Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising gives us a gritty and realistic look at WAR which is very different from playing a shooters like Call of Duty and Medal of Honour. Call of Duty and Medal of Honour give you a Hollywood experience full of big explosions, near misses and pretty set pieces. What Operation Flashpoint 2 does is shows you how a war really plays out; one bullet at a time. And all it takes is one bullet to put a stop to whatever kind of devastating rampage you're on. It’s the only game of its kind on the Xbox 360, and the series itself is a newcomer to consoles in general, so it’s destined to have a hard time taking off. Are Xbox gamers really ready for a game of this magnitude and level of realism, and can the Xbox manage to play such a detailed shooter smoothly? Read on to find out...
Dragon Rising's gameplay is its main selling point and area of expertise. Sure, it looks amazing as I will detail further on, but when you're playing a shooter built to give you a realistic edge on modern warfare, you seriously need the gameplay itself to be top notch and well thought out. Throughout the games campaign, which is rather lengthy compared to most FPS games, you will play the role of an American soldier and his squad as you fight Chinese troops on a fictional island in the waters near Russia, as the two (Russia and China) are fighting for the islands oil reserves. This sounds more like a news story than a AAA video game story, and with good reason; Dragon Rising is trying to deliver the most intense, realistic feel for a game, and what better way to do so than to put players in the middle of a conflict which sounds like it could be happening somewhere in the world today? But the story isn't what has you on your knees in front of the television while playing this game - it’s the action. Not to mention the somewhat nervous lead up to the action.
One of the downfalls of the game is its very steep learning curve. The games controls, particularly the orders menus, take some getting used to, especially for gamers used to playing other shooters like CoD as the game feels very similar which sometimes makes you forget what you’re playing and mess up the controls. In practically every battle, I find myself crouching and going prone in the most dire of moments when I try to press the left thumbstick to sprint away (alas, Call of Duty), usually resulting in my unfortunate demise. Also a bit of an odd aspect with the difficulty is the fact that no matter what difficulty you put the game on, the core gameplay remains exactly the same, and what changes are the on-screen aids and checkpoint help. This is pretty neat if you’re upping the ante a little, but if it’s a bit too hard and you want to ease the challenge a little, this aspect may be a let down for you.
Dragon Rising’s action gameplay is quite impressive and at times, the intensity of the battles will have your gut clenching itself till you're away from the fighting. Every shootout will have you worried that the enemy will get that one perfect shot between your eyes and have you dropped like a sack of spoiled meat, and in a way, this fear helps the gameplay be even more ferocious, as it will have you dipping and ducking between trees, sandbags, broken walls and just about everything else you can find in the game for cover. In each and every mission, there is times when cover is scarce and you must really fight for your life on the foothills of this beautiful island between trees, and there are times when your riddled with so much cover you feel like a kid in a candy store, but that doesn't mean your safe. The enemy can still sneak up and flank you, which they are quite fond of doing, but also they can use the given realism to their advantage and spray some shots straight through whatever wall you may be hiding behind and hope for that lucky hit.
Each gun in Flashpoint has its own set of very real ballistics modelled straight from the real guns themselves. This helps each gun feel unique and fun to use, while still difficult to master and a pain to get shot at with. There are guns for each scenario you encounter, from the long range and very powerful sniper rifle to the very common and all round beast of an assault rifle. Whatever kind of weapon you prefer, you will be sure to get good use out of it in Flashpoint as you can play the games 11 missions any way you want, whether that is to snipe all the enemies from afar, or take the battle to them with some stealth action from you and your fire team. You can even take the more eventful approach and just call in an artillery strike on the enemy position, and even that can be modified to fit your needs, as you can choose to scatter the artillery barrage or concentrate on a small sector, there are loads of options. The game is filled with fun and adventurous choices which make replaying mission after mission a must, and something you will instantly come to love. And although 11 missions may not seem like much, rest assured these are pretty big, and will last you a good portion of time, anywhere from 30 minutes to well over an hour, depending on how good you are and how you choose to play. The choice is yours.
To complete the experience, Dragon Rising includes what all good shooters must; multiplayer. It gives a few modes from co-operative to the exhilarating infiltration. Playing through the games campaign with up to three other friends really is great and a must if you have connection to LIVE. It makes the battles much more enjoyable and a little easier, as you can coordinate your tactics with a little less stress than you can with AI controlled team mates and the games order system, which some would say is a little too detailed. As for the competitive modes, well they are just plain fun with friends or match made teammates. The game keeps its realistic and difficult style which makes the shootouts and large scale battles very impressive and enjoyable.
As I’m sure you could all imagine, a real life soldier isn't going to be a push over and certainly isn't going to be less than intelligent. So for a game that's trying to make its name as the most realistic shooter on the market, the AI of these war-torn soldiers really isn't what it should be. They hit the nail on the head with how the enemies can spot you from up to two hundred meters away (more if they are packing a sniper) unless you use cover to your advantage, and how the enemies can seamlessly flank you from any position, but sometimes the AI just seems very unpolished. Especially in your team mates. They take it upon themselves to stand in the open and scan for enemies when there’s bullets hailing from every direction, often resulting in their death, and even when given an order to take cover, they sometimes seem to run around in a few little circles before slowly making their way to the sandbags I’ve taken cover behind, again usually resulting in their death. Throughout the game, you will surely see and experience many little indiscretions like these with the games AI, which sort of ruin whatever kind of intense, in-the-zone atmosphere you have going.
Ah, graphics. Beside good and detailed gameplay, this is what makes a realistic shooter really hit the mark. You can’t have a good realistic shooter without it looking just that; realistic. It’s a good job that's what Dragon Rising does very well. Given that the game plays on a massive 220 square km island with essentially no loading once the missions start, it’s very impressive how good it all looks. Each tree (be assured there’s A LOT of these) is detailed down to every branch. Every puff of grass is fully 3D and waves in the wind, like it has a mind of its own. Even the smoke is exceptionally realistic as its fades into the atmosphere when it reaches high altitude. And given the record breaking draw distance of over 30kms (over double the second largest, the 14kms in Halo 3); the landscape is sure to leave an imprint for its impressive graphics.
All of the previously mentioned graphical aspects also go hand in hand together to create a great atmosphere prefect for the ongoing war and to simply improve on the game itself. Not only is the gameplay realistic and believable, but the settings, graphics and all in between are too, and that's what makes Dragon Rising a particularly beautiful and masterful tactical shooter.
All good war games feature a wide array of gun blasts and sounds, and Dragon Rising is no exception. The only difference here is Dragon Rising is a little better. How? Well, given the games unique ballistics information and coding, each and every firearm and weapon has its very own real sounds recorded live in the desert with the real guns themselves. These real gun shots, when turned up to 11, really have you scared for your virtual life in the heat of the battle. It’s almost like you can hear death coming for you with each bullet fired, and it’s great. But what Dragon Rising lacks, and you could argue that it’s a good thing given that the games trying to be as realistic as possible, is a musical score in-game. That’s okay though, as any kind of musical score would ruin the mood, and lessen the feel of the realistic action going on around you. As you climb bush-thick hills and creep your way through farm houses, all you have to listen to is the terrain itself and footsteps of your loyal fire team, and yet again, this adds just that little bit more to the atmosphere of the game.
The game also features quite a bit of dialogue, and being a war simulation, the dialogue sure doesn't leave much to the imagination. Every detail is pinpointed down to the distance by your H.Q. in a hail of 'military speak' that will have you scratching your head in puzzlement. The soldiers have conversations about objectives in such consecutive over’s, outs, solid copies and Oscar Charlies, mikes and the like that sometimes you end up not having a clue about what you have to do next, and unless you pick it up in the dialogue, there isn't much at all that helps you understand just what to do for your next objective. Sure, it’s realistic... but jeez, not all gamers have been to boot camp, so excuse us for not knowing what you’re on about.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is as good as it gets for a military sim on the Xbox 360 (maybe that's cause there's no others), so even with the few little bugs and negatives, its worth looking into if your tired of all these John Rambo games of run-n-gun action and action movie style games. And with a very replayable, and even pretty large on its own campaign, a few decent multiplayer modes and a very fun online co-operative mode to back it up, Dragon Rising is one game that's worth what you’re paying for. You will get hours of enjoyment out of the campaign, and when you feel you’re good enough to take on the world, you will get even more fun out of sticking it to other Xbox gamers in some competitive team-based action.
Dragon Rising is a one of a kind on the 360, being a highly detailed, realistic military simulation that has you sucked into the world of political warfare with a blood for oil backbone and a world of hurt waiting around every corner and up every hill. The game has a few little virtual nasties with the unpolished AI and very steep learning curve and high level of difficulty, but that's to be expected in such a massive scale tactical shooter which requires more brains and brawl to come out alive. Dragon Rising is also a rarity in that it not only gives you a damn big single player experience, but a fun and enjoyable multiplayer one to add to the value. All in all, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a shooter like none other on the Xbox 360, and is a beautiful and realistic look at warfare through the eyes of the modern day foot soldier. The game is great value for money, but rest assured; this game is not for the impatient or the every day casual gamer.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
- Fresh, realistic look at modern warfare
- Huge map and amazing graphics
- Big campaign and lots of replay value and choice
- Multiplayer is fun and addictive
- Co-op is great with friends
- Sometimes horrid AI
- Confusing Dialogue
- Steep learning curve and sometimes overly difficult
Reviewed and Written By John Elliott