Operation Flashpoint: Red River Review (PC)

Simulation. It seems to be a bit of a sticky subject for the guys over at Codemasters (for reasons I can guess but won't go into here) and it was a word that apparently was banned from the development. Still, it seemed to creep in just enough so that we have to walk everywhere... Well, nearly everywhere. Operation Flashpoint: Red River is the latest game in the Operation Flashpoint series, and if you haven't gathered this already it is a very different breed of FPS.

You're a lot more mobile in this game, as you're usually transported everywhere
Key themes in this game are immersion and realism, but tempered by Codemasters' desire to also provide fun and meaningful gameplay experiences - so no Hollywood-style set pieces, no taking on the world, just normal, plausible action. Out goes the fictional island of Skira, and in comes the very real Islamic Republic of Tajikistan. Out goes the PLA, and in comes the desert rebels... and the PLA. In Red River's setting, this country is gripped once again by civil war and an American task force is sent in to help quell the situation. China, however, gets suspicious and asks the Americans to leave, but when they refuse shit gets real and you're fighting a war on two fronts.

There's really only two modes to Red River - Campaign and Fire Team Engagements. The campaign has you control one fire-team of a three fire-team US Marine squad commanded by a Staff Sergeant Knox, who is kind of as grating as he is supposedly authentic. Lots of slang, swearing and macho obnoxiousness, but to be honest without him the game would be as stale as dried bread since you as the player have no discernable personality. To its credit though, the missions are ranged and varied, and involve a nice diverse range of set-ups as the US Marine Corps toils away in Tajikistan.

Quick quip about walking everywhere aside, the pacing of the campaign is greatly improved. The action is more regular, you're usually transported most places (Although there are sections when you have to walk, just not really as far), and yet there is still very much that tactical 'approach how you want feel' to things. The only criticism we can really lay on is that the engine seems to be showing its age. It's better, and there are moments where you look at a vista, with the red-tinted sunset and think "wow"... and then you look down and see the glossy, muddy surface of an improperly rendered ground. It has its moments, but there are certainly better looking games out there.
Remember to watch those corners. Damage is more realistic to the point where you could die in one hit...
The other half of the game involves a mode called 'Fire-team Engagements'. Simply put, these take four common scenarios from the main campaign, create some mechanics for them, and then make them available for you to do. Last Stand is a hoard-like mode where you have to hold back wave after wave of enemies, CSAR is a search and rescue scenario, Rolling Thunder has you protecting a convey as it travels from one end of the map to another, and Combat Sweep simply has you going from place to place and taking out everyone you find.

These mini-scenarios are very focused, and actually very fun. Some are more fun than others - combat sweep missions are very short and un-inspiring, despite being full of raw shootyness, and yet Last Stand has that very epic, very desperate, "Hold the Line!" feel to it that makes it the best mode out of the lot. Fire Team Engagements is definitely the best mode in the game, although that statement will be clarified in a second. It's a shame that (at time of writing) there are only two available maps per mode. We imagine that's where we're going to see some DLC, but two per mode seems a little thin on the ground so we're a little disappointed there.

The game's director Sion Lenton once said that Red River was "being built around four player co-op online play", and this much certainly is true. (He also said that it would "deliver gameplay that immerses players in the reality of war like never before" and a "strong narrative", which is debateable.) The co-operative AI, whilst improved, is still a little dim, and to be honest once you've played through a campaign mission or an FTE with three brothers in arms, you never really want to go back. And it doesn't really work in half measures either - having one, even two friends is good, but not as good as four. Thankfully, there's also in-built matchmaking so you can team up with randoms.

Apart from the game modes, the backbone of the core player experience revolves around a COD/BF-style unlock experience. No matter what you're doing, you can choose to play any given mission as one of four classes - Rifleman, Grenadier, Scout and Auto-Rifleman. Each class has a level associated with it, and you get experience for completing missions, the better you perform (there are ratings of bronze, silver and gold for everything), the more experience you get and the faster you level up. The more you level up, the more unlocks you get. There's not a huge variety, and each class has their own 'tree' if you will of unlocks.
Without the right equipment, night-time battles are actually REALLY challening...

Overall, we've played worse games. I know, cop-out right? But in all honesty Red River tries to fill in a niche somewhere between the fast-paced action of COD/BF, and the hyper-realism of ArmA. We think it's better than Dragon Rising, and the fact they've taken the "less is more" approach and focused on a couple of key features has been to their credit. It's got some good moments in it, but playing with friends is key and we question the longevity of this title, so the post-release DLC better be good and regular. Worth checking out, but maybe try and get it cheap if you're counting the pennies.

Top Game Moment: The Last Stand FTE mode. Getting through that is quite a rewarding experience.