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Submitted by Gwynne Dixon on April 28 2011 - 16:34

Codemasters' realistic military shooter returns for its third instalment in the series...

I would make a rubbish Marine - Operation Flashpoint: Red River has at least taught me that much. With the game's myriad of squad command options used to direct the four-man Fireteam Bravo, it's got to be said that the clear and proper orders I was supposed to be executing could more accurately be described as vague and wrong: 'Flank left! No, actually - Hold Your Fire! On second thoughts - bear with me a second - Wedge Formation!' It's all about leadership qualities with Red River; the ability to make steadfast decisions under pressure and then see them through, no matter how dangerous the potential consequences. And it's a hard quality to master: gamers used to their 'lone-wolf' shooters may well find themselves having more in common with Frank Spencer than Captain John H. Miller. FUBAR and SNAFU are acronyms that often come to mind.

But despite the many Foxtrot Uniform situations you'll inevitably put your Fireteam in, there is a genuine joy to be had when it all comes together. You really do have to rely on the whole Fireteam if you're going to have any hope of succeeding - if they get killed, then you won't be far behind - and so there's a genuine sense of responsibility, or perhaps even camaraderie to be had here. Codemasters has done a great job of tying military objectives to the actions of a group rather than an individual, and that's no mean feat. In fact, such is the connection between you and the squad that it's kind of mystifying when they die and then spawn back in at the next checkpoint. It may well be a necessary piece of game design but it kind of ends up breaking the connection between you and the squad. If you know that Corporal Ryan Balleto has magical resurrection abilities, then you're that bit less bothered when he's bleeding out on the other side of the battlefield.

Perhaps it's a minor gripe, and maybe it's difficult to conceive balanced gameplay where consistent respawns aren't an option. Either way though, Red River manages to do so much more than most squad shooters just by making you care about the Fireteam. With something a bit more innovative in the design, such as persistent combat XP for the AI that's wiped clean whenever they die, you'd be that bit more tied to the gameplay. As it is, the most original feature in Red River reaches for great but comes off with good instead. Elsewhere, level design is pretty well varied through the campaign's 10 missions. Everything from a stealthy, night-time insertion to escorting a convoy of Humvees, and stronghold offensives to defending fixed positions from enemy onslaughts are covered in a story that spans around 10 hours of game time depending on your skill.

And it's the story that has been a real focus for Codemasters this time around. Unlike the first Operation Flashpoint from Bohemia Interactive that was deeply entrenched in sim territory, or 2009's Dragon Rising with its vague references to oil disputes, Red River wades deeper into the realms of plotlines and characters than ever before (mainly in the sense that it actually has perceivable plotlines and characters). But it's a wafer-thin story with a plot that's flimsily drawn together.  There's little more in the form of characters than a Staff Sergeant that barks profanities in your ear the whole time, and a Battalion Commander that voices briefings for the simplistic pre-mission videos (on the upside, Al Matthews did the voice-work). On the one hand, a hot-headed Staff Sergeant is probably in-keeping with what most Marines would experience on a daily basis, but that doesn't make the story more engaging unfortunately.

It all runs the risk of failing to please the broader range of gamers that Red River is trying to attract while also annoying the ardent simulation fans that Operation Flashpoint's user-base was built from in the first place. This tighter focus on story has inevitably led to a more tightly controlled campaign as well, taking the series still further away from its open-world beginnings that the hardcore fanatics remember so fondly. From a design perspective, linear scripting doesn't always mesh well with the game's open environments either. When Codemasters tries its hand at a Captain Price-style scripted stealth sequence - with the option of either taking out the enemy or sliding by them undetected - the resulting gameplay hangs together too loosely. It seems the option actually boils down to an all-out fire-fight or just nonchalantly following waypoints that seamlessly guide you around the patrols.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the game, though, is its lack of refinement. It's hard to recall a mainstream FPS with more instances of pop-up in the environments. At one point we even saw the textures of a whole dam gradually load-in over the period of a few seconds. Shadow effects resemble square edges more than they do smooth outlines, while the depiction of Tajikistan boasts occasionally stunning backdrops but drab and unattractive textures up close. Load times are laborious, voice-over dialogue for your squad-mates is characterless, and co-op matchmaking (for want of a better word) really does leave something to be desired. At the time of our review, Codemasters' new drop-in, drop-out co-op feature left us hanging on load screens indefinitely. In fact, the only success we had was through manually seeking out lobbies - even the Quick Match option failed to find us a game.

Beyond all of these multiplayer difficulties though, you'll find all 10 of the single-player levels dished up as 4 player co-op missions, and some additional Fireteam Engagements as well. These FTEs are basically purpose built co-op scenarios such as 'CSAR', where you're tasked with seeking out downed pilots and returning them to safety, and 'Last Stand', where you'll have to defend a fixed position from waves of enemy troops. In total, four separate FTE modes are available across a variety of maps for up to 4 players and the mode is score-based as well, so there's plenty of leaderboard competition to be had. Replay value can be found throughout the campaign missions as well with bronze, silver, and gold awards being dished-out depending on how well you perform. Players also receive points from each medal that can then be used on upgrading various stats (reload times, sprint speed/duration, and gun accuracy etc.), while an extensive levelling-up tree for each soldier class then unlocks additional weapons, customisations, and perks as you build up combat experience.

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  • Graphics: 73%
     
  • Sound: 68%
     
  • Gameplay: 77%
     
  • Originality: 83%
     
  • Longevity: 74%
     
Overall Score: 7/10
Operation Flashpoint: Red River lacks polish, refinement, and optimisation. The addition of a discernible narrative structure also fails to impress. Nonetheless, gamers looking for something different in an FPS and fans of military realism might find themselves a very rough diamond here.

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By: Anonymous

Added:Thu 26th May 2011 14:22, Post No: 13

The idea of forcing the player to go online to be able to save the game sucks. I wonder whose idea it was. Really hate to say this but Flashpoint series keep disappointing:(


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By: Anonymous

Added:Sat 14th May 2011 22:16, Post No: 12

big let down too linear, AI dumb both enemy and squad they lack some real basic tactics and skills. Too much time sitting in the back of transport listening to some [#@!?] spout pointless crap. Only vehicle you can use is a  the humvee.No player v's player online. No more a military sim than Mario Kart is a F1 sim.
P.S why can't we have the British army used for a change rather than the bloody yanks all the time


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By: Anonymous

Added:Mon 11th Apr 2011 17:27, Post No: 11

a sick game for sick young people in a sick world 


By: freeradical

Added:Thu 07th Apr 2011 10:47, Post No: 10

@Post 9: I like your ideas, particularly the one about replacing squad-mates with 'green' recruits if they die during battle.

In Red River though, your squad will respawn at set points if they die during a level. Effectively then, you will start every level with all four squaddies regardless of what happens in the previous level.

That doesn't stop you from having to press on through levels with only a single squad-mate because the other two have died though - you are still attached to the squad and very aware that your decisions and orders affect them directly.

What Codemasters has done with Operation Flashpoint as a mass market game is fairly brave already. Perhaps if fans get behind these features then we can see the sort of idealised concepts you mentioned in future titles...


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By: Anonymous

Added:Thu 07th Apr 2011 05:00, Post No: 9

So the game is very emotional and deep due to the connection with the squad, correct?  What exactly happens if you finish your mission full of regret that your 3 squad mates perished in combat?  I'm just curious, because every other game I have played in the last 10 years will have you starting the next mission with the same squad, ressurrected.  Is this game different somehow?  

 

I highly doubt that Codies would go to all the trouble of recording hundreds of lines of dialog for each of the 4 main, named characters, only to allow you to let them die in the first mission and play the rest of the game alone.  Not to mention the balancing issues of having to play the entire campaign alone if your mates are killed in the first 5 minutes.  If they ARE indeed resurrected after each mission, then how the hell does that give you a sense of attachment, emotion, and loss?  

 

Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE it if either a) your squad mates are replaced by new, green recruits (with less skills) after they perish, or b) you must push on alone.  THIS would give some real sense of consequence and loss, since you would genuinely miss their banter and skills on the battlefield.  This is something that would actually make the game possibly live up to its Flashpoint name in the same vein as the old Ghost Recon games.  However, after playing dragon rising and reading about "perks" and the like from Red River, my hopes as a mil-sim fan are extremely low.  Only a demo would possibly convince me to throw money at another OP:FP game.


By: freeradical

Added:Thu 07th Apr 2011 01:44, Post No: 8

Nice point Garratt. Brothers In Arms was pretty big on sqaud commands too - perhaps a pattern is emmerging here...


By: Garratt Marius

Added:Wed 06th Apr 2011 16:14, Post No: 7

The games "Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood" and "Conflict: Vietnam" not only give names and distinct facial features to squadmates, but they have actual personalities. Their deaths evoke quite a bit of emotion. In fact, nothing has even brought me closer to crying than the end of the game "Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood."


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By: Anonymous

Added:Mon 21st Mar 2011 22:16, Post No: 6

Last chance hotel? Shouldn't that be saloon?


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By: Anonymous

Added:Mon 21st Mar 2011 21:05, Post No: 5

it must be totally free roam this time without restrictions like in dragon rising. if its not code masters will lose alot of support. last chance hotel im afraid.


By: freeradical

Added:Sat 26th Feb 2011 01:31, Post No: 4

Thanks Andrew.

So, I've gone hands-on with the Fireteam Engagements co-op mode for Red River, and there are a lot of options to customise classes in that (including the ability to select your primary weapon I believe, although I admittedly stuck with the defaults). I'm writing a preview of it all at the moment which is due to go live on TVG early next week...


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