Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising - PS3 Review
It was tough reviewing this game. Despite being released some time ago it only turned up in my mailbox a week after the behemoth that is Activsion's Modern Warfare 2 and when I first grabbed this game and charged into battle I was mown down in a matter of seconds. Try again, same result. You see, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a very different game to Activision's popcorn shooter. This game, a game that had been in pre-production for two years before Codemasters put together their biggest ever development team, demands respect, demands patience, and demands tactics. If you like a more cerebral shooter, Dragon Rising may be the game for you.
|PC screenshot? PS3 isn't quite this sharp.|
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising takes place in a fictional island near Japan called Skira and sees a large battle between Russian and Chinese forces for control of the island which contains large deposits of oil. This is all set out in a rather interesting timeline styled opening cinematic. In the game you play an America assisting the Russians against the Chinese army.
What makes this game so impressive is the attention to detail. Split up across 11 main missions, with a few small Fireteam Encounter missions unlocked via codes (why not just include them as a part of the main game?), Dragon Rising is a First Person Shooter which allows you to command a squad of three other soldiers around the massive 135 square mile (220 square kilometer) battlefield. You can carry two primary weapons (one is usually a scoped rifle of some kind), a secondary weapon and then a few grenades and explosives. Indeed there are approximately 70 realistic military weapons from knives and rifles to machine guns, sniper rifles with night vision sights and grenade launchers.
|Reloading the weapon in Operation Flashpoint 2.|
Being a military simulation this isn't an action packed all out shooter where you'll rack up 5 kills a minute - it might only be 5 kills every 15 minutes, if that at times, and with you life able to be ended with a single bullet, you'll be dying quite a bit. Unlike so many other games though when you die you won't feel like the game "cheated" to kill you, but rather your plan of attack was likely flawed. One example. In one mission I tried to storm a small group of buildings on a farm, but was promptly mown down by numerous enemies before I even got close. Next time I called in a Howitzer attack, but I was only calling it in targeted on the first building in the group leaving enemies hiding in other locations and again, I died. By making the bombardment more widespread it flushed out the enemies making them easy pickings with the sniper rifle before I moved in to clean up the remaining soldiers.
One of the most impressive aspects of this game is that thanks to the open world you can tackle the missions in almost any way you see fit; charge straight for the target, circle around picking off enemies from high vantage points around the target or take out nearby soldier emplacements so they don't charge straight for you when you start blowing stuff up. Kudos must also go to Codemasters for including a Hardcore mode which removes much of the on-screen HUD and leaves you alone on the battlefield. Get injured and while you can call a medic to get patched up, the injury will affect performance. Shot in the leg? You'll be slower with movement. Get shot in an arm? You'll have a bit more trouble aiming your weapons.
|Vehicle models are impressive.|
But this is where the ability to order your squad around comes in handy. You can have them move to a position on the other side of the target to create some distractions, get them to provide suppressing fire on enemies while you move in, or get them to target enemy positions. There are actually 29 different commands which you can give to your squad in this game including four different formations, four different offensive actions, four defensive actions, calling medics, ordering troops to move to locations, follow you or three types of fire command (suppress, engage or hold fire).
There are some other nice tidbits. The ability to call in airstrikes and artillery strikes (and you can even determine if it's a precise attack, or scattered, or just for smoke and effect) is pretty critical in completing objectives successfully, and of course they are limited in their availability. It's also possible to jump into one of around 50 vehicles such tanks or helicopters to take control of the battlefield.
Sadly, there are a few negatives which hold this game back. One of the primary issues we have is with the AI in the game which at times is solid, but at other times, well, stupid. On more then one occasion I had line on sight on enemy positions, happily firing away only to have an idiot AI controlled teammate position himself right in the line of fire. At other times my friendly soldiers got stuck on some scenery. Another issue is the 'open world' structure. Sure, you can wander around and explore the land, but in reality there's little to do other then wander around unless you're playing a main mission. How about some 'general' objectives such as clearing out enemies from various territories on the islands? How about being able to find treasures like the gold in Battlefield: Bad Company?
|EGO powered explosions are absolutely massive.|
The checkpoint system is also a bit of a pain. In the second mission you have to destroy a rocket launcher before heading off to the second site. There's a checkpoint along the way but having taken so much time to get to a checkpoint before it, and then dying, I restarted at the checkpoint but had no way to make it to the final objective in any sense of reasonable time.
Sadly, as we already knew, the mission editor is currently limited to the PC version of the game - surely it couldn't have been too hard to implement this feature on the PS3, even if it was simplified somewhat. Still, Codemasters have promised they will look at it in future. Finally while the missions are fairly long I really felt that there could have been a bit more then the eleven included missions. Indeed the developers should have included a few more short missions besides those unlocked with the codes. It's starting to seem that more and more developers are giving us an essential game package, but then holding back content to pillage more money from us via DLC.
As with any game these days the online components get a fair showing in this title. Impressively the entire campaign game can be played with up to 4-players online meaning there are no AI controlled characters (if, however, there aren't enough human players the CPU will control the remainders to make up the squad of four). While there aren't a lot of people playing online there is a lot of hardcore gamers there playing and the matches are played with plenty of respect unlike some other "mainstream" shooters. Lag was present but light and it could have been due to other players connections.
|Using the M16A4 in Dragon Rising.|
If you're not up for some co-op gameplay then two other game modes are in place. Infiltration (attack or defend a location) and Annihilation (Team Deathmatch) both of which allow up to 8-player to compete at once and again it's a pretty impressive (each human player can lead a squad of four, with three soldiers being AI controlled) and entertaining game when playing online. Still, one can't help fell that up against Modern Warfare 2 with its monster list of game modes, weapons, perks and modifications this game feels quite lightweight in modes besides the impressive co-op.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is impressive visually on several levels, but also bitterly disappointing on several others too. When looking at the impressive aspects one can not go past the fact that the developers have created some 135 square miles of terrain to explore and complete missions in and with a complete day/night cycle the island always seems to be changing its 'feel'. The explosions and physics engine behind them is impressive too and the buildings are destroyed when hit by large enough explosions such as artillery strike. When you call in an airstrike or artillery strike the smoke and haze can linger for several minutes before dissipating.
|Dragon Rising's battles are intense.|
Sadly the PS3 game comes off the worst of the three platforms (with the game also out on XBox 360 and PC). For whatever reason Codemasters brilliant EGO engine (which was superb in the Colin McRae Dirt titles as well as Race Driver Grid games) seems to struggle here. Textures appear very murky with ground textures not sharpening up until extremely close to your character, the frame rate really struggles (zooming in through the scope in a night vision rifle during the day sees the frame rate down to a couple of frames a second!) while there is also occasional screen-tearing as well.
Sonically Dragon Rising is fairly solid overall with some atmospheric music in the menus, but more importantly some great in-game audio with solid weapons effects. Get close to an artillery barrage and you'll know about it. Types of weapons being used are recognisable simply by their audio. Soldier dialogue is very limited however although the do seem to bark out the orders one would expect on the battlefield ("Enemy Rifleman 200m to the West" and so on). We were impressed with the use of directional sound in the game which certainly assists in pinpointing enemy gunfire quite accurately in the massive levels.
|Character models really do look impressive.|
With so many fond memories of previous games in the Operation Flashpoint franchise I so wanted this game to hit all the right notes and bring back some of that love for the franchise. Sadly, while not a disaster by any standards, it certainly doesn't have the same impact as the PC originals. The PS3 game is certainly the weakest of the three platforms on a visual level so opt for the others if you have a PC or 360, but in terms of gameplay they are nigh on identical, it's just that this game isn't better then just 'very good'. One for die-hard, realistic, shooter fans only then...
Review By: Dave Warner
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|GRAPHICS||An impressive game world let down by average textures and a frame rate that drops horrendously low at times.||70%|
|SOUND||Nothing exceptional here, solid weapons, good, but repetitve, speech. Great directional effects ensure realsim.||77%|
|GAMEPLAY||It's a slow, realistic, military styled sim which can be quite fun at times.||85%|
|VALUE||There's a bit of game length here, but only 11 main missions feels a bit light and the open world is pretty lifeless.||77%|
|OVERALL||While Dragon Rising never fully realises its potential it does amount to a fairly solid, realistic, shooter. One for fans that like things a little slower, but still rather tough too.||80%|