Without question, squad-based shooters have steadily grown in popularity since the release of the first Rainbow Six game, and that popularity has been fueled by subsequent releases like SWAT 3 and Counter-Strike. Codemasters has decided to jump into the genre with its own squad-based game, Operation Flashpoint, but unlike the aforementioned games, Operation Flashpoint offers more than a few interesting features to distance itself from other games in the genre. Most notably, there is a wide selection of vehicles to choose from that includes jeeps, troop transports, tanks, and helicopters, just to name a few, but the developers at Bohemia Interactive have designed the controls in a simplistic manner that prevents Operation Flashpoint from turning into a complete vehicle simulation. However, Bohemia Interactive does want Operation Flashpoint to be one of the most realistic squad-based games to date, and it shows even in the back story. The game takes place in 1985, when a rebel faction breaks off from the Soviet Union. The United Nations takes action by sending you in with a Special Forces team to eradicate the rebel force and restore stability to the area.
Your first mission in the rebel territory lets you become familiar with the basic controls in Operation Flashpoint, and much of your time is devoted to finding out what different types of actions you can perform. You control the camera--which can be toggled between first-person and third-person perspectives--by moving the mouse around, while basic movement is accomplished using the keyboard. Unlike basic first-person shooters, though, movement isn't restricted to walking and running--you can also crawl on the ground in any direction. Of course, crawling is incredibly helpful when you're engaged in a firefight because you reduce the enemy's ability to get a clear target . In addition, lying on the ground also has a dramatic impact on the accuracy of your weapons. Some weapons, like many of the high-powered machine guns, require you to hit the ground to shoot with any kind of accuracy. It can also be helpful during stealth-style missions, where you'll want to kill your enemy from long distances using as little ammunition as possible, and the only way to accomplish such a task is to aim for the enemy's head, which can be difficult while standing and nearly impossible while running. But crawling also restricts your movement, which means it's possible that the enemy forces can advance and shoot you while you're on the ground.
Becoming familiar with other actions can be crucial to survival in Operation Flashpoint. Many secondary actions are available through a small menu that lets you shoulder or switch between weapons, pick up items like extra ammunition, and enter various vehicles. For example, if you come across the dead body of a solider who was carrying a bazooka, you have the option to pick it up, but you can still hold on to your primary weapon and just place the bazooka on your back. Unfortunately, the same doesn't apply to rifles, so you have to decide whether you want to keep the weapon you have or pick up an AK-47 instead.
There's a surprising amount of variety in the missions in the current build of Operation Flashpoint. The first mission in this build is fairly basic, and there are only a few enemies scattered about, so they don't pose much of a problem. In fact, they can be avoided all together. You start out in a town controlled by enemy forces without a gun and without knowledge of what happened to the rest of your team. However, there's a damaged jeep nearby with a radio you can use to contact other team members and essentially receive your mission objective, which is to find the remaining team members, who are located near the base of some boulders. You can get to the rendezvous point in a number of ways. There's a small jeep located just off the dirt path that you can use to drive to the area, but you have to deal with some enemy soldiers located just behind the jeep. If that sounds like too much of a hassle, it's also possible to walk along the dirt road located just outside of town, where there are only two enemy soldiers who are easily visible and can be dealt with from a distance. It's even possible to bypass the danger areas entirely by going through another nearby town. But for this particular mission, the longer you stay out in the field, the more enemy soldiers there are because a helicopter troop transport is constantly moving new troops into the area after you engage the first group.
After that first mission in rebel territory, you move into scenarios that are a little more complicated, with much more emphasis placed on the team-play aspects of the game. The mission starts you and 11 other team members out in a troop transport, where your group leader is instructing you on the mission objectives. Once you reach the desired destination, the group leader tells everyone to get out of the transport and move to certain points in the area or take up the front or the rear of the group If at any time during the mission the group leader is killed, then the next highest-ranking soldier takes command of the group and issues orders accordingly. Unfortunately, in these first few missions, your rank is so low that eight other soldiers need to be shot and killed before you can take over, but as you progress through the game, your rank increases and you eventually become the group leader by default.
These two missions seem rather basic, but the later missions offer much more variety. For example, in one mission, you have to attack an enemy convoy in a helicopter, but that's easier said than done, as it takes some time to become familiar with the control of the helicopter and the targeting and firing systems--mostly because every action seems to be delayed by at least four or five seconds. To make the situation even more complicated, when you start firing on the convoy, the trucks and other vehicles begin to spread out, forcing you track down each vehicle individually.
The helicopter mission gives you a glimpse of how quickly the gameplay in Operation Flashpoint can change from a squad-based shooter into a deliberately simplistic simulation, but there are times when you need to use a combination of vehicles and regular combat skills in a mission. One such mission is the second night mission, where you're placed in a dark forest just outside of an enemy base with a single weapon and three pipe bombs. Your only objective is to destroy three tanks located in the base. There are a few ways you can go about completing this task. You could sneak in through the front gate, wrap your way around the barracks, move toward the tanks, plant the pipe bombs, sneak back out, and then detonate the bombs from a safe distance--but there's another way that's a little easier but requires some quick timing.
Instead of going through the front gate, you can plant one of the pipe bombs on the back wall of the building where the tanks are located, but you have an eye open for enemy soldiers as they patrol the rear area of the base. After you plant the bombs, you can run off to a safe distance, detonate them, and return to the enemy base. As you get closer to the target area, the base alarm is clearly audible and you can see enemy troops scrambling around the area. If you time your entry into the base just right, you can jump into one of the tanks and begin firing on the other two tanks as well as enemy soldiers. You have to be a little careful, because while you're in control of the gunner position in the tank, an enemy soldier can jump in with you, take control of the command position, and move the tank in any direction he wants--you can still fire tank's main gun, but you have no control over the tank itself. If all goes as planned, you can destroy the two tanks and most of the enemy soldiers, jump out of your tank, plant two pipe bombs on it, and run to safety. If any enemy soldier manage to get away or you take too much time, enemy helicopters come into the area and start bombarding your position.
Another nighttime mission can be handled using an equal number of different strategies, though again, it removes the element of squad gameplay and instead makes you rely solely on your own skill. You start off by parachuting into an area, and once you successfully land, you quickly notice that there isn't much around you except for a road. Occasionally, you see vehicles going up and down the road, and if you have enough skill, you can theoretically stop one of the vehicles and attempt to get in it by drawing the enemy soldiers out and killing them. There are also assault vehicles traveling up and down the road, but you can be deal with them quickly by placing pipe bombs on the road and detonating them as the assault vehicles travel by.
There are a few missions where you leave your team members, but Operation Flashpoint's gameplay is still largely focused on team-play aspects. The single-man missions give you an opportunity to increase your skill, and hopefully your rank, so that when you arrive at later team missions, you can command the team. But becoming the group leader may not be the best option for some because it's actually incredibly difficult to command effectively at first. Using your other team members wisely can save you from encountering too many problems. When you're in a city, there are so many different places from which enemies can fire at you that it's absolutely necessary to instruct other team members to take up positions where they can cover you. The same applies to open areas as well--if you just run out into the middle of an open field, chances are you're going to be killed in under a minute. But if you're slow and methodical about moving through such an area by making sure all enemies have been taken care of, then your chances for survival are obviously much higher.
Using vehicles wisely can also vastly improve your chances for survival. Like in the aforementioned tank mission, using the tank protects you both from regular enemy fire and aerial bombardments--at least for a short period of time--giving you an opportunity to inflict some heavy damage and making it safer to complete the mission objectives. In addition, in the helicopter mission, you can just as easily set the helicopter down near the convoy, shoot out the tires on the trucks in the convoy, and then get back into your helicopter and finish the rest of the convoy off with the helicopter's missiles. Operation Flashpoint offers plenty of variety in its missions, and the fact that you can complete mission objectives in a number of different ways makes the game even more interesting.
Fans craving another realistic squad-based shooter won't be disappointed either. The jumping and shooting combination prevalent in so many other shooters is nonexistent in Operation Flashpoint because it's impossible to jump. Even the most basic movements can drastically affect the accuracy of your weapon--fire an AK-47 while running and you'll be lucky to even hit the ground. Weapons that have strong kickback, like machine guns, are really only accurate when you fire them while you're lying on the ground. In addition, the heavier the weapon you're carrying is, the slower you become, so in other words, you don't want to be holding a bazooka while engaged in a short-range firefight. From the chirping of birds in the surrounding trees to your own heavy breathing after a long run, even the smallest of details plays a large role in fully immersing you in the gameworld.
Bohemia Interactive still needs to adjust some aspects of the game, but they have already made tremendous leaps in past few months. The robotic "Speak & Spell" voice in an early build has been replaced with real voice-overs. Character models are much more detailed, and the odd texturing effect that warped the soldiers' faces seems to have been corrected. Numerous enhancements have also been made to the landscape to prevent objects from popping up on the horizon, but there are still some visible problems with buildings and other secondary objects like trees and bushes. In any case, Bohemia Interactive still has time to fix these problems before Operation Flashpoint's release in May.