I traded in Fallout 3 and Burnout: Paradise (the weakest of the series) for Dragon Rising. Fallout was fun but I got about halfway through, got stuck, wandered way off the trail and it got sort of boring after awhile. The constant scrabble for ammo and need to repair guns and such just didn’t interest me. Or, to put it mildly, I spent too much time trying to live and too little time enjoying the landscape. Maybe it was the open-ended plot or the fact that I grew up exposed to 1950s “rocket boy” literature (grandpa loved the stuff) but the game didn’t really click for me.
On the other hand, I also grew up hunting and shooting and I’ve never seen that in a game. Cabelas has their releases, but weirdly enough Dragon Rising has more in common with a hunting game at first glance than it does with other “outdoor engagement simulators”. There’s plants, you can hide in plants, you can hide among weeds, bushes will slow down bullets and deflect them. Weapons jam. There’s wonderful little folds in the terrain you can hide in, and there’s plenty of hiking. Without a truck, get used to humping that pack. Oh, and there’s an actual ballistics model.
The graphics are good. It’s not the best looking game I’ve ever seen but the graphics don’t suck. I have the XBOX version. I also have a standard definition TV. If you don’t have high def, expect to squint to read the text. There were a few times I was trying to plant explosives and accidentally pulled out the wrong item. While it’s hilarious to realize you just threw a grenade at your feet, it also blows you up. This is a personal pet peeve of mine since game like Gears of War have extra large subtitles for nonhighdef sets, but in this game you absolutely MUST hear the audio and recognize stuff on shape because you’ve got no hope of reading it otherwise. Speaking of hard-to-read, the manual is useless. It gives you the most general overview of the controls, but really they saved the manual for the guide. If you’re out in the dark about it, download the guide from your favorite torrent site. Frankly I’m not going to pay for the guide because I don’t want to encourage companies to start selling their manuals seperately from the game.
Now, that being said, the entire game takes place on this huge island. The intro sucks so I’ll just sum it up here – Oil is discovered on a japanese territory. Russian and China invade. Russia allies with the US. (lol wut?) You’re fighting “chinese commandos”. You’re a marine or something. Russian troops are nowhere to be found. The game has a campaign and six noncampaign maps. If you’ve played Ghost Recon and wished it had tanks this game is for you. If you played any of the Battlefield games and liked them but wished they were more real, this game is also good. If you played Call of Duty and think you really should carry 1000 rounds and 10 grenades, please don’t buy this.
Like I said, the manual is worthless. Just leave it open to the “controls” page and start playing. There’s no tutorials but the first mission has the chinese as deaf, blind and dumb so you have until the third mission (“united we stand”) to get used to the game. The third mission turns into a slugfest about halfway through. That being said the game does a good job of immersing you in it and I think once I get better at it I’ll enjoy playing the campaign again with more tactical options. Knowing the controls will help but like the real army, you don’t need to know much more than which button is the trigger in the middle of the firefight. The game does a decent job of sheparding you to the next objective. That being said, a good portion of the game is maneuvering. Don’t just walk flag to flag, try to get into the folds of the earth and next to walls and whatnot. This is what infantry tactics are about, and you’re expected to do it in real time, which is part of the fun.
The AI is decent. There’s a few places the scripted events in the campaign break it badly. In the third mission there’s a fireteam on the hill sighting in a mortar and you’re tasked with killing them. If you run in before you’re prompted to attack the troops are there but the AI isn’t commanding them and you can eliminate them before the AI tells them to start shooting. In multiplayer (essentially terrorist hunt on co-op), the AI will deploy from vehicles, but I haven’t seen any AI use armor or aircraft. The AI is brutally good at flanking, I was hiding behind a pile of rocks and throwing grenades at this one opfor. He ran away from the grenades, into a house, and smoked me through a window. Moments like that make it obvious a well planned attack is much better than having 10 (or two) grenades.
Finally the realism is there. There’s underbrush to hide in, your guy is smart enough to stick his head over walls when you’re aiming, and bullets have ballistics. If you’re reloading while dirt is getting kicked up your gun jams (this is hilarious the first time it happens). The underbrush is a good addition since it adds to the “crease of the earth” you need for cover or concealment. It works incredibly well. The bullet ballistics work semi well, it’s on par with vehicles (which get stuck all the time and end up at weird angles). The guns are all sighted in a 100 yard and you have to hold over from there. While 50 cal fans are going to call foul (as they should), it’s a lot better than other games where you point and shoot. It’s actually fun to kentucky windage the guns. While it’s a simplified model, any game with bullet drop on every weapon deserves a hat tip.
All in all, it’s lovable despite it’s flaws and I would suggest buying it.