortunately the game is brought down by many flaws that prevent it from being all that it could have been, and in today’s times settling for mediocrity, even if your concept is unique, just doesn’t cut it if you want to compete at the top of the ladder.
I doubt that story would be play a large incentive in drawing you into a game like this, but that didn’t stop the game from trying to have one. Fortunately, the plot itself is well-presented and the cutscenes do a good job of setting the scene for the game, but on the flip-side don’t expect a lot by means of originality or an engrossing narrative. In the main campaign you assume the role of the leader of Outlaw-2-Bravo, a squad of four marine men sent into Tajikistan in order to hunt down and take out insurgents who have fled the Afghanistan conflict. The mission starts out simple, but it doesn’t take long for things to begin spinning out of control when China’s People’s Liberation Army invade the country to kill off insurgents in retaliation to them having attacked the Chinese border. And when the two sides come into contact with each other, the situation descends into chaos as the world’s next flashpoint threatens to blow everything out of proportion.
The game requires you to command your squad in real-time, and to do this you’ll have a full radial menu at your disposal that is brought up at the push of a button. The command system plays a key role in your tactics – when it actually works that is – and you’re able to issue both standard orders as well as advanced instructions. The former consists of things such as telling your squad to follow you, regroup, hold position or move, while the latter has your teammates doing things like suppressing enemies, providing backup, assaulting structures and areas and calling in air support. While ordering your squad around is all well and good, tactics fall apart if they aren’t in effective positions to respond to your commands. This means you’ll need to keep them at the ready, and also alive, in addition to paying attention to their vitals and positions on the battlefield. At first glance it doesn’t sound very welcoming to beginners, but this is where the game’s assist system comes in handy. See, the level of difficulty doesn’t do the usual FPS thing where your health gets lowered or enemies do more damage. Instead, the helpful game settings and tools on your HUD begin to slip away, such as the radar and aim assist. Without these assists you’ll have no guidelines, no map and no radar to show you enemy and friend locations and ideal routes through the environment, so it creates a very authentic, but very challenging, experience.
However, while that sounds like an interesting challenge and approach to the game, sadly this is where the technical flaws really ruin the experience. Firstly, while the radial command menu is intuitive and functional, your squad mates just don’t seem to effectively register what you’re telling them to do, and they have very little awareness of what’s going on around them. Asking them to follow you doesn’t always result in them actually getting near you, and worst of all is that, continuing this example, they’ll cleanly run through the battlefield paying no attention to cover and gunfire. Since a bullet or two is enough to take down anyone in this game, this can be really annoying, especially when you’ll need to revive your fallen teammates, because apparently you’re the only capable one in the group. Reviving is a long process, because it’s done in two parts, where one is to stop the bleeding and the other is to patch up the injuries and heal wounds. It’s the same process for when you need to heal yourself, and it often becomes hugely frustrating to have to become a sitting duck to revive fallen squad-mates, and exposing yourself this way can easily end in death, forcing you to start over. And since checkpoints are irritatingly far between each other, you can be made to replay really long sections if you are to die.
The enemy AI, on the other hand, is better, but they do have various inconsistencies and grievances that detract from the experience. I often found enemies carelessly exposing themselves or standing around as sitting ducks during firefights waiting to get shot. It detracts from the realism involved, mostly because all it takes is a few bullets to grant them their suicidal wishes and because the real reward in Red River is taking down enemies with effective tactics. Simply gunning them down wildly is an experience you can get from any modern shooter out there, and it shouldn’t be here. It’s upsetting because while the shooting mechanics in this game are great, in that guns feel and sound realistic and your bullets really feel like they make an impact, this wasn’t designed to be an ordinary shooter, so engaging in these types of shootouts ends up making things feel generic, and also at a lesser standard to what’s out there. I also encountered enemies being in the most random of places on the battlefield, a few times even away from where the actual fighting was taking place, which led to me getting shot in the back and having to patch myself up so that I wouldn’t bleed to death.
It’s a real pity that the friendly AI is so bad, because successfully executing your devised tactical plans feels really great and often yield very rewarding results. The battlefields in the game are often quite open, which requires extra caution on your part, especially since enemies are extremely accurate even if they’re a long distance away. This can be a bit much at times when you’re spotted from far away and suddenly find yourself on the receiving end of a swarm of long range bullets, and it can be frustrating to see your plan get demolished because of this, but on the other hand it does force extra caution out of you. However, it’s apparent that the deeply tactical flow to the game is a real key to its absorbing and realistic gameplay, and you really can feel awesome when everything is going right for you out on the battlefield. The depth involved in the gameplay is welcome for those who grow tired of generic FPS experiences and are looking for something different and challenging, and at this Red River can almost reach solidly good levels, but unfortunately it’s always brought down by its design, technical and overall flaws, stopping it from being the game it could have been.
Fortunately, you can play the main campaign cooperatively online, which eliminates the stupid friendly AI and improves things significantly. Naturally, the best way to play is with friends and using voice chat, but you can still glean a much more satisfying game by just having real people with brains alongside you in battle. The cooperative mode is far better than the single player, and it’s difficult to go back to playing alone after experiencing it, purely because it just feels dead and frustrating in comparison. Executing tactics and completing missions is a lot more rewarding with real people, and through co-op you’re open to a lot more creativity and freedom on the battlefield and ultimately this is how the game is meant to be played. There are also a couple of other cooperative missions on offer in the game, such as Fireteam Engagements, which puts you on different maps to the main campaign and offers faster paced, more objective-orientated missions, such as requiring you to escort and protect a convoy, defend an area from enemy waves and so on. When you get into it, the cooperative modes can almost make up for the dead single player and lack of competitive multiplayer.
The class system works really well in Red River. There are four classes to choose from, namely rifleman, automatic rifleman, grenadier, and scout and each pack their own weapons, equipment and abilities. Both single player and cooperative game modes give you experience, which serve to level up your classes and unlock new weapons, attachments, and mods as well as perks such as faster sprinting and increased accuracy. The great part to this system is that you are constantly progressing and upgrading your arsenal for all parts of the game, and it’s not restricted to any one mode, so you’re not obligated to devote yourself to any one thing if you want to progress. However the big problem is that there is little entertainment value outside of the cooperative experience, and since there is no competitive multiplayer mode, you’re pretty much going to be sticking in one place when playing, and in that variety can be lacking. Eventually, being limited in this way, things grow old and you’ll be wanting to move onto bigger and better things.
When it comes to graphics Red River is a bit of a mixed bag, and it’s rather sub-par in certain areas. The environments lack detail, seem bland at times and there are low resolution textures on display, which all catches your attention negatively. On the upside, the draw distance and scale of the game are of an impressive standard, which powers the open ended landscapes and make the levels feel large. The audio is of a great standard, and the sounds of gunfire and screaming soldiers really aids in the creation of a realistic battleground. Unfortunately, while the voice acting is actually not bad at all, there is an excessive amount of swearing in the dialogue, much like so many military games out there, and it can get seriously annoying. One would hope in a game like this that there would be a lot of technical and tactical talk, but profanities are still the key to conversation, and it’s just tiring and painfully cliched to listen to.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River shows glimpses of promise, and the ideas are in place to make it a hit, but unfortunately its concepts are just not realised in full, and the only source of entertainment here is in the cooperative modes. The single player is lifeless and very much brought down by technical and design flaws and, in addition to the lack of competitive multiplayer, Red River just doesn’t do a great deal to keep you here once co-op gets tiring. In the end, it can be an interesting detour from the norm, but it’s not in any way a more permanent solution to tactical shooters.
- The lack of competitive multiplayer and lifeless single player restrict the variety and appeal of the game.
- The single player is plagued by severely damaged friendly AI and various technical and design flaws.
- The graphics are sub-par in some areas, and dialogue is filled with swearing, making it tiring to listen to.
- Checkpoints in missions are spread quite far apart, meaning that death often results in annoyingly having to replay a long section over again. This could have been fixed with more regular checkpoints.