When Rainbow 6 came out, I tried it, and was fairly impressed by it. After all, here was a game where you could actually get killed realistically, instead of taking two rockets without dying, which seemed to be a predominant trend of the time. The setting and the weaponry also added to the experience, making it fun in general, while being challenging at the same time, though not via the traditional method of skipping programming AI and going for the “hundreds of enemies approach” instead. Rainbow 6 defied that approach, distinguishing it from the competition, and reviving good old memories of “Hostages”, an Infogrames game from way back in 1988, the music from which I still hum to this day, because it was so damn addictive.
What has this shown us? In my view, this showed that we, the gamers, are equally interested in realistic games where you think before you shoot, just as much as we are in the ones where you have a billion evil frogs, with a billion evil mosquitoes and a billion evil crocodiles attacking you from all directions, while getting stuck in doors and walls because the programmers went for the above-mentioned “bigger better! smart worse!” approach. Operation Flashpoint doesn’t really fall into the stupid category – only partially. Generally, you are somewhat outnumbered (as opposed to Rainbow Six, where you were either equally matched, or there was a mere 2:1 disadvantage). However, the difference with OF is that the enemies are not stupid. They are actually very smart. They are inhumanly smart. Have you ever played Worms? Have you ever seen the computer fire off a bazooka, have it spell the worm’s name in the air due to the wind factor and unseen friction factors, then smack you in the head and boot you off for a swim? Yeah, well, the OF opponents are that smart, if you can call that “smart”.
The game starts off as some sucker private is being potty-trained in the bootcamp, right before a bunch of Russians attack the Godforsaken island where the American bootcamp is (which just shows that the American forces are really omnipresent). Strangely, the game refers to American forces as “NATO” forces, though I’ve never actually seen a non-American anywhere, nor have I seen non-American equipment. Mystery to me. Anyway, bootcamp ends abruptly, and the newbie soldiers have to go in and actually kill people who are way better than them. I thought, at first, that the game follows the story of a soldier rising through the ranks of the military, sort of like in Wing Commander – but, silly me. The game actually exhibits an acute case of schizophrenia, and you end up playing as a wide variety of people which, of course, results in absolutely no loyalty to your character whatsoever. Teammate got killed? Tough, I’m sure Command will hook me up with another one. Hell, I don’t even know what was his name. Sadly, the only way you can find out the names of some of the people is after they’re listed in the casualty list after they kick the bucket (or someone kicks them with a bucket).
Besides being schizophrenic, the game is chronically unstable. For me (though I fully acknowledge that it may be just me – my friend is able to play it with no troubles), the game crashes with an alarming regularity. What’s more, it takes down the entire OS with it. Even the fabled anti-crashing gizmos of Windows 2000 are unable to prevent it, and when the motion stops on the screen, I know that the mission just went down the sewer. This is the first game, in an extremely long line of game-playing, that has forced me to bring uncontrolled abuse to my keyboard (even pinball games didn’t make me smash my keyboard so much!). On the other hand, this allows me to test my old hypothesis: will my IBM Model M survive this abuse, or not? Holding up so far. Anyway, there is no mid-level saving in the game, so a crash means literally that – you’re out cold. I haven’t figured out any sort of a regularity to these crashes, but occasionally, it’ll crash on the screen describing your next mission, which is the most bloody annoying thing in the world, because the game only auto-saves AFTER that point, meaning you have to redo the previous mission again. It is very, very, extremely frustrating, and I call for many unnamed disasters upon the heads of whoever is responsible for this annoying happening (AMD? VIA? Microsoft? Codemasters?).
There are two modes of play to the game – campaign and instant action. Instant action lets you jump in and get your ass kicked immediately, while campaign lets you slowly ease into the game and get your ass kicked about two missions down the road (the first mission is “walk from here to there to prove us you can use the W key”, and the second mission is “get in this truck (in the back) and ride to this place. Then use your M16 to fire at this stationary target to prove to us that you can push the left mouse button.”). I found the campaign mode to be a lot more entertaining, albeit MUCH more difficult. One of the reasons for that is that when you fail an instant action mission, you’re perfectly welcome to go do another one. Not so in campaign, of course. Also, in my experience, the game crashed a lot, so I was frequently unable to get past a mission for a long, LONG time. I would even finish it properly, and bang! But like I said, and I will say it again for fairness’ sake, this may have been exclusively my experience, and it may be perfect with 99% of the remainder of population. There are other bugs to enjoy, though. For example, it has happened to me that I am told to board vehicles that left already (i.e. you start running for it, and it just sort of drives off). Other missions, I am told to bring my squad, and even though we arrive at the same time, me in a Jeep, squad in a truck, my CO tells me, “Where in God’s name is your squad, soldier?!” To the game’s credit, it didn’t fail me there, but that was just weird.
Among further annoyances is the command system. I don’t really care about it when I’m commanding, since I don’t have to follow any of the orders, but when I’m a grunt, things get really annoying, because the commands often make absolutely no sense. How about “EVERYONE. MOVE TO TREE, 9 O’CLOCK” in a forest? Or how about “ENEMY. SOLDIER. 8 O’CLOCK, 200”. Whose 8 o’clock? Oh, the person saying it? Really, how about the person right after that that announced a BMP at 3 o’clock, where is that? Not to mention the distances are all wrong most of the time, in addition to all your teammates possessing x-ray vision that sees BMPs across great distances (note! It can see you too, through all the bushes), and sees soldiers through dense forests. Worst is when the commander assigns someone to attack something (i.e., not you), and you would like to lend a hand because you’re free (and because your teammate will most probably die), but you don’t bloody know where things are! I don’t know, perhaps this is a “realistic” way of doing it, but I would appreciate an option for a “moron” mode, because I guess I’m just not a born SAS soldier, and I really don’t dig this whole hullabaloo about directions (apologies to Canadians about “hullabaloo” – no insult intended).
One of the neat things in the game are the vehicles. You have several things you can drive, including (on the American side) a M113, a Jeep, a big troop truck, a M1A2 Abrams, a few other tanks, as well as a Blackhawk helicopter, and a A-10 plane. You can also steal Russian T72s, T80s, UAZs, trucks, tractors, and some ghetto passenger cars (which I only attempted once – but I don’t know if I can’t drive it, or if it was the bullet in my head that prevented me from driving it. I did not attempt again, the owner must’ve been angry). You can even steal a Hind in one mission, but that’s a really bad idea, because there are many Hinds, and you can’t steal them all, which means other people get to fly them. I think the computer cheats, because it’s just way too good; so you just get shot down. One extremely annoying thing about land-based vehicles is how much their speed gets reduced as soon as they go on grass from a road: come on, frankly, I admit that a vehicle should go more slowly on grass, but not to a point where I’m driving at the same speed as a soldier I’m trying to run over is running away at! That’s just silly. You also can’t shoot from within the vehicle: yes, I agree that it’s almost impossible to drive and aim at the same time, however, see situation above: I am following a soldier point-blank that I can’t drive over because the damn Jeep is going too slowly. I don’t see why I can’t pull out a gun and shoot the guy in the head – he’s right in front of me! Vehicles also have major trouble climbing slopes. As soon as there is the slightest tilt in the road, the vehicle looks like it’ll stop (and often it does. Usually in front of a BMP). But I really like to be able to sneak into an enemy base, jump into an unoccupied T80, and just drive around over people, shooting them occasionally. It would help if I didn't have to manually switch to the gunner's seat every time (i.e. if there was a second squadmate), but there's no way he would be as smart as me, so it's just as well.
I must commend the game on the sound environment, though. Positional audio is absolutely great even with 2 speakers, and it really, really helps a lot to figure out whether the fighting is behind you (i.e. where you want it) or ahead of you. Why would you want it behind? Oh, not because that sounds like you’re wussing out. It’s just that if it’s ahead, that means you will only get closer, and that just means you’ll get shot by some guy with a Kalashnikov from 500 metres. Or a BMP will spot you and blow up your general area. You know, you get the idea.
Oh yeah, and the last mission is just retardedly difficult. It’s fun taking on a half a dozen T80s backed up by T72s, Shilkas and Spets Naz soldiers that snipe really well because they know exactly where you are (stupid computer cheating again).
All that said, OF is still a fun game, but it’s just a little bit too difficult for the mainstream audience. Perhaps the USA release will be a touch easier (hey, that’s what they did with Dance Dance Revolution – you can’t expect us North Americans to be good at dancing!), and, hopefully, it will include a bloody Russian mission pack! I don’t want to play as that shoddy “NATO” set of gimps – give me my trusty AK47 and a BMP, and I’ll take them all out!