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Codemasters unleashes the Fireteam Engagements co-op modes from its incoming FPS...
Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan... all of the lesser known -stans that occupy a vast portion of Central Asia (pretty much all of it, actually) are something of an enigma here in the West. Presumably we only have enough space in our news cycles for two -stans, and that job is firmly in the hands of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the moment. But there is one more -stan that we haven't mentioned yet, and that -stan is set to grace the world of video games in April when Operation Flashpoint: Red River launches. Tajikistan is the setting and, such has been Codemasters' dedication to creating an authentic depiction of the country that it sent a photographer out there to document all of the various landscapes and vistas that the former Soviet state has to offer.
This photographer apparently returned home to the UK reporting a danger rating for the country of 27 out of 10, but it's been worth the risk by the looks of things. Don't take our word for it; listen to the guy who was playing in the pod next to us during a recent hands-on event in London: "Is just like home!" he explained, "Looks just like my village!" And we're not joking - this guy was actually from Tajikistan originally, as he later clarified at length. So there you have it, straight from the horse's mouth: Codemasters' first attempt at a real-world, land-locked location for its Operation Flashpoint series (its predecessor, Dragon Rising was set on a fictional island) is as realistic and authentic as its legendarily difficult gameplay.
And that legendarily difficult gameplay hasn't been dumbed-down for this sequel either. Instead, Codemasters has been focusing on accessibility - a more streamlined squad command interface, more helpful prompts, and better tutorials throughout etc. Hardcore fans need not worry though, as turning all of this off and having a completely featureless HUD is still an option on the harder difficulty levels, just as it was in Dragon Rising. So, Codies seems to be remaining loyal to its hardcore fan-base while also holding out a helping hand to series newcomers, both of which are noble pursuits indeed. One skilfully aimed bullet from the enemy can still kill you in Red River, and gunfights still spread themselves over huge draw distances across the game's expansive landscapes.
You'll often find yourself and your four-man squad pinned down under suppressive fire, desperately trying to trace the source of a hailstorm of bullets being fired in your general direction from the other side of a valley. The challenge of accurately spotting that enemy, methodically moving on their location with precise squad orders and well-judged dashes between cover, encapsulates Operation Flashpoint's highest level of appeal and that's still very much the case with Red River. It really does make the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield, with their room-emptying firefights and overclocked set-pieces, seem utterly ridiculous from a realism perspective. Those gamers looking for a fresh challenge in the FPS genre or something to really get their teeth into would do well to look in Red River's direction.
Our hands-on with the game focused exclusively on its co-op modes. As with Dragon Rising, Red River features co-op support for 1-4 players in both the main campaign and through objective-based co-op modes against the AI referred to as Fireteam Engagements (FTEs). Contrary to Dragon Rising, there's now a Join-in-Progress feature for this co-op, so players can drop-in and out of games and lobbies as and when they please. You'll also find a comprehensive XP system this time around, which is persistent through both the campaign and FTEs. Players redeem points for achieving set tasks in each mode, with each task being ranked through bronze, silver, and gold tiers. These points can then be spent on 'Core Skills' such as your sprinting speed, enemy identification range using specific rifle models, and reload times to name but a few.
Character classes have been expanded with additional weapon options throughout the four separate soldier types. There's a Rifleman (whose default gun is a scoped assault rifle), the Grenadier (rifle with grenade-launcher attachment), Scout (sniper rifle), and Auto Rifleman (light machine-gun). You'll also find different skills throughout the classes so that the Scout, for example, is 'agile yet fragile' (as Codies puts it). We were able to play through all four of the FTE modes during our hands-on, each of which touched on the kind of counterinsurgency themes that are prominent in the main campaign. The game's story focuses on fighting between US, the Chinese People's Liberation Army, and insurgents operating between the Tajikistan-China border, with each faction being suitably represented in the various FTEs.
So, for example, the 'Last Stand' mode has you defending a fixed position from wave after wave of PLA troops while 'Combat Sweep', on the other hand, tasks your USMC squad with the job of infiltrating urban areas and eliminating any insurgents in the vicinity. A bit of spice is added to the mix with the other two FTEs: 'Rolling Squad' sees your squad escorting a convoy of Humvees through Tajikistani valleys amid regular ambushes from insurgents, while the task in 'Combat Search & Rescue' is to locate and extract two pilots that have been downed in enemy territory. Varied approaches are required from one mode to the next if you're to have any hope of success, although the one thing that all four of them demand is a lot of methodical planning and teamwork with your squad. There'll be no lone-wolf, hero antics in this shooter and to encourage players to give more orders to their Fireteam, Codies has made sure that the performance of AI team-mates (e.g. their shooting accuracy) will improve when you give them explicit orders.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River is likely to be one of the most different FPS games to arrive on consoles this year alongside the likes of Bulletstorm (for entirely different reasons), which is enough to make the game an intriguing prospect as it squares up for launch later this month. Codies has decided to set the tone with co-op once again, although a more tangible and focused storyline promises to make the campaign that bit more substantial.
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