Operation Flashpoint Red River

15 ¶ 360 (also PS3)

It wasnít that long ago that we had Homefront getting all in the face of the Call of Duty series with its slightly different take on war. But if it came to a straight on fight between the pair, there would be no contest with COD winning hands down.

Now trying to get in on some of the lucrative war action is Codemastersí Operation Flashpoint Red River, which is coming at the whole war thing from another slightly different angle.

Itís 2013 Ė which despite sounding like an amazing space year, is only two years away Ė and a civil war in Tajikistan is raging. The US Marines decide to intervene, but this gets the backs up of many a member of the Peopleís Liberation Army (PLA) of neighbouring China. So a clash of military titans begins.

You can choose one of four classes of marine: rifleman, grenadier, scout and automatic rifleman. Then, as part of Bravo team, you are sent into various missions, which will mainly find you shooting at the enemy, or defending a base Ė while shooting at the enemy.

boom reviews - Operation Flashpoint Red River image
I've paintballed all over this land and this has to be the dullest place ever.

This game does away with the flashy Hollywood interpretation of war for a more authentic tone. This means that there are no set pieces set to a heart-pounding orchestral soundtrack. The problem with authenticity though, particularly in a game, is that it can be a very dull experience.

For instance, playing this game you can expect to do a lot of walking. In fact itís a crying shame that your character isnít sponsored for all the walking he does as he would have made a shed load of cash for charity; thatís a real opportunity missed, probably causing the premature death of an elderly person or one or two less blind dogs on the street. After walking for a bit, you have to shoot some foreign types, then go off walking again. The only time you wonít be walking is when youíre likely to be dead, and you will die a lot.

That brings us to another annoyance over authentic war games Ė dying. Codemasters are quite boastful about the fact that if you get shot, you could die immediately, just as could happen to you in real life, if you just so happened to find yourself strolling through Tajikistan in 2013 during a civil war. This wouldnít be too much of a problem if it wasnít for the extreme loading times to get you back into the game. It may only be a minute or two but in gaming terms its years. Sitting in front of a screen with the word ďbufferingĒ on it is not fun. Itís even less fun having to sit in front of it over and over again. Wasnít the whole point about consoles were their quicker loading times? You could load a Spectrum game by tape quicker than it takes to get this game going again.

Then thereís your characterís development. Playing through the game as we did, from beginning to end as a rifleman, our character levelled up to rank 17. There would have been a greater sense of achievement if this actually meant something. It didnít. At no time during the levelling up process were we offered better equipment etc. If itís in the game, itís about as well hidden as a certain Bin Laden Ė well before the Special Ops got him, Ooh-rah!

The Operation Flashpoint games are also supposed to be more tactical. As the leader of your Bravo team you can indeed give them specific orders via the D-pad; to flank left, hold fire etc. The problem is, particularly during the heat of battle, when one bullet can send you into buffering hell, manically pressing down on your D-pad can take your mind of the game at hand. We played through the entire game with only ordering a couple of moves; it seems if you leave your squad to their own devices, they can pretty much look after themselves Ė theyíre well-trained marines after all. For this to really work, Codemasters should have implemented the use of voice commands as well, which was used so effectively in Tom Clancyís EndWar. Without it, making those kinds of decisions on the fly with the D-pad just doesnít work.

The tedium doesnít end there. The cut scenes arenít skipable. This wouldnít be so bad if they all didnít take place on the back of a humvee with a journey that feels like itís taken in all too real time. Itís like being trapped in the back of a car with someone you really donít like with no way of escaping.

Even when you manage to stretch your legs, looking forward to shooting the odd enemy, you have to factor what kind of weapon you have. The best kind is a sniper rifle, but itís not a default weapon. The default weapon is ok for mid-range, but you leave yourself open to return fire. Changing weapons of any kind is a real chore, with you having to rely, more often than not, on using the inferior weapon of your foe. This means that itís more likely to jam when you really donít want it to.

And then thereís the scenery. Itís just all so brown, and khaki is so last season. The only colour to be seen is in the bits of flesh you will occasionally see lying on the ground, which sounds more gruesome than it actually is.

Itís difficult to understand why some developers harp on about games being authentic experiences. If the truth be told, if gamers wanted that authentic an experience weíd all be signing up for active duty. But if this game teaches us anything, itís that a bullet in the head really isnít that much fun.

Its only redeeming feature is in the multiplayer. The fact that you can play through the campaign with up to three others can kind of make up for all its other obvious shortfalls. And with 10-15 hoursí worth of gameplay, thatís a lot of time to improve your team building skills. Or not.

Itís understandable that the more cinematic style of war game isnít everyoneís ration of tea, but it doesnít mean that for a game to be different it has to resort to this level of blandness. Playing through Operation Flashpoint Red River is a truly masochistic experience that may well revise your current way of thinking towards war gaming: when itís portrayed like this, what is it good for? Thatís right, absolutely nothing.

two out of five