War is Hell!
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a tactical battle simulator for both the PC and home consoles. While the game is essentially identical across all platforms, the console versions suffer, as they feature a lower level of polish, unintuitive controls, and less expansive multiplayer. Regardless of system you choose to play the game on, however, you’ll have an enjoyable time with this challenging title. Of course, that statement assumes you’re a glutton for punishment and have the patience of a saint.
OFP: Dragon Rising is not for the run and gun Call of Duty crowd, gameplay is slow and deliberate, concentrating wholly on the strategic, tactical side of combat. As a result, gameplay doesn’t feel tailored to consoles. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a unique experience for your console that will test your mettle in ways few if any other console offerings do, Dragon Rising might just be the game you’ve been missing. If you think you have the requisite hardcore gaming chops, you won’t be disappointed by the challenge this open-world combat simulator has to offer.
Dragon Rising takes place on one island in the northern Pacific. For centuries the sovereignty of the island of Skira has been disputed. The first colonists of the rock were the Chinese in the 15th century. Soon thereafter the Japanese gained a foothold on the island, as did the Russians a bit later. After the downfall of Imperial China in the 19th century, Chinese claims to the island gave way to those of Japan and Russia. The island eventually became a focal point for hostilities in the Russo-Japanese war at the onset of the 20th century. Subsequently, the Japanese took complete control of the island until the end of WWII, when the Soviet Union forced the expulsion of all of its Japanese inhabitants. The Soviets then found a vast amount of crude oil beneath the island’s surface.
Unable to extract the resource due to Cold War strains, the fall of the Soviet Union and rise of the Russian Federation instigated an unprecedented wave of interest and investment into Skira. As Western funds and corporations flocked to the rock to extract the oil, the Chinese once again laid claim to the island after a lightning strike campaign that wrested control away from Russia and the private interests in order to fuel the parched Chinese Armed Forces led by a new, ultra-nationalist leader – General Zheng. This new threat to the region is known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and it is up to a crack incursion force of U.S. Marines based in Japan to take back the island in order to cut off all oil supplies to the PLA, effectively stopping its ability to mobilize and diffusing tensions in the region.
This background is given to you in about 30 seconds at the onset of the game in a rather smart montage. The complexity and plausibility of the plot setting helps fuel the 11 missions you’ll undertake in the game’s main campaign, but don’t expect between-mission cutscenes to further flesh out the scenario, as there aren’t any. In Dragon Rising, you’re a soldier in charge of a four-man squad. You receive tidbits of information from your company commander on a need to know basis that are related strictly to the objectives and mission at hand. As such, don’t expect a cinematic, larger-than-life shooter experience. You are but a skillful pawn in a larger campaign. Accordingly, you’ll have to fight smart by using your training in combat tactics to lead your AI squad to victory.
Because Dragon Rising puts such an emphasis on tactics, you’re going to die… a lot! Players used to absorbing bullets on their way to cover and generally going balls to the wall to get the job done will find their progress halted by the death-screen every few seconds. A well-placed bullet to your dome-piece will kill you. If you get hit in the leg, you’ll have to dress the wound before you bleed out. Even after stemming the blood flow, you’ll have trouble sprinting to your next objective. As a result, before sticking your head out in the open, you’ll have to check your six and intently listen to the radio chatter being offered by your squad-mates.
Adding fuel to the fire, you’ll have to guide those three other soldiers through battle, and they are every bit as vulnerable as you. Thankfully, you can tackle objectives any way you see fit by using the open-world to your advantage – getting to cover, using vehicles, skirting enemy emplacements, etc. Issuing your squad commands will help you to get them into strategic positions and perform tactically-sound actions. You’ll be able to tell them to flank a key emplacement, stay back and defend your position, lay down suppressing fire to expedite your advance, etc. Truly, the tactical options are nearly limitless, allowing you to control the immediate battlefield like a professional soldier.
While this works without a hitch on PC, issuing these commands via radial menus on the PS3 and Xbox 360 is not particularly efficient. It can be very trying to put together a strategy when you’re several layers into a radial menu just to input the wrong command and have to start over. Furthermore, the battlefield is constantly evolving around you, issuing commands quickly enough to your squad is often impossible. Moreover, menus are not limited to commands, just selecting between your weapon load-out, grenades, field dressing, binoculars, combat knife, etc. is all done through one held button input and then you’ll have to select the desired option with the analog stick.
Though you’ll eventually get the hang of all this and become proficient, the learning curve is very steep. In fact, the attention to detail that makes the game so realistic will likely be a point of consternation for most console players. All of this micromanaging and handholding just isn’t implemented very well. There’s a reason this kind of game thrives on PC and struggles to succeed on consoles.
OFP: Dragon Rising isn’t the most visually impressive game you’ve ever played, but it is generally appealing to the eye. The open-world environments, especially, are nicely detailed and very realistic. On the downside, lots of glitches are present throughout the game. Squad-mates hump the grass whilst prone, convulsing their way to a firing position. Console freezing issues are rife – this isn’t so bad on Normal difficulty when there are plenty of checkpoint saves, but on Hardcore you’ll have to start all over if you freeze up. Also, explosions and animations are not particularly well done – the force and splendor of explosives doesn’t come through, and many actions are either poorly rendered or void of any animation at all.
The sounds in the game are very good if not outstanding. Ambient sound effects, weapon rapport, and radio chatter all add nicely to the realism. So too does the lack of in-level music. While in menus, the dark and brooding Tibetan throat singing and Asian instrumentals provide for a quality aural backdrop.
In addition to the single-player campaign, you can also head online for cooperative and competitive play. The console versions allow you to play with friends through completed campaign chapters or even through the entire campaign – this goes a long way toward resolving many of the micromanagement issues that crop up in single-player. Disappointingly, competitive matches are designed for up to eight players, unlike the PC’s 32 player limit. This is significant, as the über-realistic objective- and deathmatch-based games are dumbed down considerably, providing PS3 and Xbox 360 gamers with a multiplayer component that is much less compelling than what is found on PC. Regardless, players that find the campaign to be excellent will surely enjoy the online game modes.
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is not a game for everyone. Its high degree of challenge and tactical gameplay is for well-versed, patient, hardcore players. More casual players, even Modern Warfare junkies, need not apply unless you understand that the realistic experience offered in this title is entirely different than what you’re used to. It’s important to note that this game is tailored for the PC and not perfectly adapted for consoles. Consequently, you’ll find yourself struggling with not only the controls, but also your mindset. However, if you can handle the often plodding pace and have the determination to get through initial frustrations, there is a quality battle simulator here to be explored and enjoyed.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The environments look great, but this certainly not a visual masterpiece. Frequent glitches mar the visual experience. 3.2 Control
Controls are competent but by no means ideal. The translation from PC to console didn’t work out particularly well. It is often trying constantly directing and micromanaging your squad. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The ambient sound effects capture battles nicely, and the main menu theme sets the tone. 4.0 Play Value
The stiff challenge of the single-player campaign and the quality, if not perfect, multiplayer component will keep skilled, patient gamers playing for hours. Unfortunately, this experience simply isn’t tailored for home consoles. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.