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Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Review [PC]

9 Oct 2009  by
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It’s hard, initially, to fault Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. The instant it kicks off with you touching down, in a helicopter, onto the lightly-defended outpost of Skirinka Island prior to the assault on Skira, the world completely sucks you in. It’s getting on for dusk, so everything is hued in a beautiful orange as the sun goes down, and the tall wild grass twists gently in the breeze. Within a few minutes, everything will be black, because you’ll have been shot in the head and your brain matter will be fertilising the ground.Dragon Rising is a hard, hard game. On Normal difficulty there are enough concessions to the casual player – a compass that shows the positions of spotted enemies, whacking great objective markers, waypoints showing recommended paths – that they’ll only die once every few minutes. On the hardest setting, there’s no HUD. There’s no anything. Hell, you have to remember how many bullets you’ve fired so that you don’t come up short, and you’ll constantly be checking your map to make sure you’re going in the right direction.Aiding you is the full might of the US Marine Corps, of which three soldiers are under your command, and they, too, can be given orders from your map. More interesting is giving them orders in the game, which works through one of the concessions to the dreaded Console Players: the radial menu. This little tool lets you give any potential order through a series of expanding menus, as well as one or two context-sensitive buttons. Target a building and open it up, and the “Move” order will be replaced with “Assault building.” If you want to stop your soldiers firing, you need to go to Tactical, then ROE (Rules of Engagement), then “Fire on my lead” or whatever you want them to do. In this way you can order them to flank or pull back; they can lay down suppressing fire or storm a building.It’s a concession to the console players simply because it’s built for use with the console D-pad, which doesn’t quite function on a PC. Don’t get me wrong – it’s perfectly responsive, and once you get your head around the way it works, you’ll be able to give orders rapidly. However, what would be up/down/left/right on the D-pad are bound to WSAD on the PC, which means that you can’t move when giving orders. It’s not a huge problem, but it does mean that if you get surprised while in the middle of sorting out some individual orders, you’ve got to remember to close the menu before trying to move, or your soldiers will probably take your mash of commands to mean that they’re to greet the lieutenant governor of American Samoa by slapping him in the bottom with a fish. (As an aside, you’d be amazed at how difficult it is to get hold of a good fish in a combat situation.)By and large, your soldiers are obedient to a fault, although a little more common sense wouldn’t go amiss. Unless their morale breaks they’ll pretty much stick to doing whatever you told them to do, which might result in them getting killed if someone gets around behind them, but they’ll also “forget” things once they’ve accomplished them. Setting the Rules of Engagement to “Fire on my lead” is great, and works perfectly; they won’t open fire until you do. But unless you remember, after the firefight, to once again set those Rules of Engagement, they’re going to start shooting as soon as they see enemies.Despite the lack of D-pad, the PC squad controls shine brightly over the 360 ones. You can use the number keys to select any soldier, or any group of soldiers, whenever you’re giving orders – whether in the map or using the radial dial in the thick of the action – which means that once you’ve gotten accustomed to said dial, or used to the pseudo-RTS controls on the map, you can quickly and concisely order each individual to do what you want them to do. It’s brilliant.The shooting is equally brilliant. The choice of weapon affects rate of fire, noise, accuracy, and everything else you’d expect, but the smaller changes have equal impact. Different types of scope range from a dot sight for close-in assaults to zoomed scopes at range, and a wonderful night scope that shows up heat signatures in bright white. Better still is that, despite the odd AI quirk, you can see the effects of your attacks on your foes. Start shooting at someone running towards you and you’ll see them hit the deck and crawl for cover. Suppressing fire works well, and the visual effects – the kicked up clods of earth that temporarily blot your vision – mean that you’ll do exactly the same when bullets start whizzing past your head. Enemies drop smoke and pull back to regroup, reinforcements pour in when the fighting kicks off proper, and staying on top of things on the hardest settings requires an immense amount of concentration.{PAGE TITLE=Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising PC Review Page 2}Those hardest settings deserve a bit more discussion, too. It doesn’t seem as though the AI is affected by your choice of difficulty, but the fact that you no longer have indications as to when someone’s been hit or killed, or a directional compass, or even an ammo count ratchets up the tension considerably. Those wanting an experience akin to the original game need to try this on Hardcore.It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, sadly. One of the most pressing issues is that the promise of a big open-world environment is a bit misleading. Yes, Skira is all there in its gigantic glory, but you’re not really going to be trekking from one side of it to another in any given mission, and you’re precluded from exploring by two things. The first is the circle of influence, which “kills” any of your squadmates who wander too far away from you. The second is that, with a few exceptions, almost every campaign mission has a time limit. Sometimes you have to knock out SAM sites before the bombers arrive. Sometimes you’re defending a column of tanks as they roll towards a load of anti-tank soldiers. One way or another, though, you can’t piss around and explore. You can’t drive everything, either, which is a tad disappointing as I love going into combat in a tractor, but that’s a minor issue. Your mileage will vary with the freedom complaint – it’s very much a question of expectations – but it has to be said, because it makes the game a lot more linear than many were expecting.Slightly more major are the scripting issues that crop up, particularly as you near the last few missions. One mission, played three times, gave me a dialogue line repeated a few times and then immediately after it, the response to an earlier line. That’s minor. It gets worse when it prevents waypoints or objectives from triggering properly. It’s rare, but it shouldn’t happen.If you’re on PC, both of these are alleviated somewhat by the absolutely fantastic mission editor. If you want to create a single, gigantic mission spanning the entire island, you can. If – like me – you want to just plonk down 50 PLA soldiers and then give yourself a helicopter, you can do that too. To do anything major you need to become au fait with the Lua scripting language, but an appendix and a variety of examples in the editor mean that you can stumble by without much hassle if you have any experience in any real programming language. Bearing in mind I’ve not created a level since one of the Counter-Strike betas, it only took me an hour or so to create a short mission with triggers, objectives, and waypointed soldiers, opening with the PLA dropping artillery on a neatly-arranged row of tanks, before asking the player to steal a helicopter and blow up a truck. No, I don’t know why either, which is why I’m extremely eager to see campaigns created by more capable hands than mine.The other major thing that needs to be said about the PC version specifically is performance. Both the original Flashpoint and the more recent ArmA II suffered from massive performance issues, and this is something that – to my huge surprise – I haven’t encountered with Dragon Rising. I’ve played it on two computers, one a slightly ageing hulk that can still take everything thrown at it, and the other a computer that has had difficulty with a few tiny indie titles I’ve put onto it. Both of them handled this with nary a framerate drop, with the latter at around 1280×1024.Dragon Rising is a military sim, of sorts. It doesn’t “feel” like the original did – it’s a lot more polished, and it’s not quite so unforgiving, despite some bastard difficulty spikes on the harder difficulties. It’s also not perfect. Despite this, it is deeply, deeply enjoyable, particularly if you have a few friends to play co-op with. As our diaries show, the co-op removes the majority of the problems you’ll have and is so much fun you’re willing to forgive the rest, particularly with the game’s pervasive grimy, muddy, military atmosphere and tension-amplifying difficulty sucking you right in.So no. It’s not quite like the original. But – whisper it – it’s bloody good fun anyway.

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