Operation Flashpoint: Red River Preview

24 Feb 2011  by   Paul Younger
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In addition to the following preview, we sat down with Red River’s Principal Game Designer, Tim Browne, to get the low-down on the behind-the-scenes creation of the game. Read our interview with him here.
Authenticity, as opposed to realism, is the buzzword for Red River.  The key difference between the two descriptions is that authenticity retains (and often enhances) the fun factor whereas the term realism, according to Principal Game Designer, Tim Browne, can often be off putting to your potential audience.
In keeping with this thinking, the team have been very selective with 1) what they’ve allowed themselves to be inspired by and 2) which elements of war (our perception of it, at least) they want to include and which they’ve consciously shunned. 
From the scratched, well used weaponry to the torn (and haphazardly tapped-up) camouflage gear sported by your squad, Red River’s atmosphere exudes a suitable level of ‘grit’.  The goal, apparently, is to create something that coincides with the less-than-glamorous vision of war as depicted by the likes of Youtube (via videos taken by soldiers and civilians themselves), Restrepo and Generation Kill; as opposed to the shinier, all-American feel pushed by FOX News and Pearl Harbour. 
For example, look into the sun and news-camera style lens flare impedes your view, crash a Humvee and the screen will pixelate and shutter for a brief moment a la Youtube or use a wall for cover and bullets kick up dust that impedes your sight and prevents you getting a good look at the shooter.  It’s all very atmospheric stuff.
The gameplay also tries to play into this image of war.  In short, Call of Duty tactics will not work here; attempt to run up to an enemy with your knife or shotgun at the ready and you’re going to find a bullet between your eyes within a few seconds of leaving cover.  As in real world desert combat, encounters in Red River tend to take place over longer distances, characterised by finding cover, laying down suppressive fire and attempting to out manoeuvre the opposition. 
Even after our limited demo, it’s clear that the Tajikistan-inspired environments have been designed in such a way as to force you to think about planning your angles of attack, making use of terrain verticality and identify how to use each class (i.e. Assault, Grenadier, Scout) most effectively.  The key to success seems to be centred on careful planning, sensible advances/retreats and controlled aggression. 
These considerations become ever more important when playing in (up to 4-player) co-op.  While single player is available to those that wish it, the dev team made it abundantly clear that they want you to play in co-op; indeed single player wasn’t even available for us to try during our hands-on time. 
Red River further differentiates itself from the current crop of shooters in that it doesn’t feature any competitive multiplayer modes whatsoever.  We’re told that this exclusion is a result of the team prioritising their time (and money) and deciding to concentrate on providing the best team-based experience possible, rather than simply attempt to pack in as many different features as they can.   
As a result of this co-op focus, the game’s A.I. (at first glance, at least) seems to be that bit more intelligent and inventive than what the previous game, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, offered.  Enemy soldiers, like your own squad, now fall into class categories of their own.  That means enemy scouts will stay back and try to snipe you from distance, grenadiers target you with grenade launchers and the assault guys will flank and attack from medium range; the different classes working in unison to make best use of their abilities. 
In all honesty our play time thus far has been too short (and our skills too meagre) to properly test the A.I’s competence; still, variety’s always good… at least on paper.  It will also be interesting to see whether or not the difficulty scales itself down when playing on single player to make up for the deficiencies of your A.I. teammates (if such deficiencies even exist).
The three missions we were let loose on were (rather than being taken from the campaign) pulled from stand alone modes designed to get you straight into the action and tackling enemies in a variety of situations.  Last Stand is a Horde-style mode in which you must hold specified areas as waves of enemies rush your position.  Combat Sweep tasks you with scouting enemy controlled zones (taking out any resistance you encounter) while Rolling Thunder – easily the most fun of three modes – sees you protecting a convoy as it makes its way through hostile territory.
What links all of these modes is the need for teamwork and the ability to think tactically.  Constant communication is essential in traversing dangerous areas successfully, meaning a headset and trustworthy, dependable teammates are vital.  The squad leader can issue basic commands to the rest of the team via the HUD (i.e. follow me, go here etc) but these come nowhere near communicating the level of detail required to guide you safely through dangerous situations. 
This all may sound somewhat daunting but after half an hour or so we’d got to a point in which we were picking off enemies with a decent degree of success, although, admittedly, we’ve had experience with previous Flashpoint games.  We were told that the campaign eases you into the game gently and that there are a myriad of tutorials available for those that need them. 
At the other end of the scale, for those that prefer their military shooters to reflect true life as strictly as possible, ‘Hardcore’ mode removes all the HUD elements, forcing you to estimate ammo levels and, due to the lack of a radar, keep in constant visual contact with your squad. 
Operation Flashpoint: Red River is a game that’s very difficult to get a true feeling for without some serious play-testing.  The danger with going for authenticity is that you run the risk of being too serious for your average FPS player while not being serious enough for those seeking something truly lifelike; alienating everyone in the process.
It’s a difficult balance act and one that Red River must decipher in order to find success.  No matter what though, our demo was most certainly fun and it’s nice to see a game that’s not prepared to entirely compromise its ideals merely to fit in with the crowd.  If only more developers would follow suit…
Oscar Mike Charlie Out. Or something.

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