XBOX 360 – Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Review

HALF out of FIVE stars. Where 5 is good and 1 is “managed to get all the textures right”.

Actually this game would deserve a 2.5 star rating except that the developers have conducted themselves in a completely reprehesible way.

What we were promised: Accurate damage models, simulations of vehicles, simulations of weapons, killer AI and realistic warfare.

What we got: A steaming turd. To aggrevate things, developers wanted to charge for the patch.

The game works well enough as a game until you get good at it and can start pushing it’s boundaries. By that I mean you get good enough at maneuvering that you’re not in fear of doing the wrong thing while orders are coming in over the radio, which often tell you to do something completely different. Case in point, there’s a mission which asks you to storm a beach. Mid storming, you’re told to sweep up the side and eliminate anti-tank teams.

Now this would be all fine and dandy, but one of the games problems is missing sound queues. There’s times where, unless you have captioning turned on, you don’t get the audio for the radio calls and you wouldn’t know you were being given instructions. To add insult to injury, if you storm the antitank crew (or the mortar crew later in the mission) because you discover them before you’re supposed to, the AI isn’t initalized and the opfor will blindly stand around until you kill them all. Kill them you will, they won’t even react when you’re knifing the guy next to them. To really make this aggrevating, the game also scripts Things That Kill You. Getting into a vehicle on a map where there’s an enemy chopper results in instant death – even if you already shot down the chopper.

This really comes to a head later when, during the night raid mission, you’re told you must not be discovered and hold out until the marines execute their distraction. Given the amount of freedom you have in maneuvering and the fact if you go low and slow like you do in Ghost Recon you can avoid discovery indefinitely, I waited a half hour for the marines to distract. Only later did I manage to sneak down to the base and found out the walls of all the buildings were simply props – the player was never intended to enter the base and the walls of the builds would let you (and bullets) pass straight through. Sloppy coding, and more on the point I had to go online and pirate the strategy guide to find out you’re supposed to be discovered. Were I playing it on the hardest difficulty which only shows you your final waypoint, I could have easilly infiltrated the base without being discovered and really been bewildered. As it stood on normal difficulty, one of the waypoints did take you through an enemy bunker which I had opted to simply skirt.

The manual is crap. There’s not a whole lot to say about it except it has a picture of the controller in vehicle context, infantry context, and airborn context in three languages. It doesn’t tell you anything about the weapons. I’m a gun nut and I hadn’t even heard of most of the weapons since you’re playing as SAS or another foreign military for some of the missions. Pirate the game guide since it’s clear they intended you would buy the guide and read that in leiu of the manual. That being said, the vehicle controls are for naught. Unless you’re on a paved road, vehicles which should reasonably be able to drive off road (tanks) get stuck on rocks, bushes, low walls, stumps and other crap. Hitting someone with a car at 60mph is an excersize in hit detection – sometimes you kill them and sometimes they pass clean through. It’s not uncommon to have jeeps, APCs, hummers and similar with their noses pointed at the sky over a rock.

I haven’t said a whole lot about the pros, and frankly I’m hard pressed to come up with any. Sniping works realistically, and all weapons have bullet drop. The zeros aren’t published but I’m thinking they used 100 yards since shooting MPBR causes hits too low. Guns jam realistically, if you’re reloading when you’re laying down or have dirt being kicked up – it’ll jam. The AI does a decent job of keeping itself alive even if it doesn’t always follow your orders. And, it’s awe inspiring to call down artillery strikes on towns. The problem with all this is multiplayer. With only 8 players maximum in an area 230sqkm, they opted to chop the theater of operation down. This is OK, but it’s still too large. What it turns into is “Who can get to the chopper” (and use missiles unopposed since the AA vechicle gets stuck on everything) or “who is a sniper”. One of the outstanding bugs is that the cover draw distance is calculated from you. Zoom in on a player on a hill opposite you and he might see himself in a bush, but there’s no bush drawn making for an easy shot. It’s even easier with guided missiles from the aircraft since they have no cover and you don’t have to aim.

Then there’s also the incredibly frustrating problem that using the medic kit causes the medic to get stuck or fall through the map. There’s several places where this happens when you spawn, but it’s really frustrating when you’re the medic and performing your job causes you to die. Enough said.

So when’s the patch come out? Well, the game only ships with three maps for deathmatch, and the only game modes are single deathmatch (each player gets a squad) and single DM (8 players individually). These numbers are both abysmally small. You can get unlock codes for four more maps, brining the total up to 7. Unlike Gears or Ghost Recon where game modes make up for lack of maps, there’s only two, essencially identical game modes. Code Masters opted to release a network patch so you don’t get dropped from games all the time (sometimes that costs you all your points and achievements), but they said the rest of the fixes would come out with the mappack.

You have to pay money for the mappack, thus you have to pay money for the patch.

I don’t really know what codemasters was thinking – anyone who buys the game used won’t get the maps, and there’s plenty of people who are going to be buying this turd used. Maybe they get a kickback from gamestop. I’m trading it in while I can still get $25 for it and buying Modern Warfare 2. Maybe when Battlefield Bad Company 2 comes out (what is with these terrible titles?) we’ll have a half decent total war game.

Review of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

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.