Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising - 360 - Review
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is the man’s man of tactical first-person shooters. This hardened sequel is a burly fellow, one that has no need for shaving cream, eye protection or seat belts. Whereas other similar titles offer regenerating health and characters with bulletproof skin, Dragon Rising reminds players that gunfire can instantly kill you, enemies won’t normally dive into your shots, and that healing your gaping shrapnel wound isn’t as easy as applying a bandage. In a way, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising brings the balls back to military shooters, but my time with it made me realize that this probably isn’t a good thing.
The game centers around a fictional conflict between China and Russia over an oil-filled island called Skira. The U.S. steps in to put an end to the tussle, which sends your Marines all over the massive open-world island trying to stop the hate. Of course, a complete lack of cut scenes means that this doesn’t really matter all that much, as this sordid tale of greed and violence is only moved forward by between-level text and in-game radio chatter.
Each mission requires that you traverse the vast, dangerous island to find and silence the Chinese forces that are controlling certain installations. Along the way, you can commandeer everything from a jeep to a tank to help you zip around the 130 square miles of open terrain, and you’ll need them all as each mission is packed with multiple distant objectives. From the capturing and defending of a beachhead and radio tower to the rescuing of pilots from the wreckage of a downed helicopter, all of the missions force you and your squad mates into situations that leave you greatly outnumbered. The shooting in the game is fairly realistic, so don’t expect to hit a distant target unless you stand still and take a knee. You’ll also need to become as good of a commander as you are a shot, as plotting out your path through the grassy hills, darkened forests, demolished villages and archaic industrial plants is essential to keep your men in this existence.
With the touch of a button, you can pull up a list of commands that will order your three-person squad to attack, defend, cover, flank, or heal whatever you’re pointing at. And you’ll have to do this a lot, as your boys will often get preoccupied in a never-ending bullet exchange with a target that is far enough away to ensure that none of their shots will ever come close to hitting anything. This gets frustrating at times, as neglecting their activities can lead them into making a stupid decision, ignoring an obvious target, or getting themselves killed. Your fallen comrades will resurrect themselves at the next checkpoint on the normal setting, but harder difficulties make their deaths permanent. As long as you keep them focused, the squad mechanics work fairly well, but getting them to do what you want can sometimes be more of an annoyance than a helping hand.
Speaking of annoyances, some may be turned off by the extreme difficulty of the combat in Dragon Rising. As little as one bullet can take you from full health to a body bag, though it normally takes two or three. Once you’re hit, you’ll have about 30 seconds to heal yourself before you bleed to death. Your character will go down permanently if too many bullets slice through his brittle bones, which is where he’ll stay until he fully bleeds out or one of his A.I. companions rushes over to heal him within a given amount of time. Of course, since your squad mates are usually too preoccupied with shooting a distant sniper, you won’t see much help from them overall. Also unhelpful is the game’s checkpoint system, which is far more deadly than any tank or rocket launcher.
Dragon Rising seems to hand out saves at random, as you’ll sometimes complete multiple objectives and slaughter dozens of dangerous hostiles without having your progress recorded. If you happen to get perforated by a stray bullet during this time, you’ll find that you’ve lost 10-20 minutes of progress, and the lack of any type of manual save forces you to rely on this very unreliable and seemingly nonsensical checkpoint system. This completely breaks the appeal of Operation Flashpoint, as the fact that any regular enemy can nail a lucky headshot and force you to start over from scratch will keep you from experimenting with and exploring the massive open-world sandbox environment. I often found myself sticking to the easy path or ducking behind a wall and hoping that my companions would kill everything for me, as I knew that one ill-informed peak from my hiding spot could send me face down into the cold, scary hands of death. It also doesn’t help that the load times are exceptionally long, ensuring that you have plenty of time to stew in the anger caused by an unfair fate.
I really wanted to love Dragon Rising. I’m a fan of difficult games, and usually dig titles that go against the norm and attempt to do something different with their genre. But in this case, the lack of checkpoints, long load times, and unreliable A.I.-controlled partners siphoned most of the enjoyment out of it, leaving me with nothing more than a half-broken controller and a throbbing headache. I’ll take my shooter without balls next time, thank you.
Review Scoring Details for Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
Don’t expect to run-and-gun in this one, as careful maneuvering and intelligent tactics are the only things that will keep your squad breathing. Too bad that the sadistic checkpoint system ruins it.
Muddy textures and uninteresting environments undermine the massive open-world landscape.
Stilted voice acting and sparse music are overpowered by nonstop gunfire.
Even on the easiest difficulty setting, one bullet can send you to an instant, unexpected grave, which often results in an explosion of profanity and pillow punching. The fact that you’ll then have to replay half of the level doesn’t help things.
Operation Flashpoint’s semi-realistic approach to war is a breath of fresh air within the well-worn tactical shooter genre, but bad design decisions ruin any fun that could be had with it.
Four-player cooperative play in each of the campaign’s single-player levels and several competitive modes highlight this fairly meaty package, but I ran into some lag online and the servers are as empty as a beer bottle at a Packers game.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising’s unique spin on tactical warfare might be dug by the truly hardcore, but some frustrating design decisions will keep this one from rising as high as it should.