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The Conflict series is on quite a long run. Developer Pivotal Games issued entries in the series at a rate of nearly one per year during the last generation of consoles, and the latest entry, Conflict: Denied Ops, is the series’ first landing on next-gen platforms. Does it mark a solid transition for the developers or come off as a sour experience?
Tell me if you’ve heard this plot line before: a group of terrorists steal nuclear weapons and threaten the safety of the free world. Does it sound like it’s ripped from the back of an ’80s action VHS box? Well, it also forms the core storyline in Conflict: Denied Ops. You take control of Graves, a sniper, and Lang, a heavy gunner. The former is white, the latter is black; one is for stealth, the other is your basic tank character-slow to move, but hitting hard. Together, these two characters receive intelligence briefings that fill them in on the latest dealings of the evil General Ramirez and his quest to threaten the world with-you guessed it-nuclear weapons. You’ll be doing some heavy globe trekking here-visiting the Arctic, Russia, and parts of Africa in your quest to shoot up as many bad guys as possible and, of course, save the day.
Since the game revolves around the these two main characters-Graves and Lang-it’s a co-op affair from the get-go. Thankfully, switching characters is a painless process that is easy to accomplish with a quick button press. You can also issue orders to the other player, and these boil down to only two: go to a way point, and attack position. The way point command becomes essential throughout the game because if you’re not telling the other character to continually advance with you, he will just sit at the back of the level wondering why he’s missing out on all the action. This leads to you constantly mashing on the button, telling him to advance with you.
Advancing through each level of the game is a straightforward affair: follow the objective arrows to your next target, clear a room of bad guys, and use the action button to activate any switches, doors or computers that you encounter along the way. Once those tasks are accomplished, it’s back to the landing zone where you fight off another group of bad guys and make your narrow escape. At the end of each level, you are treated to a weapon upgrade. These make sure that your firepower keeps in tow with the bad guys you encounter in subsequent levels. In that sense they are necessary, but looked at from another angle they come off as a little ridiculous. For example, Graves receives a double barrel automatic shotgun toward the middle of the game. No, it’s not another explicit weapon he carries. He simply attaches it to his sniper rifle.
The game tries to mix up the level design by inserting the occasional vehicle-such as a tank or hovercraft-but these control so horribly that they might as well not be included in the first place. Trying to pilot the hovercraft during the Arctic level is frustrating as it slides in seemingly every direction. To make matters worse, your partner mans the gun and has abysmal accuracy.
Shooting your way through the game’s levels should be a simple affair, but the game suffers from horrible hit detection. The only kind of hits that register correctly are head shots-one hit sends the enemy to an early grave. Shoot the enemy anywhere else and it takes a significant number of rounds to put them down. Sometimes enemies act as if they haven’t even been shot and seem to shake off the bullets pummeling their body.
Not only are the enemies a nuisance in terms of hit detection, but, in general, the A.I. seems to be running haphazard routines instead of simulating any actual intelligence. The bad guys exhibit one of two habits: running around in circles and firing off a few rounds or standing behind explosive barrels. This game should win an award for “Most explosive barrels in an FPS.” Every level is littered with them and has troops just stationed behind them, waiting to for someone to come by and light up a fire under their feet.
On the graphical front, Conflict: Denied Ops feels like it forgot about the leap forward between this generation of consoles and the last. While the game’s engine is certainly not broken, it does not seem to push the hardware in the slightest. Textures are either bland or have that fake, glossy look, and the character models seem like they are higher resolution versions of ones from past Conflict games. The sound design won’t win any awards here either. The soundtrack is barely recognizable, but in a way you may wish it stood front and center more. Why? Because then it might drown out the horrendous voice acting. Not only is the voice acting just flat-out bad-Lang sounds like a third-rate Ving Rhames-but the dialogue makes sure that if there were voice talent, it wouldn’t shine through. The most you’ll get out of Graves is stories about his rifle and telling Lang to shut up; on Lang’s end, you’ll be bombarded with a stream of expletives and name calling.
With all the bad news on the single player front, you might be wondering if the multiplayer component of Conflict: Denied Ops saves the day. Don’t hold out hope-it doesn’t. You can play through the single player campaign with a friend over the Internet-a true co-op experience-or play through the following multiplayer modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, and conquest. There’s only one underlying problem with these game modes: they simply recycle the levels from the single player component and drop in their respective mode’s set of rules. The are a decent diversion from the single player component, but it really won’t hold your attention for very long.
Conflict: Denied Ops is a lesson in imitation. The goal for any imitator is relatively simple: if you’re going to copy someone or something, make sure you at least meet the pre-established bar; even better, leap over that bar and set a new one of your own. It’s doubtful the developers set out to reinvent the FPS wheel, but in even the basic areas-controls, story, co-op-the experience comes off as subpar.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.2 Graphics
Functional-and that’s about it 3.5 Control
Solid and simple to pick up. However, the shoddy vehicle controls leave much to be desired. 2.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The score barely stands out and the voice acting is third-rate. 2.7 Play Value
The main campaign can be wrapped up in six hours and the multiplayer isn’t enticing enough to warrant additional attention. 2.6 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.