Look away you weekend warriors, as Flashpoint is back! With a strong emphasis on realism over run and gun, authenticity over auto-aim and sophistication over spray and pray, Operation Flashpoint: Red River takes the now ubiquitous Middle Eastern modern warfare setting into much deeper tactical terrain. It's a refreshing antidote to the arcadey, all-action Call of Duty franchise but it's also not without its flaws. The question is, when it comes to enjoyment, can Flashpoint's slow burn of intensity match the rapid-fire of its less realistic peers?
Set in a fiction conflict, the plot sees players enlisted as a member of a four man US Marine Corps Fireteam tasked with combating insurgents (the natives) in the very real Tajikistan. Led by profanity spewing, all-American Sgt. Knox through three distinct acts, players experience all manner of realistic combat scenarios across mountainous vistas and sun-blasted outcrops. It's routine flank and fire stuff at first but things really heat up when the Chinese military get involved later in the game. The story on the whole is a pretty standard affair full of crude biased attempts at narrative and clumsy characterisation. Thankfully the real story is told through the gameplay itself, which does a great job of capturing the pace and tension of warfare in the Middle East purely in its playing, and without relying on ineffectual or gimmicky dialogue.
A far cry from the sugar rush adrenaline fests of other modern shooters, Operation Flashpoint: Red River's missions are much longer drawn out affairs that frequently involve only a handful of gun battles. Players can choose to be one of four classes (rifleman, grenadier, scout and auto-rifleman) and it is immediately clear that success lies in balancing the strengths and weaknesses of the individual members of your squad. Sticking with a realistic depiction means that the set pieces that litter other games are pretty much absent, so no exploding helicopters or death defying leaps from collapsing buildings. Instead there are slow slogs through enemy territory and careful tactical manoeuvres. The slower pace of gaming will certainly divide opinion however, fluctuating as it does between 'gritty' and 'boring' depending on how you view it. The fire fights themselves also reward careful play and require both decisive control of your squad as well as personal accuracy to make it through them. Players who adopt a gung-ho attitude will quickly be switching their consoles off in frustration after being killed for the umpteenth time by unseen assailants.
Issuing orders to squad members is accomplished via an easy to use command wheel (brought up by the right shoulder button) and it is a pretty intuitive process, even if suspect AI sometimes creates some pretty bizarre behaviour in your teammates. However these incidents are rare, rarer still if you give good orders in the first place and it is a satisfying feeling when a plan comes together flawlessly thanks to your own tactical mastery of the battlefield.
The campaign is lengthy and challenging, blighted only by occasional AI glitches and some lengthy segments where not much happens. Both these problems are overcome in the quite sublime 4-player co-op mode. The often punishing realism and need for tactics becomes even more apparent and demands greater communication between team mates to get the most out of the experience. It really does require a headset to play well so unless you don't mind chatting to strangers, I'd say that it's best played with a group of likeminded friends. The absence of a competitive multiplayer is a strange choice in today's market but is understandable when considering that Codemasters are trying to create an alternative to the big hitters dominating the sales charts and with which any team deathmatch mode would inevitable be compared with.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River is not a glamorous game, not in its visuals or its gameplay, but under its rough surface is a solid heart that is faithful to its subject matter. Although marred by occasional AI glitches and some annoying dialogue, meaning that it is in no way a perfect game, the attention to authenticity over glitz and the long-haul over the quick fix means that Red River has succeeded in delivering a decent alternative modern shooter experience. It's penchant for rewarding quick thinking as much as quick reflexes makes it ideally suited to those who have tired of Call of Duty's sugar rush and want to sink their teeth into something a bit meatier.
7.5 out of 10
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