Free games tend to be taken ill by our paranoid, second-guessing, net
savvy culture. Heck, right now you're reading a critique about a PC
game that is essentially free save the three hundred odd megabytes you
need to download. We take for granted the free content over the net;
news, reviews, websites, e-texts, etc. But we don't believe a free game
could ever be good because it is… well, free. Imagine if we all thought
that when the shareware versions of Wolfenstein and Doom came out more a
decade ago. This is part of the reason why shareware and public domain
games are dead today.
Operations is a tactical first person shooter offered by the U.S. Army.
It is an infantry first person shooter and there are no tanks to drive,
ships to man and planes to pilot. This is about fighting on the ground
with your comrades against opposing teams armed with similar weapons.
Missions come in two forms. The first is training: where you'll take
on realistic exercises modeled on what actually happens in the U.S.
Army. The second is multiplayer combat. Two forces of human players
are pitted against one another in mirror objectives. One might have to
deny access to a certain objective. The other has to assault the
defenders and take it. The objectives aren't very sophisticated but
their simplicity deludes would-be soldiers because on the other side of
the fence, you don't have AI players or NPCs but real live humans with
as much poise and determination as you do; only for the other cause.
Counterstrike veterans will note that this game sounds eerily like their
own favorite pastime. Team competitive games are, indeed, in vogue
nowadays. Slowly eroding the deathmatch core that made up most of
multiplayer gaming in the heydays of Quake, Operations is an intelligent
first person shooter. Unlike Counterstrike, it is obsessed with realism
and with simulating the nitty gritty of modern infantry action in a
Much of this influence is due to the Army license. The U.S. Army gets
free advertising but in return it provides a level of authenticity to
the game that in some cases is unparalleled. Shoot while prone gives
you an accurate firing position with a rifle. Shoot while prone and
time it with your breathing - that's something that even Red Storm's
Ghost Recon and Codemaster's Operation Flashpoint is missing. There's
even a button in the controls to fix gun jams and you can never run
while pointing your gun forward. If you're a realism junkie, this will
take your game to the next level. And if you're like me, and you come
from a liberal family where you couldn't for your life disassemble a
gun, you might even learn a thing or two from the in-game training.
The U.S. Army didn't contract this game out to some second-rate
developer though. This is made from ground up by American taxpayer
money. It's based on the Unreal engine and the target platform is a
GeForce2 MX but before hardcore gamers cringe, they should note that
this game looks pretty good. State of the art hardware is not wasted
and I think a lot of it has to do with the developer's focus. They only
paid attention to rendering a fun and realistic multiplayer experience
with a handful of tutorial levels from the eyes of an individual
soldier. There aren't any vehicles (save for para dropping) or
superfluous junk that would detract from the development efforts and the
polish definitely shows. This might be a complex and realistic game but
you're still able to use regular first person shooter mechanics for the
The audio is also another bright spot that probably owes as much to the
U.S. Army license. The game features a lot of U.S. Army hardware and
who better to turn to get samples than the Army itself. A lot of great
weapons effects can be found here and the gunshot sounds are crisp with
enough bass that they sound like the real thing.
Also like a real soldier, you'll have to advance through the ranks by
performing on the battlefield. Using an online registry to keep track
of your in-game persona's progress, you get points for demonstrating
leadership in addition to knocking out the enemy. Successful wins at
certain maps will get you promoted and it'll open up other parts of the
game, like the chance to enter into a sniper school or train to be an
elite Ranger. When you finish those special training areas, you'll be
awarded not only with badges and rank but also with weapons. The much
vaunted sniper rifle, for example, is only available after you complete
the necessary training.
I was curious how Operations could pull this off using the Unreal
client/server setup. Some servers are responsible for specific maps.
One server constantly runs MOUT maps for people. Another will run
hostage-related scenarios. When Operations initially came out, people
had a hard time finding servers to actually advance their characters.
I'm happy to say that by this time (v1.50), Operations has an abundance
of public and privately run servers for all to play.
That said, Operations still runs on a Counterstrike type of play.
There's no respawning allowed. So once you die you'll have to wait
awhile to get back into the game. In Counterstrike, that isn't
necessarily a problem since it might only be five minutes. In
Operations, I've seen waits that go up to twenty or thirty minutes.
That's a long time for anyone but it also has the effect of pushing
players to be more conservative and it turns careless players into
careful ones. There's a fine line and an invisible balance between wait
times and how far you want to push your players. In my humble opinion,
there's some tweaking left for Operations.
Rest assured, though, the action you will see will be intense. The
realistic mechanics always assures that. Unfortunately, Operations was
a victim of its own success earlier on. The initial Recon release was
taken as the full game (when it really was a beta test) and some
outstanding bugs convinced a lot of people to give up. It's uncertain
how Operations will be able to woo the disaffected players back, apart
from word of mouth.
Regardless, Operations is an interesting product. There is an
undeniably heavy U.S. Army agenda in the game itself. You won't mistake
the advertising innuendos for something else. But the fact that the
game is easy to pick up and fun to play makes it a better game than an
advertising product. One common occurrence I found when I wrote my
preview and as I write my review is the size of the international
audience. There are people speaking German and also Canadians who
frequently surface in the game. Since this is primarily a recruitment
product, I'm not sure how this game is supposed to appeal beyond
Americans (unless it convinces you to emigrate, get citizenship and
enlist). There are frequent references that the U.S. Army infantry
soldier is the most potent battle force in the world today. But then
again, I didn't need a game to tell me that.
As I said in my preview, Operations reminds me of the BMW inspired short
films. Maybe, for the U.S. Army, providing a branded entertainment
product is the best way to advertise. Maybe, this signifies a new form
of advertising. Underlying all this, though, is an excellent first
person shooter game. Its primacy in tactics, detail and realism should
convince at least some people to sign on--even if they're not in America