Sunday, October 11, 2009

Operation Flashpoint Dragon Rising for PC: Confessions of a Hardcore Tactical Gamer

As predicted, Operation Flashpoint Dragon Rising (OFPDR) fell like a 125 mm artillery shell on the diverse community of first person shooter fans. The comparisons with ArmA2 are unavoidable. But you will find all type of questions out there: More like Call of Duty? Comparable to the original Operation Flashpoint? It will take some time for the dust to settle down and on the meantime stupidity is at full blossom everywhere with arguments and counter-arguments about realism, mission and campaign structure, graphics and else. Now the console gamers are in the mix (doh!), so grab a chair if you are going to wait for the air to clear. Or grab a copy of the game if you don't feel like waiting, as I did.

My dear readers, the only two skills I can offer you are skepticism and pessimism. I'm a professional at both (sad thing that being a scientist made me like that). So, when I installed OFPDR, all I wanted this game to fail me early on so I could get done with it. I have a pile of other sims and games to deal with (I didn't manage to get ArmA2 to run decently in my computer yet, for example). So, I opened the game's box and found the DVD and a game manual that is 24 pages long (what the hell? my daughter's ponies console game has a bigger manual!) and (oh my!) a code to unlock an exclusive mission. Unlockeable content, what am I, 13?

Installation of the game was like any other. For the DRM-wary: be advised, the game uses Securom. Clicked here and there and while the files were installed in my hard drive, I read the manual. Cover to cover reading thanks to a short manual, a low-end computer and a damn good speedy reader. While reading I looked for those things that tell me right away that the game is not going to be worth, like the writer confusing squads for fire teams. No luck on that, they got it right! They even mention that you will be in command of squads and fireteams ... but anyway, it's a short manual and the chances of effing up are low.

Installation complete.
Crank it up, boy! I still have to re-carpet my house's stairs, so let's make it quick.

Woooosh! That's it? Aren't you gonna take more time to load the interface, old computer? Ey look, my mouse is moving smoothly and without lag in the user interface, what a concept!
I select the first mission and off course is like the only mission I dared to play in ArmA2, a cheesy, unrealistic "4 men against the world" type of thing. OK, get me to play the mission already.

Woooosh! That's it? Aren't you gonna take more time to load the mission, old computer? Ey look, my mouse is moving smoothly and I can aim in a first person shooter game, what a concept! Is that tall grass? Are you kidding me? My computer is smoothly rendering tall grass ... and trees? How could it be? The guys at the forum told me I needed to upgrade my PC to get those things.

Do you guys mind if I stay a bit more here in the grass? Click on the image to expand it.

Everything is so smooth, I'm shooting and hitting targets. I can't see the enemy but I know where they are shooting me from. I'm aware of the battlefield, the terrain and the enemy. Not a "radar" type of awareness but rather of the "immersion" type. I feel a liberation comparable to the one I feel when I take my allergy medication. Intoxicating. The chords of Disturbed's "Indestructible" start to ring in my head. What's going on? I'm sorta disappointed that I'm not already disappointed with OFPDR (I told ya I was a professional pessimist).

Ok, stop the nonsense. I bought this game to rip it appart on its lack of tactical value. Focus.

I'm going uphill and there is an enemy position on the top of the hill. I brought up my light machine gunner and ordered him to lay suppressive fire. All others follow me! A few painless keystrokes and you get your people to do stuff and go places. Very precise and easy to use command system. The machine gunner was firing so good that I felt as safe as if a tank would be covering my back. The enemy ducked for cover and stayed put until we got him from the flank. Whoah! Suppression works like suppression. People doesn't like to get shot at.

ARs supressing an empty treeline, just because I said so. Click the image to expand.

And then the mission continued, showing up ugly stuff like checkpoints and a fire support that is as instantaneous and precise as rays delivered from a powerful god. All right, no surprises here. People always need their Hollywood stunts and that story-telling so germane to the dull real life military operations. Even those who think themselves as "realism policemen" in tactical gaming communities need it. But no way I'm going to play the campaign of this game. Thanks, but no thanks.

I knew the OFPDR 's campaign wouldn't cut it for me. ArmA2's one didn't either. So I launched the mission editor to see what I could put up for testing. OFPDR's mission editor is an independent program that runs as a Windows application. It takes a couple of minutes to get used to it, but in the end is easy to use. It also appears like a powerful and versatile application. A thing I miss from the original Operation Flashpoint's mission editor that apparently is not present in the Dragon Rising one: the placement radius for units and waypoints. It was nice for adding some unpredictability. But maybe some coding in the "lua scripting" tab will do.

OFPDR's mission editor.

A thing that I was trying to blog about is the command of Marine squads. So, I edited an scenario in which I am commanding a Marine Rifle Squad. The command structure is OFPDR is quite detailed and allows some shuffling of units. In the screen below, I modified a squad so I could have more control of my ARs.

A normal Marine squad is shown at the top of the map. A custom-modified one with the ARs in control of the squad leader is shown below. Click the image to expand it.

Clicking a button in the editor will launch the scenario for an immediate test. In the quick scenario I edited, a Marine rifle squad was defending against an attacking Chinese airborne squad. It was a long and satisfying firefight, with the enemy trying to flank us repeatedly and finally giving up and fleeing.

I was killed and could get this perspective of the firefight. Click on the image to enlarge.

So, what's the verdict? I don't know for sure. So far it feels like this "game" has more legs as a "sim" than many out there want to accept. For me, it's a keeper.



PvTGrunt said...

ofpDr was the biggest disappointment ever. ARMAII chews this "game" in one bite and spit it out.(even when it comes to graphics, could anyone believe that?!) This "game" is not needed at all, its like Hawx when it comes to flightsims. ArmaII is the Falcon 4 in the first person infantry sim genre.

JC said...

Ey PvTGrunt,

Thanks for you comment and for dropping by.

I've seen the video. LOL. Thanks. The enemy shooting accuracy depends a lot in the experience level set in the editor. I have no problem getting hit when they are set to "elite" and "veteran".

Good luck,