The reality of warfare in your home! Operation Flashpoint:Red River reviewed

Back to stake its claim as the ‘thinking man’s shooter’ is Codemasters tactical warfare title Operation Flashpoint:Red River

With gaming under siege from an absolute glut of military styled shooters, and the genre being saturated with Call of Duty clones, it’s a pleasing change to see the bravery of one developer to take combat-based action titles in a different direction. 

Strapping on your boots and pulling your webbing over your powerfully built shoulders you pick up your rifle and head off into the danger zone like a modern-day crusader.  Built to show gamers the realities and horrors of combat, Operation Flashpoint:Red River sets its stall out very early on in the proceedings as you are introduced to a marine relieving himself into a bowl of cornflakes, giving a whole new meaning to a bowl of breakfast goodness containing vitamins and iron. All of this, and more, takes place as we are treated to a quick history lesson of modern conflicts ‘Gung Ho Style’ from the bane of your existence Staff Sgt Knox. Some may claim this to be a step too far in the every day scheme of things considering that the conflict in OpFlash:Red River is actually based on today’s events, however we here at GamesMediaPro do not. This is a justifiable action on the part of Codemasters in bringing home the cold and brutal world faced by our own brave troops around the World day in and day out. In fact if anything we commend the decision by the developer to depict the true harsh conditions of war by portraying the violence that troops on the front line face every day with repetitive regularity.

So to the story then surrounding this triumph or tactics over terror. You play as Sergeant William Kirby, a mean and moody marine of the Heartbreak Hill variety who takes control of Fireteam Bravo as they are sent to Tajikistan to assist allied forces in controlling and neutralising the hostile insurgents that are entrenched firmly in the surrounding area and foothills. After a quick tutorial, where you are treated to a plethora of perfect put downs from S/Sgt Knox, you then join the rest of Fireteam Bravo as they board a Hummer and head off into the sunset to rid the region of all firearms bearing terrorists and enemy combatants.

The graphic’s in OpFlash:Red River are beautiful to say the least, with poignant red skies bleeding their colour onto the landscape and buildings like the life-giving liquid oozing from a fresh bullet hole in your enemies chest.  But be warned, these are not the arcade stylings of its competitors, and targets do not appear with brightly coloured body armour or sweeping purple kaftan’s. This is Red River, and the enemies may often only appear in your line of sight as nothing more than a dark blurred object on the horizon, more often than not no larger than the tip of your thumbnail, such is the depth of realism captured by Codemasters in the superior quality shooter. The field of vision is as it would be if you were actually on the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan fighting some sand blasted conflict. The view is grimy and gritty and targets in the distance do not miraculously reset themselves three inches in front of your face by merely lifting your iron sights to get them into range. There are no reported issues of any incidents in-game regarding frame rate, tearing or lag in the online or solo modes.

Gameplay is the stuff of gaming legend with the best tactical shooter in the business really finding its feet with this title. Improved mechanics make for better controls, allowing for a far greater experience with the orders as well as the combat.  So to the tunes of Fun Lovin Criminal’s  you go into the war-torn zones and hotspots commanding your men with a far more precise set of options than ever before. The HUD has also been adapted by the developer so that instead of being cluttered with information it now tell’s you exactly what you need to know, when you need to know it. There is no point in giving you data on targets that are so far out of your range that you would need a howitzer to hit them, and so they don’t. Instead what you get is direct threat alert and pointers for the objectives. Although it is still up to you to decide how you are going to reach those objectives with your men, and yourself, in one piece.

The AI has been seriously tweaked to the point that the NPC’s in your squad now look, and behave, like real soldiers under fire. Players will notice this most as they search for the best routes and safest cover on the way to obeying your every command. Although in later levels it has to be said that your PLC Special Forces opponents do require that you make quick decisions and lead your men through the terrain with far more exacting purpose, for fear of being cut to ribbons in a hail of enemy fire.

The series has taken on board the popularity of other FPS titles but with Red River, it has to be noted, rather than detracting from the quality of the games realism, it only serves to add into the storyline a genuine sense of the macabre dark humour that is commonplace throughout the rank and file of any serving outfit who face death and mutilation on a daily basis. To say that Operation Flashpoint, as a franchise, has sacrificed its high ground point of view at being the only shooter to bring a sense of actually being in combat for the flippant introduction of multiple curse words and puerile commentary from some of the games main characters, is to not even begin to fully understand the importance of this type of humour to a squaddie putting his life on the line day in and day out.  The introduction of this style of crass and blunt darkly comic humour to the proceedings is a perfect reflection on the banter and interaction that troops mete out to each other with daily regularity whilst experiencing the terrifying conditions of living a life  under fire.

One of the new additions that has benefitted the gameplay, even though it does lend from less realistic titles, is the way that players may now upgrade their character and weapons as they progress throughout the campaign. So even though the arsenal of available weapons, that are made ready for you to bring rack and ruin to the foes that you will encounter, may be somewhat limited when compared to other FPS titles, with the inclusion of the new upgrade system you will find that the few arms that you do bear against your enemies are more than enough to dispense murderous justice on their unforgiving heads.

The solo experience will keep players entertained for a minimum of around 12 hours, depending of course on individuals skills, difficulty settings and how much of the game you actually want to see, as opposed to just running from checkpoint to checkpoint like some kind of camouflage kitted athlete. The real bonus and brilliance, however, of Codemasters cracking title, comes when you take the game online, or play it cooperatively with friends. It is when viewed in these modes that the genius, and the superior gameplay, come screaming at you like a hissing ricochet from an enemy rifle. The AI in Red River is light years ahead of the previous offering in Dragon Rising, however, when played with human squad members the game becomes the nearest you will ever actually get to being in combat without having rounds buzzing around your ears like angry hornets.

Realism is what every developer would truly love to capture in any first person shooter title that has a combat setting, and we have to say that when you read this review that you will have to have noticed just how many times the word has cropped up? It is this sense of ‘realism’ that sets Operation Flashpoint:Red River head and shoulders above its rivals, and it is nowhere more obvious than in the co-op modes. Barking orders at your subordinates, whilst being under constant bombardment from enemy snipers and mortar teams, is not for the faint hearted, nor is it for the indecisive or hesitant, as any of these traits will leave you and your squad in a disheveled heap of bloody bullet riddled rags on the desert floor. Having always been a fan of the first person shooter genre, with a preference for the more tactical type of title such as Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six, it is with a happy heart then that I can genuinely report that if the kind of shooter that you are longing for is the ‘thinking mans’  Call of Duty, then Operation Flashpoint:Red River is exactly what you are looking for and your search is over, as Codemasters have delivered the perfect package right to your doorstep.

Graphics: Sublime settings that bask in the glow of the hot desert sun and blend stunning visuals with a totally lag free experience that carries over from the solo campaign to the co-op and online options. Operation Flashpoint:Red River is a cut above the rest as far as smooth gameplay is concerned. With no issues to speak of with frame rate drop or screen tearing, especially  when in the heat of a particularly desperate firefight. You can be sure that Codemasters’ spectacular new shooter will be as strong an ally as the capable AI developed to back you up.   9

Gameplay: If you love your shooters with a little more bite, and a lot more intelligence required than just pointing and squeezing the trigger, then Operation Flashpoint:Red River is a’ must have’ title for you. The new additions to the already stellar format have only served to enhance the players enjoyment of this superior title, as Codemasters take their flagship shooter to the next level. Easy to understand, and even easier to execute orders, combined with sizzling combat controls make Red River the top tactical shooter of its generation.   9

RePlay Value: Consider that ‘fragheads’ like myself have been playing three and four-year old shooters as we await the launch of this game, and that may well give you some indication of the type of devotion and dedication that tactical gamers have for their genre. Producing a title with this kind of quality for those devotee’s to the will almost certainly ensure that this is one game that will not spend enough time on the shelf to develop the need to be dusted. Great visuals, fantastic combat with more than competent AI, and all wrapped up with a corking storyline all makes for a game that will be enjoyed time and again by its followers and fans. Add to that the inevitable downloadable content and expansion packs and you have a tantalising, mouth-watering prospect for tactical shooter fans the world over.  9

Presentation: Once again Codemasters have delivered on the promises  made to their fan base by producing a title that has surpassed all expectations. Operation Flashpoint:Red River has taken on board all of the issues and questions that fans put to the developers regarding Dragon Rising,  and unlike rival studio’s Codemasters actually listened to their customers, and then set about rebuilding the game from the ground up to put right a few of the wrongs that had manged to sneak past the test teams on the previous title. The results speak for themselves as Operation Flashpoint:Red River has to be the best tactical shooter title to hit the shelves of your gaming retailer since Rainbow Six went best seller. At first we had always had reservations as to whether  Operation Flashpoint could successfully make the jump to consoles, and still command the same numbers and hardcore audience that it always commanded on the PC, but with Red River there is no doubt that the franchise has firmly gained a foothold on the FPS market and is in it for the long haul.  Truly expansive area’s with a painstaking eye for detail play host to some of the finest combat ever witnessed in a videogame. The sound is ideal, the visuals a dream and the gameplay second to none. You wanted some ‘meat’ in your FPS diet? Here’s some ‘prime beef to liven it up!  9

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