Reviewed: September 22, 2001
Released: August 30, 2001
Back in January of 1999 there was this little combat action game that game out that redefined the genre. The game was called Wargasm, and while it broke new ground in combat gaming, it was apparently way ahead of its time as it flopped on a retail level.
Now, almost three years later Codemasters and Bohemia Interactive bring us an even more intricate and intense combat simulation that will put you right smack into the middle of the 1985 Cold War. Operation: Flashpoint offers unparalleled military realism and infantry strategy, almost to the point where this game could be classified as educational rather than entertainment.
Fans of the Rogue Spear series will be glad to know that Operation: Flashpoint maintains a similar style of realism where one bullet can put you in a body bag, and team strategy is a very important part of this game. There is no room for a "lone wolf" in this game. If you try to blaze through this game like Rambo you will end up dead, or your team will die.
The level of immersion in this game is intense. From the opening level, you really feel you are "in the army". The tutorial boot camp level was minimal and rather disappointing. It only gives you the barest skills necessary before you are thrust into action. The drill sergeant was almost too friendly - not at all like the ones you see in movies like Full Metal Jacket. There is a camaraderie with the other members of your squad that is fleshed out through the various between-missions cutscenes. It actually makes you start to care about the members of your outfit, especially when one is lost in battle.
Infantry is only a part of the game. While Wargasm allowed you to operate a chopper and a tank, Operation: Flashpoint puts you in the driver's seat of no less than 38 vehicles and aircraft ranging from a simple jeep to an A10 Thunderbolt jet. While these craft are visually accurate and based on military specifications, their operation has been simplified so you aren't required to master them on a simulation level. Most vehicles share similar control schemes making it easy to jump from one ride to the next, and there is even an automated landing features if you don't feel comfortable in the cockpit of the planes and choppers.
The story is well crafted and puts you on the fictional Malden Islands as part of a NATO taskforce. Your missions include liberating villages and stopping enemy incursions into the area. As a lowly foot soldier, you really don't have any idea what is going on, but through the clever use of cutscenes and conversations with superior officers and members of your squad you will start to get clues that let you figure out the complex plot that ties all the missions together.
Operation: Flashpoint wisely lets you decide whether to play in the first or third person view. Some views work better for certain situations. First person is great when you are on foot or a passenger in a vehicle, but once you are put in the driver's seat you may find it easier to maneuver your vehicle and survey the terrain from an outside view.
Just like the real Army, this game expects you to follow orders to the letter. It is exacting to the point that there is a yellow targeting box that indicates where you are supposed to be standing, crawling, walking, or running at any given moment in the mission. If you stray too far from your designated formation you risk getting picked off by the enemy, or even worse, having one of your squad picked off because you weren't there to back them up. At first, I thought this limited the fun and freedom I was accustomed to in other FPS games, but Operation: Flashpoint isn't like other games. You are part of a team and you don't have the same freedom you are used to in games like Quake 3 or even Unreal Tournament.
There is a true sense of urgency during the game that escalates as the action intensifies. You are constantly in radio contact with all members of your squad and your squad leader who is always barking out orders. It is advisable to listen and obey if you want to successfully complete each mission.
The level of interaction with your surroundings heightens the realism. If there is a vehicle in this game then chances are you can hop in and drive it. In one of the early missions your squad leader picks you up in a jeep and takes you to get a transport truck to haul the rest of your squad. There is an amazing amount of realism in these driving sequences that is surprisingly missing in most traditional "driving games". I was amazed that while riding in the jeep I was able to freely look around just like I was a passenger in a real car. I could look over and see my commander and his lips moved as he talked. I could look down and see the speedometer was actually moving relative to our speed. The interior of the jeep was fully detailed and modeled with roll bars, fire extinguisher, radio equipment, etc. Anyone who has served in the military could have flashbacks while playing this game - it's THAT realistic.
Between missions, you have access to your notebook that lets you read about the upcoming mission and also any personal notes you have taken that often offer valuable gameplay hints. One nice feature is the use of "key words" in the text that link to the large tactical map on the right half of the screen. Clicking on these words moves and zooms the map allowing you to plan your mission.
While you are usually at the mercy of your commanding officer, there are times when you are put in command of a squad. I had high hopes for this part of the genre, but the command system is rather clunky and the AI of the men is not as good as it needs to be in such a tactical game. You can still muddle through the missions where you are in charge, but they just aren't as fun as the ones where you are simply following orders.
The missions rely heavily on scripted events and trigger locations making the main game rather linear. While a few things are randomized, the scenarios unfold in the same basic way each time you play. This does offer you the (unfair) advantage of learning what is going to happen, where it will happen, and when it will happen, then replaying the mission using this knowledge to your advantage.
The graphics run the gambit from amazingly detailed to pixilated crap. The soldiers look great in their camouflaged combat fatigues, and they are modeled with more than enough polygons to animate them in realistic fashion. The soldiers walk, run, and do that cool combat crawl and it looks amazing. The vehicles and buildings also share the same level of detail and quality, but the game starts to fall apart in the terrain department.
In all fairness, the levels in this game are huge and the view distance is equally as massive, so I can't complain too much about the grass, trees, and other objects that populate the islands. They look great from a distance, but when you start crawling through the tall grass and the blades are pixilated and overly thick you really start to appreciate the Voxel technology used in Novalogic's Delta Force. Even so, foliage is important to the tactics in the game, and I would rather have pixilated plants to hide in than find myself sitting in the open like a sitting duck.
The atmosphere is enhanced by a lot of peripheral activities that are going on that have nothing to do with your mission. You might be in a base and other troops will march by or a truck will drive past to some unknown destination kicking up a cloud of dust. Planes or choppers will fly overhead always reminding you that you are in a war zone. Weather and time of day are also beautifully rendered. Many of your missions take place at dusk or in the early dawn. The sun will cast realistic shadows based on the time of day. Some missions are long enough that the sun will actually rise or set changing the lighting conditions in mid-mission.
Special effects like explosions, fire, and smoke are all perfectly reproduced, but they are not overly exaggerated like you may have become accustomed to from watching countless war movies. Subtle details like tire tracks, dust clouds, shadows, and lens flares all combine to create an ultra-realistic feel to the game. The colors are not overly bright and share an earthen color palette giving the game a dirty and dull look adding to the realism.
Operation: Flashpoint features some of the best character animation I can recall. Each member of your team looks unique and comes complete with their own speaking style and facial expressions. It's truly amazing to be sitting in the back of a truck or transport chopper and engage in a conversation with your squad. You can use the mouse to move your head and look at each person as they speak and watch them blink, tilt their head, or exhibit many other facial expressions that fit the conversations perfectly.
The music is excellent and could have been ripped from any modern day political thriller or war movie. Its lack of presence in the main game is a realistic touch and makes it that much easier to follow the dialog and radio commands from your leader.
The dialog is professionally delivered during the cutscenes giving each member of your team their own unique personality. The constant radio chatter during missions heightens the tension of an already tense situation and comes complete with static and garbled speech.
Sound effects appear to have been sampled from an actual military base. Jeeps, trucks, tanks, choppers, and all of the other vehicles all sound unique and realistic. Weapons fire is accurately reproduced and the explosions are massive. One of the more intense sounds is your character's breathing that quickens as he runs. One mission had me running through a dense woods and I could hear him huffing and puffing as the trees blurred past me. I started having Blair Witch Project flashbacks.
Between the campaign mode and the single player missions there are over 50 exciting missions to keep you busy for at least 30-50 hours depending on how good you are and what skill level you play at. As stated earlier, the linear nature of the campaign will probably deter you from playing the main game more than one or two times at most.
And when you have finished the main game you can use the extensive mission editor to design your own scenarios and join one of the largest mod communities out there. Thanks to a jumpstart from the earlier UK release of this game there are already a huge number of levels and complete mod's available for download. The potential life expectancy for this title is limitless.
The multiplayer portion of Operation: Flashpoint is really fun. The cooperative nature of the gameplay requires you to find other players that are willing to work together as a team. Rogue Spear and Tribes 2 veterans are already familiar with forming their own clans and this is no different.
If you can't find people who will play nice then you can always go for the more traditional Deathmatch or CTF modes. You haven't experienced paranoia until you have to run across a battlefield carrying a flag with half-a-dozen soldiers gunning for you.
While playing Operation: Flashpoint one thing kept popping into my head; Team Fortress 2. This game is how I envision TF2 will be when it finally releases. Flashpoint does an amazing job of blending a traditional FPS action game with a realistic military simulation to create a totally intense and unique experience. The choice of skill levels lets you decide how serious a sim this game becomes, so it can be enjoyed by the casual FPS gamer or the hardcore military purist. With a strong multiplayer feature and an unlimited potential for expansion mod's this is one game that will keep you in the trenches for a long, long time.