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Operation Flashpoint: Red River Preview

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, Codemasters' first OpFlash game since taking the reigns from Bohemia Interactive, was an interesting experiment. I reviewed Dragon Rising when I was still at G4 and it was a flawed game with some good ideas. The mission design left a lot to be desired and close range combat was mostly unsatisfying. It sat between a hardcore simulation and an accessible arcade game. The question for Red River was: which direction would the developers take a sequel, because Dragon Rising didn't quite work where it was situated.

I had a chance to see a pre-alpha Xbox 360 build of Red River a week ago and even went hands-on for a few minutes after watching a guided demo by one of the game's producers.

To those of you that were hoping Codies would be bringing the series back to a hardcore simulation, move along. This game is going in the other direction and it's going to pull a lot of concepts from other successful modern military games, though it will retain some simulation-based concepts. Players will gain experience during gameplay, which can be used to unlock guns, attachments, and--for lack of a better term--perks across the game's four playable classes: rifleman, grenadier, scout, auto-rifleman.

Now, the perks I saw were within the realm of reality and could be thought of as advanced training for certain aspects of a soldier's abilities. For example, a scout (the sniper class) could take an enhancement that would reduce the amount of bullet drop over long ranges. It's surely going to turn off sim-junkies, but this isn't the game for them, anyway.

Red River supports four-player co-op--a fireteam--throughout its entire campaign and there are four co-operative multiplayer modes with specific maps designed around them. Competitive multiplayer, which was vestigial and DOA in Dragon Rising, will not be included in any form. The PC version will not be getting any exclusive bonuses as the devs are going for platform parity. The game is set in Tajikistan, which offers the developers similar environments to Afghanistan in a fictional conflict.

The game is definitely more accessible, with most of the actions becoming context sensitive and additional assists and UI elements in place. Red River even includes some aim-assist snapping, but these assists can all be disabled if players want a bigger challenge. Ordering your squad of soldiers around is simplified with a radial menu and four categories of commands, but they will conduct themselves without too much player involvement if that's more your style.

The mission I saw had the player, his squad, and two other squads escorting a convoy through a hostile village, moving from cover to cover and killing enemies along the way. The difficulty was definitely set low and the encounters seemed scripted, though the developers assured me that it was still unscripted and based on real AI. There were numerous checkpoints, which usually triggered appearing enemies ahead and up on building-tops. This is what generated the scripted feel as it seemed like the checkpoints were causing enemy spawns. I didn't get to play the mission, however, so it was tough to judge the AI from the limited demo.

What I did get to play, however, was one of the co-op modes, Last Stand, which throws progressively harder waves of enemies at you before you escape via helicopter to lock in your score. I was solo so my three squadmates were handled by the AI, though I was able to give them commands like in campaign.

I had a lot of the assists on and I was using the scout class with a scoped, designated marksman rifle. Enemies would die long before they got into range since I could easily outrage them with my weapon. The bad guys would steadily advance and if I shot a guy next to them, the remaning foes would quickly drop to the ground for cover. My AI buddies were set up to my flanks and it was easy to move from kill to kill, especially with snap aiming enabled.

Now, the game is still pre-alpha, but here's my big red flag: the framerate frequently dipped during the demo and really soured my play experience. Codies is shooting for 30 frames-per-second locked at release, but it's really hard to judge how the game will handle at release. It's going to be really important to get this game playing smoothly, especially for close-quarters combat where quick reflexes can be the difference between success and reloading a checkpoint.

If the technical hurdles are jumped and the mission design improves, it will definitely be a better game than Dragon Rising. The big obstacle for Codies is that by going further away from realism, it faces competition from games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor.

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