Operation Flashpoint won a devoted following when it hit PCs almost four years ago, thanks to its unique re-creation of Cold War-era hostilities, a lengthy single-player campaign, and engaging online play. Indeed, although the title is relatively ancient by PC game standards, there's still a dedicated fan base working to make mods for the game, and Bohemia Interactive, the game's developer, is hard at work on a follow-up. While it's working on a true sequel to the game, Bohemia is also working on an Xbox port of the original Operation Flashpoint, which was subtitled Cold War Crisis. Although the Xbox version of the game isn't slated to hit store shelves until this fall, we had a chance to sit down with a preview copy of the game recently and came away with these impressions.
The copy of the game we have now seems relatively full-featured in that there are options to edit your personal profile, to enter the single-player campaign, to play single missions, and to enter system link and Xbox Live play, although we didn't explore these too much. (However, it's worth noting that even this far ahead of the game's launch, there's already downloadable content, and XBL scoreboards are up and running.)
We did get a chance to sit down with the first few missions of the single-player campaign and some of the single missions. For those who are unfamiliar with the Operation Flashpoint games, the Cold War Crisis subtitle should be revealing; the game takes place in 1985, just as Gorbachev is about to embark on his policy of perestroika and détente with the United States. A splinter group of Soviet militarists, however, attempt to start a war with the US, and it's your job, as a private in the US Army, to defend the fictional Malden Islands from their invasion. Therefore, you'll be tasked with patrolling areas, rescuing hostages, flying choppers, and, of course, going on foot to kill a whole lot of enemy infantry. In most cases, you'll be surrounded by AI teammates, including an officer, who'll command you to move from checkpoint to checkpoint until you've completed all of your objectives for the mission.
In fact, most of the early missions focus on ground combat, though at the moment the gameplay feels almost too similar to the PC version of the game and will probably be hard to adjust to if you're used to the more free-wheeling movement and aiming of an action-oriented game like Halo 2. Flashpoint is definitely more of a simulation when it comes to its shooting and movement. For instance, since you move around with a rapid military gait, you aren't going to be able to fire or reload while moving. (Technically, you can fire while running, but your accuracy is impaired to the point where you won't hit anything more than a few feet away from you.) What's annoying about this restriction on firing is that it takes you a half-second or so to ready yourself to fire after you stop moving. Hopefully Bohemia will spend some time tweaking the game for the console audience before it hits shelves.
This realistic twist on combat doesn't make too much of a difference when fighting in open fields; you'll generally be able to spot enemies from a good way off, and the game has an extremely generous auto-aim feature that will let you drop Soviet troops while firing from the hip. There's also a medium zoom that will still let you take advantage of the auto-aiming, and a down-the-sights feature that will give you much more accuracy but will prevent you from using the auto-aim feature, which is a nice trade-off. However, fighting in and around buildings can be annoyingly difficult in the current version of the game, especially since you can take only three or four hits before you die, even on the game's standard "recruit" difficulty.
Although your teammates and officers will attempt to give you bearings on enemies, by calling out the type of enemy, their distance, and their location, it can still be difficult to distinguish your enemies from the foliage and bushes that litter the areas around most houses, leading to some unfortunately quick deaths. The lack of a lean ability also contributes to this tendency to be killed; since you have no way of knowing what's behind a corner unless you walk around it, you can sometimes be picked off by enemies when you suddenly come into their view, before you can steady yourself for an accurate shot. You'll want to be very careful when you walk through a town in Operation Flashpoint, or, at the very least, you'll want to let your AI teammates run ahead of you to soak up most of the bullets.
That said, there is a bit of tension and fun to be found in the game due to the ease with which you die. This isn't going to be an easy game by any means, which will obviously appeal to gamers who are looking for a realistic challenge. The game's first few missions do seem to do a good job of throwing a variety of challenges at you, such as when you're forced to overrun a town and kill all of the infantry in it and then immediately retreat when the enemy brings in more tanks, or when you go out to investigate the death of your lieutenant and are forced to deal with waves of infantry that come at you from over a hill, with the sun at their backs, making them difficult to see.
Although graphically the game is still somewhat mundane (see our E3 2005 impressions of the game for more on that), and the close combat needs some loving if it's not going to be overly frustrating, Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis still looks like it might be able to offer fans of military shooters a new kind of experience when it hits the Xbox. Since it incorporates all of the content from the original Cold War Crisis game, and apparently all of the content from the Resistance expansion pack as well, it can at least lay claim to having plenty of gameplay for trigger-happy military sim fans. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more information on the game as it approaches its fall shipping date.