Operation Flashpoint: Red River Review

Operation Flashpoint: Red River is Codemasters latest foray into the very crowded military FPS market. The hook of the game is that it is supposed to be a lot more realistic than most other military FPS’s, and in some respects it is. Unlike the last game in the series – Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising – Red River tries to be more action oriented and easier for the casual COD player to get into. While there is more action to be sure as well as enhanced graphics, better voice acting, refined gunplay, and a very sparse leveling up system, the problem is that most of it just isn’t very satisfying.

While the last game forced players to be a lot more strategic than other shooters, Red River’s sad attempts at action set-pieces falls flat, leaving the game devoid of both challenge and fun. Coupled with an inconceivably annoying sergeant that is CONSTANTLY yammering off all manner of insults in your ear the entire time, and you will be begging for the body bag (or your money back) by the first quarter of Red River.

The story of Red River isn’t too hard to follow. The US Marines are sent into a country called Tajikistan to wipe out some insurgents and restore order, similar to the real life battles being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. Things are all well and good at first. Unfortunately, the country is right in the PLA’s (People’s Liberation Army – China) backyard. Things go sour really quick once the Chinese decide they want the land for themselves. The PLA, unlike the insurgents, are well armed, numerous, better trained, and just generally better equipped to push our Marines right out Tajikistan’s door.

It really could have been a decent story, but what little is in Red River is barely enough to keep you trotting toward your next objective marker. It’s bare bones in the truest sense possible. Where other games like Bioshock and Crysis tell their story solely from a first person perspective with supreme efficiency while developing characters and delivering plot twist, Red River fails miserably as almost the entirety of its story is told from the back of a humvee…long, 3 plus minutes, boring-as-the-dirt-they-drive-on humvee rides.

Why are they so bad? Well I’m glad you asked – Your sergent continuously bombards you witha sorry sack of meat dung you are whilst finding increasingly bizarre (and occasionally) amusing ways to say it. Then, he tells you about one of his 10 rules of engagement, regurgitates the same radio transmission you just heard for yourself in a dumbed down way, lays out an attack plan, then reminds you what a miserable incompetent you are, again. Then the stupid would-be cinematic black bars remove themselves from your screen and you regain control over your character again… oh wait, I didn’t mention that you are just a paralyzed from-the-waste-down camera while these happen at the beginning and end of every level? I’m sorry. But its a good thing you can skip….oh wait, sorry, no. You can’t do that either. Ever.

But these story problems are the least of Red River’s laundry list of inadequacies. Though the gunplay and aiming are noticeably improved over Dragon Rising, the weapons just aren’t very exciting to shoot. I don’t know if it is because of the hollow gun sounds, or not enough weapon feedback, I just can’t put my finger on it. But for the life of me, I just never had fun shooting people.

Worsening matters, gone are the strategic elements of the past, so the upgrades to make the squad command wheel easier to use are wasted because full frontal assaults are all that is required for victory. Moreover, is the fact that many of the firefights are more close range this time. On one hand this is kind of neat, as close range firefights are very deadly in Red River because the player can only take about 3 to 5 bullets before kicking the bucket. The aiming is no COD or Battlefield controls though, so it’s literally hit or miss as you scramble to line up your target. The AI, while decent, doesn’t do much more than continuously charge you and play whack-a-mole when it’s not doing that. Simply put, the AI just isn’t very good, and at close range, it really shows more than in Dragon Rising.

Some of my favorites about Dragon Rising was feeling extremely pinned down by my enemy. They would fire, mostly inaccurately from extremely long distances, but so would I – it’s hard enough just to see enemies that are literally the size of dots, let alone hit them. But this gave me a good reason to tell my support gunner to use suppressive fire while I had my sniper flank up to a hilly area and me and the other rifleman advance from the other flank. Now, it simply a straight forward rush or stationary defense against waves of enemies. No thoughtful challenge, no need for real tactics. The most realistic thing about the game is the bullet drop and damage you take.

Rounding out the bulk of Operation Flashpoint: Red River’s upgrades are improved graphics. While the game certainly looks better than its predecessor, even for all its grandiose vistas, things just look far too muddy and flat up-close and nothing holds up well under scrutiny. Clothing and character models look like hi-res last generation soldiers. Guns are plain and lack any sort of textural detail whatsoever (they’re ugly), particle effects are muddy, buildings are hideously textured or extremely plain, vehicles are a joke, and just about everything looks seriously dated save for the mountains in the background (which only look kinda good, not great) but explosions from air-strikes which are quite stunning, even compared to the best in the business. When those things go off gigantic plumes of smoke and dust gush toward the sky hundreds of feet tall. They are like real air-strikes so you don’t want to be anywhere around when they drop.

There are some new additions to this entry, most notedly are the customizable loadouts. They allow players to select a primary and secondary weapon before each mission and attach a solitary mod onto your weapon and a grenade launcher (if using the M4). It also lets you chose some 2 of the various unlockable perks as you level up. Unfortunately this system is highly limited for two reasons; there are only about a 3rd of the amount of weapons as most other military shooters, and what is there are the extreme basics that we see in every FPS ever – an M4, M16, AK-47, RPG, MP5, M80, an M14, a 50 Cal., a pistol, and so on (btw, the SCAR has been removed from this entry). Though the options are limited, it is nice to be able to choose your weapons this time around.

Terribly poor in-combat voice acting from everyone hurts the presentation values quite a bit. Your annoying sergeant levels it. No strategy, no problem – the game is easier and more accessible than ever before, and honestly, it really suffers for it. Even with literally an entire battalion of over a hundred troops, APC’s, and tanks bearing down on mine and two other four-man fire-teams’ positions in three small houses, the action just never got enjoyable. The ideas are all there, but Operation Flashpoint: Red River sinks just before it gets to shore almost every time.

With about a 12 hour campaign, some single-objective based fire-team missions, and no competitive multiplayer (which I approve of) Red River is a seriously hard game to recommend for a full priced buy. Operation Flashpoint: Red River is a fully functional FPS, but unless you are dying for military shooter with 4 player co-op then I say rent or pass on this one altogether.

Review Score: 6/10

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