Over the past few years there’s been a growing emphasis on co-operatively gameplay, so much so that we’re beginning to see games designed specifically with co-op in mind. One such game is Conflict: Denied Ops. This is actually the fifth game in the Conflict series from developer Pivotal Games, but it’s the first to focus on a two-man team, as opposed to a four-man squad, and the first to utilize a first-person perspective instead of a third-person view. Those are pretty dramatic changes for the long-running tactical shooter series. Let’s see how they pay off.
The story in Conflict: Denied Ops revolves around an insurgent Venezuelan General who is threatening to deploy nuclear weapons against the US if they interfere with his coup, so the US decides to send in a couple of S.A.D. (Special Activities Division) operatives to break up the party. With links to Russian and African arms dealers, the ten-mission campaign spans a number of hotspots around the globe.
The tag team consists of Lincoln Graves and Reggie Lang. At 47 years of age, Graves is a hardened veteran; ex-Marine, ex-Delta Force. At 28 years of age, Lang is an ex-football star turned military officer. Lang thinks Graves is a “limp dick;” over-the-hill and past his prime, while Graves thinks Lang is a hotshot and a loose cannon whose going to get them both killed. It’s a pretty stereotypical setup, with the two protagonists eventually earning each other’s respect by campaign’s end.
The gameplay in Conflict: Denied Ops comes across a little dated. There are some interesting elements present, but they’re mostly overshadowed by questionable and ultimately poor design choices. When playing through the campaign solo, I like how you can switch between Graves and Lang at the push of a button, ala Battlefield 2: Modern Combat. Equipped with a sniper rifle, Graves is a long-range specialist, while Lang is geared more for close to middle-range combat with his heavy machine gun. Neither character can swap out weapons but you do gain upgrades for their existing weapons at the completion of each mission, such as a shotgun attachment for Graves’ sniper rifle and a grenade launcher attachment for Lang’s heavy machine gun. Unfortunately, until you acquire the automatic shotgun attachment for Graves’ rifle, it’s really not a good idea to use him at point, which means you’ll spend the bulk of the game in Lang’s shoes.
There are a nice variety of environments in the game, with missions spanning three continents, and once you finish the initial mission you actually get to choose – from three missions – which to tackle next. The fifth mission doesn’t unlock until you’ve completed those three missions, but I appreciated the choice nonetheless. Within each of the missions, I really like the use of multiple paths. Besides the obvious tactic of flanking the enemy, it often provides an opportunity to set Graves up at a high point for sniping while you control Lang along the ground. I also appreciate the destructible environments. Wooden crates and tables, brick walls, metal slabs and even some concrete structures can be blown apart or knocked down, but unfortunately the game doesn’t take weapon characteristics into account. You can break apart a wooden table with the silenced pistol with as much ease as the heavy machine gun. And there are way too many gas canisters and flammable drums lying around. I’d argue that enemies should be intelligent enough not to stand next these things but they don’t really have a choice here, they’re everywhere.
There are a couple of vehicle segments in the game where you’ll get to man a tank and a hovercraft. The tank works well enough because you can steer and fire the main gun at the same time, but the hovercraft is a mess. In the hovercraft, you have a choice to be in the driver or gunner seat, with the AI taking the other spot. The problem is if you choose to be the gunner, the AI won’t drive the hovercraft. He’ll just sit there, even under heavy fire, so you really have no choice but to drive the hovercraft and let the AI control the gun.
Combat in Conflict: Denied Ops could be better. I’ve already mentioned that Graves, without the automatic shotgun attachment, is a sitting duck at point, but he’s not all that great at long-range either because his sniper rifle is weak. Unless you get a head shot, it takes three or four shots to the chest to take down an enemy. Even with Lang’s heavy machine gun, it takes a surprising number of bullets to kill an enemy. I recall a scenario controlling Lang where I fired a burst of bullets into an enemy and watched as he bent over (enemies have a tendency to do this on non-critical hits, like they’ve eaten bad seafood), then stood back up and continued to run towards me. Another burst, another bout of bad seafood. As I fired my remaining bullets in his general direction, he managed to get right up on me and strike me with the butt of his gun. I slumped to the ground, incapacitated. Apparently I brought a gun to a stick fight. There is something fundamentally wrong when one melee attack is a better killing technique then a flurry of direct hits with a heavy machine gun. And one more thing, enemy and friendly troops can blind fire from behind cover. You, on the other hand, cannot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate for blind firing but when AI characters can perform the action and you can’t, that’s just a little frustrating (I’m looking at you too Call of Duty 4).
Visually Conflict: Denied Ops looks okay, though it’s certainly not in the same league as Call of Duty 4 or Rainbow Six Vegas. Audio is a mixed bag. The soundtrack is decent but the weapon effects are a little weak. Voice acting is passable but some of the comments and jokes are immature, including back-to-back masturbation quips from an enemy that just seems to come out of left field.
Conflict: Denied Ops is best enjoyed with a friend co-operatively in either splitscreen or online. You can play through the entire campaign seamlessly without losing any cutscenes or important scenes of dialogue, which is very nice. There’s adversarial multiplayer as well, but only in a very limited package. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Conquest are the only game types available and considering you can only choose to be Graves or Lang with absolutely no weapons choices to speak of (why would anybody choose Graves over Lang then?), competitive multiplayer gets old real quick. In fact, at the time of writing this review, I was hard pressed to locate any type of online multiplayer game.
With Denied Ops, the fifth installment in the Conflict series, Pivotal Games chose to focus their attention on co-operative gameplay, and while there are some interesting elements found within the game, they’re overshadowed by a series of poor design choices. Playing through the campaign with a buddy co-operatively is a passable experience and might be worth a rental, but with so many excellent shooters on the market and so many promising ones on the horizon, even that might be pushing it.