Operation Flashpoint: Red River does its best to put you in the boots of a Marine Corps infantry fire team leader in the midst of both counterinsurgency operations and a conventional battlefield, showcasing the intense realism and sweeping environments that the OpFlash series is known for. There are some notable additions for the second game in the series as developed by Codemasters, as well as some notable absences: flashy personalities are in, the drive-any-vehicle mechanic is out. Some of the changes are welcome, some are merely cosmetic, and some are grating.
OpFlash: Red River takes place in the country of Tajikistan, where unspecified “insurgent forces” have taken refuge after being pushed out of Afghanistan. The Marine Corps is tasked with eliminating insurgent factions hiding in the mountains, but the Chinese government soon takes issue with operations near their border, much like China’s intervention during the Korean War, and invades Tajikistan. For me, this happened way too fast. There were only 3-4 insurgent missions, and playing a real tactical counterinsurgency simulator would be pretty fascinating; instead, the game gave me a feeling that they were just trying to hurry this insurgent crap along and get to the good stuff, i.e. fighting waves of Chinese troops.
I won’t lie: that is some pretty good stuff. There are some pretty intense engagements, and OpFlash’s command wheel is efficient, effective, and easy to use. The only issues I really had were when I would give the “secure” or “defend building” command. “Secure” takes just left of forever, while “defend” often finds one of my teammates looking the wrong direction. Both of these are sops to realism (securing a building does take a while, and “defending” is typically a 360-degree business), I feel like there’s a trade-off between realism and enjoying a video game. OpFlash doesn’t cross that line all that often, but I would’ve secured a lot more buildings instead of just solo-assaulting them if securing didn’t take so long. Firefights are universally fun in a realistic way. You won’t be flipping Chinese over your shoulder to stab them in the face, but provides a different type of thrill in struggling to establish fire superiority and coordinate movements onto a target.
There were much fewer buildings to secure when compared to OpFlash: Dragon Rising, Codemasters’ 2009 release. There were a couple missions in OpFlash: DR that had whole villages of buildings that you could interact with and clear. Red River, comparatively, has only certain key buildings that can be entered, let alone cleared. There’s also a reduced amount of interactivity with vehicles. One of my favorite moments in gaming was when former GN staffer Randy Kalista and I were trying to figure out how to fly a helicopter in OpFlash: DR, but you could also always just ambush an enemy patrol, steal their truck, and get to your objective in half the time. Red River only allows you to operate a Hum-vee; even after I sniped a pilot out of his helicopter (another best moment in gaming) and went to steal it, I couldn’t fly it (most disappointing moment in gaming).
Part of that is the move away from a wide-open tactical simulator to a story-driven experience. I couldn’t tell you about a single character from OpFlash: DR, but Red River features Staff Sergeant Knox, who is by turns hilarious and annoyingly repetitive (I hope you enjoy the phrase “ricky-tick”), and the battalion commander, who is the craziest-sounding person I’ve ever heard in my life. If he was my battalion commander, I’d be terrified. I like Knox, even if some of the dialogue is a little over-the-top, and the greater focus on characters if not exactly on story, but I do miss the open-world aspect of the game. OpFlash: DR gave me the option to figure out how best to achieve my objective, be it stealing a helicopter or taking a ridgeline instead of moving through a saddle. Red River does the same thing but scales it down; my options are measured in meters, not kilometers, and missions are confined to, typically, a valley, as opposed to my ability in previous games to have my choice of valleys to move through.
With the smaller scale, I would think the graphics would be somewhat improved from the last game, but they seem about the same. Draw distances are impressive, certainly, and weathered/realistic weapons look nice, but enemy character models are repetitive and uninteresting. “Spec Ops” troops, for example, look exactly like Chinese regulars, just with different weapons. A little visual variation would be nice.
One of Red River’s new features is the “Fireteam Engagement” mode, a tactical “Horde” mode that is probably a blast with human players. The humans I encountered weren’t that much fun, so I mostly played with AI bots, who I positioned once and never had to deal with again other than giving “suppress” orders from time to time. It was still fun, but I can easily see getting a bunch of old Army buddies together and seeing how long we could last. It’s not a game-maker, but if it was a stand-alone piece of DLC or an XBLA game, I’d buy it.
I like what OpFlash is trying to do here. The last Opflash was huge with massive firefights and tactical freedom; this iteration gives most of that up for inconsistent story elements and a more scripted feel, and I don’t really think the trade paid off. There’s a balance to be struck between the story-driven Battlefields and Call of Duty’s of the world and the strategy/tactics focused games like the ArmA series or the original OpFlash. I hope the next installment in the series finds it.