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Operation Flashpoint Review

by Robert "Bilko" Shaw

Article Type: Review
Article Date: July 02, 2001


Introduction

For the past couple of years deep in the belly of military gaming thereís been a rumble or two about a new combat simulator that was going to blow the pants off first person shooters. Well, that day has arrived via Bohemia Interactive's Operation Flashpoint. Weíve had a healthy teaser with the demo (why canít more publishers give us a demo prior to release?) and reports were good. June 22nd 2001 was world release day except for the USA, who won't get their official release until September 2001.

Going into a firefight

On Friday, 22nd June 2001, I was not about to rush down and buy this, but buy it I did. Iíd tried the demo, and to be honest, I had mixed feelings about the game. First person shooters have never been my cup of tea. Sometimes, I do like a game that makes me think about what IĎm doing. Hidden & Dangerous was the only other notable game of this genre I've had any joy with and I suppose it was with thanks to Hidden & Dangerous that I purchased Operation Flashpoint.


Premise

Itís 1985, the cold war is at its peak, and WWIII could erupt at any moment. You are a member of the U.S army sent into the Malden Islands. You will go by foot, tank and numerous other vehicles and aircraft to fight and save the world from Communist oppressors! Well thatís the story line, on playing the game it felt more like Guerilla Warfare at times, I was even rescued and recruited by the resistance!


Documentation

Before I opened the DVD case (no box), I knew the manual wasnít likely to be very big and I was worried about its content. The content isnít much, it tells you the commands and basic instructions. The text is quite small and almost too small for my eyesight with some of the key commands impossible for me to read. I was annoyed at his, what does it take to enlarge the text a point or two and add a couple of pages?

You also get a handy little key card going under the guise of a ďfield CardĒ; I actually liked this, it helped me for the quick referencing in learning the games basic controls and it folds into a triangle so you can stand it up in front of you. There could have been some more detail with regards to Training, Missions and the Campaign and thereís no instruction at all for the Mission Editor. You have to go to the game's install folder for an HTML Readme document that has some very basic instructions on the editing of missions. Having said all that, Iíll settle for what there is, after all, Iíll get the best instruction & experience on the field, right? I just wish they used larger text.

Install

Installing the game was as most—normal no problems at all. Loading is slow due to the various splash screens, but an adjustment to the target via the shortcut icon makes the game load in seconds (Right-click the desktop icon and add -no splash to the end of the text).


Main Menu



Main Screen

The Main menu has a roaming camera that shows battle-damaged vehicles and a few crosses that mark the graves of soldiers hastily buried on a barren landscape. This does change from time to time. Youíll see youíre name on the top left of the screen, and since I didn't enter this I can only assume the game plucked it from the registry. Click your name and you have the option to select and edit your face and voice (of which you can even adjust the pitch) from a library from within the game.


Options Menu


The Options menulets you set up and tune the video, audio, game controls and the difficulty levels of which thereís Cadet and Veteran. Both of these can be altered individually; for example, I might choose cadet, but may enable or disable individual parts like ID tags. Once you select your Name, the Options, Mission Editor and the set up screen are as in the demo—an open laptop where you just slide the markers to adjust everything. I was delighted to see the option of being able to disable subtitles. Thereís so many games around where this is not an option.

The face edit screen

Misson Builder Menu



I messed around with the Mission Builder, not that Iím any good at building Missions, but this game could get me interested. Thereís scope for all sorts of scenarios. Missions are being built and thereís already World War II and Vietnam mods being built as you read this. Maps are being made for team play too too. Expect a whole load of missions to be available for download from the Operation Flashpoint community (see links below). The developers have already promised extras for July August and September including missions, weapons and more vehicles.

Mission Editor

The Game

Thereís one campaign and eleven missions included. Training is very basic and for some reason itís in the campaign. I donít think youíre missing much though, because if this training were for real the US Army would be in serious trouble! The missions are varied, giving you an option of either stalking your enemy by night, laying satchel charges and blowing up tanks, or going into a daylight skirmish trying to take control of a town. Others include a helicopter mission, a tank commander in control of others soldiers and, as Iíve said, the list is growing with user made missions available for download already.

Debrief Menu Map!

When starting a campaign mission you usually get debriefed at camp then the game goes to what I would call a mission debrief menu map. It gives you a map with a log book on the left with a page for your debrief, your diary, your gear/equipment and a page for your group. Thereís a compass and sometimes a watch if you only have specific amount of time to complete your mission—oh, did I forget to tell you that? As if some missions werenít hard enough, some missions give you a limited amount of time to pull out before your helicopter disappears over the horizon. That said, if you fail to meet the extraction time, thereís sometimes a secondary option.

Out on the field you can call the map, the compass and watch up at any time by way of the mission debrief menu map. If you just want to select the compass or watch individually without the map, you can do so. The map will show you where you are and where you need to go. Double-clicking on the map even gives you the option to write relevant info down on that particular part of the map. One part of this game that Iíve not seen anyone mention is the yellow brackets! If you have Combat Flight Simulator 2 you will know what I mean. Well, those same style of brackets are found here, but not constantly and not as big. They do disappear from time to time.

The campaign, of which Iím on Mission 11, is scripted with cut scenes of either soldiers being given orders or a background story of whatís going on with the campaign. At the beginning, I did feel that the script was a little cheesy, but it certainly did improve. Sometimes thereís general tittle-tattle between soldiers and you just know something is going to happen. Like the time my fellow soldiers and I were given a couple of days R & R. I just knew that wasnít about to happen and well, Iíll not spoil it…let's just say there was no bars and booze where we ended up!

House to house combat

Your mission in each campaign is varied, but you start out as a grunt with promotion available to those who do well. I really like the way things can change in a mission. One moment it looks as though everything is going well, with the enemy pushed back or totally wiped out, then suddenly you hear shells falling all around you, the enemy has back up too! Itís at this moment I thought about what real soldiers must have gone through as shells fell around me, I was feeling very nervous and all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there.

At some points in the campaign you will see a helicopter. Be warned it may not be on your side, this adds to what can be quite a worrying mission. One helpful piece of equipment is a small clock face that appears when combat ensues, this will help you find the enemy when you hear calls on the radio like ďtarget six oíclock!Ē An excellent part of campaign play is the option to either revert to or replay a mission. If, for example, you faired bad at one point within the campaign, you can revert to any positions saved, or you can just replay that mission you like at anytime without adverse affect to the existing campaign.


AI

Watch out for the enemy AI, they can be crack shots and their accuracy will kill you fast. Some may say they are too good, but to have them as poor shots would make the game in my view a little easier than I would like. On being shot they die as you will, sometimes one shot if itís to the head. When you shoot into a group of them most will lie down and start firing back, some will run away!

Iíve found if I lie still in a hedge I usually go unnoticed, but you have to be very careful when deploying this tactic because it doesnít always work! If you do happen to get injured your ability to fight will be affected, leg wounds will slow you down and arm injuries will not help your aim. You can get a medic or field tent or even an ambulance to fix you up so youíre fit to fight again.

Friendly AI will act almost the same, nearly always approaching the target running, but when thereís enemy spotted or gunfire they will lie down very quickly and either fire back or move for cover. Most times they will run in a zigzag fashion too. I like that, it gives added depth. Orders are given via radio and there are a variety of commands to be heard with the talk not being very repetitive.

Key Commands

I found the key commands quite simple to come to grips with. As with most first person shooters, the mouse and arrow keys are the primary controls with the expected set of key functions spread across the keyboard. You can re-map nearly all the keys to where you want. I have a wheel on my mouse and for the Action menu it works a treat. The Action function when activated displays a list of possible tasks you can perform such as climb aboard a tank or change a weapon. It works well and is easy to use.

Weapon View

Using weapons is different. Normal view gives you an aiming aid. With a good eye, you may hit your target but by clicking the In Weapon View you get the view of looking down the barrel. You get a 3D-type view where youíll get a more accurate chance of a kill. The view is good and works well and the gun shakes when being fired. The effect is what Iíd expect from firing a gun. Different weapons will give you different types of sights.

If you are in command of any troops each of your soldiers is assigned to one of the Function Keys (F1-F12). Each soldier can be called up anytime by clicking his assigned F key. You can then give the soldier a task by clicking the number that corresponds to the appropriate command in the displayed menu. This may sound tricky, but once you know your commands and keys it becomes quite easy. From time to time you will see pop-up menus appear on the screen. They are all transparent and I found them quite unobtrusive and didnít interfere with the game view.

Entering a port under attack

Realism

With no joystick control currently supported, using arrow keys to fly helicopters and control vehicles does not give you that special immersive ďfeelingĒ. Driving the vehicles isnít realistic—how can it be without a steering wheel? It is fun though. Please note: I did enjoy controlling them all and joystick support is supposed to be patched shortly.

There are questions over weaponry realism and how many hits of a certain missile it takes to blow up a certain type of armored vehicle. I have no knowledge of weaponry types so Iím not getting involved in this topic, even if I did know Iíd still avoid it!


Graphics and Sound

The graphics on my GeForce MX are great I never saw any problems. Youíll travel across vast countryside with forests and towns that look great. Many buildings will even show signs of battle damage.

The stereo sound works well and lets you know when a vehicle or person is coming from the left or right. The sound will also get louder as the source gets nearer to you. Youíll hear tank tracks from a distance and as they get louder youíll tell very quickly from where they are coming from. Some voices seem a bit synthesized, but only some. There are voices I canít help feeling that they are real. This is how I like to get into a game and try and ďfeel involvedĒ.

As I mentioned above, Iím no weapons expert and Iíve never seen or heard fired at close hand any of the weapons modeled in the game. So judging the realism of weapons is not what Iím going to do. What I will say is that they worked well for me and the explosions made me jump! Gunfire is great except the HK. Is it really meant to sound like typewriter keys?

Ambient sounds are great with birds chirping, trees being felled by tanks, your own footsteps and this bit I loved at first but now Iím not so sure—when you run your begin to hear yourself breath heavier and heavier.


Performance

I wouldnít rate my computer as top spec with the ever-faster CPUís now at 1.7 Mhz, but performance on my machine was great, no problems whatsoever. The recommended specs for the game are not massive and it does not bleed your memory dry. Iíve heard people running the full version on PII 300Mhz CPUís. Albeit with the detail and effects turned down low, but at least it shows how low you can go in the game with regards to CPU power.

APC pick up at dusk

Multi-player

As stated at the beginning Operation Flashpoint was released worldwide on June 22nd with a September release for the USA. This is because Codemasters see a need for a dedicated server for USA gamers. You can play at Kali via Direct IP or Gamespy can host multi-player (MP) as well. I have tried MP on Kali and it works! The word from Kali is that they donít support it yet, but they plan to test it and if it runs well, they will support it in their next upgrade.

You can play Co-op, Capture The Flag, Head-to-Head as well as user-made games. There seems to be no end of what you can play.

Iím seeing complaints from online gamers about all sorts of problems with regards to hosting and joining games online. Iím not sure of what the problems exactly are and what the fix is, but five-hundred players on Gamespy at any given time canít all be having problems.

Thereís in-game voice communications so you donít have to load Rogor Wilco™ or whatever you would normally use. I tried this briefly and although Iíd say it worked for me I didnít try it long enough or in game to say how well it works.

Looking for the camp!

Problems & Bugs?

On reading some of the Operation Flashpoint forums, there seems to be some problems with the game crashing in single player and multi-player, but I do feel a lot of these are hardware issues which can be rectified by updating video and sound drivers or optimizing Windows's memory management. I manage the virtual memory myself. I have had a few problems, nothing major. Some crashes to desktop and an error that said the game was unable to create a 3D device. Both of these where cured by that old standby remedy—the Reboot!

With in-game problems there does seem to be a bug at an early mission where on completion you are sent back to the mission debrief menu map. The only workaround at present is to go through the mission again, not nice on a tough mission. This has happened to me once. Now and again the compass and the watch will get stuck. So the bugs as far as I have experienced are not bad, and a fix is supposedly on the way soon.

As quoted earlier, there may be an issue with the multi-player aspect of the game, Iíve only played a few times so Iím not really qualified to give a response on the issue, but I never crashed out the game.

Thereís one patch thatís been available from day one and thatís for Windows 2000.


Community

There is already a hefty community out there for this game and with sales so far putting this game at the top of the charts in the UK it will only get bigger and with the US release in September; by that time the Net will be a mass of Virtual Grunts. There are already squadrons set up with online wars on the horizon.

The type of games available for playing online as well as custom maps makes this an online treat for the individual as well as any squadron looking to war online. Gamespy is the only recognized server at the moment and itís getting a daily flood of up to and sometimes more than five-hundred players.

When you die!

Final Thoughts & Overall View

I like it a lot. It has been some time since I bought a game and was genuinely enjoying what was happening and not hoping for something to enjoy. There are so many things that happen in the game that make you sit up and take notice, like having tire blowouts or having your windscreen shot out. Or shooting somebody elses tires or windscreen out! Or like the way the voice communications change over the radio. From the confident, ďAlpha to Charlie, you are weapons free, kill them allĒ to the fearful tones of soldiers in panic.

Operation Flashpoint does it for me with the wonderfully expansive terrains, long windy roads, sandy beaches, trees to get lost in (no really I did get lost until I discovered the compass and map!). Even with the forthcoming releases of Medal of Honor, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Hidden & Dangerous 2 expect Operation Flashpoint to hold itís own. It has already built a large fan base that upon release in the USA will get even bigger. The future does indeed look very good Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis.


Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis


Reviewer's System:
  • CPU: PIII 750 @ 850
  • RAM: 224MB PC100 RAM
  • Video: Asus GeForce MX 32MB
  • Sound: Creative SB Live Value
  • DirectX: Direct X 8
  • OS: Windows 98






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