Operation Flashpoint: Red River Preview

We strap on our boots, defend some turf, and decide when it's time to bug out in our hands-on preview of Operation Flashpoint: Red River.

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While 2009's Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising was praised for its realism and tension on the battlefield, the game's AI floundered when it came time to pull the trigger. Learning from its mistakes, series developer Codemasters has taken things back to the drawing board, pushing aside the idea of creating military simulators and fixing its gunsights on making realistic, but still accessible, squad-based shooters.

For those of you who haven't been following the game through its development, the title is set two years in the future in a fictional conflict taking place in Tajikistan. During the demo, our guides pointed out that while the scene is set in a real location, the team deliberately avoided tapping any current, real-world conflicts, learning some healthy lessons from the controversy surrounding the recent Medal of Honor reboot.

There's no room for a lone wolf in a four-man squad.

Red River has been built from the ground up with teamwork in mind, by putting you in the mindset of the soldiers the game attempts to emulate. Whether you're playing offline in single-player mode with an AI squad, via system link with friends, or online, you play the part of one member of a four-man team. Four classes are available--rifleman, scout, grenadier, and auto rifleman--and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Riflemen act as the generic soldier, capable of holding their own in most circumstances; scouts keep their hands clean, working best at long ranges and using high-powered rifles to pick off enemies; grenadiers are bulky soldiers who tend to favour heavy weapons; and auto riflemen play a support role, frequently providing covering fire while other members of the squad scramble to better locations to gain a tactical advantage on the battlefield.

Completing missions rewards you and your team with gold, silver, and bronze medals depending on your deftness at objectives. As the old adage goes, there's no "I" in team, but your squad can stay alive and respawn as long as one soldier remains alive. Military shooter buffs after a greater challenge can take on Hardcore mode, where each life hangs in the balance, with any friendly player killed in action requiring you to restart a mission from scratch.

Rather than force each player to accept a role and stick with it, Red River lets you mix and match class dynamics and gear to suit your play style. A wide variety of weapon proficiencies to conquer and guns to fire means that you shouldn't ever feel tied to a single gear loadout. Also, as you play through the campaign, experience points earned taking down bad guys can be spent on more deadly tools of the trade. These include more advanced weapon scopes (anyone for thermal?) and perks that improve your reload speed, as well as shot accuracy.

We had a chance to check out two different game modes during our play. The first was a four-player cooperative mission, where we needed to escort a Humvee convoy to the nearby Nurek dam to protect key infrastructure from damage. The other was the game's Last Stand mode in the Fireteam Engagement stand-alone missions, where our job was to defend our hilltop location against increasingly larger groups of armed attackers.

Our co-op mission, The Human Terrain, revolved around moving to and securing marked points as they were called by our squad's commander. As we dodged in and out of small towns, ducked behind low-standing walls, and ran across unsealed roads, we faced a mixture of snipers and militia. While most combat situations begin when shots are fired, at one point we were given notice about an approaching suspicious vehicle. The preparation time gave us a chance to discuss the most suitable strategy and form a defensive line. As the truck came tearing through the dirt, we were able to shoot the driver before finishing off the remaining occupants.

Bet you a pack of smokes you can't shoot that leftover meat in the mess hall from here.

As anyone who has seen TV shows like Generation Kill or modern war documentaries will tell you, music is a big part of battle. Drawing on the above influences, Red River includes a licensed metal soundtrack with artists including Drowning Pool, Pantera, and Megadeth. The game wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and the crude but brotherly banter that goes on between the members of the squad further rams home the camaraderie of the unit.

Last Stand mode is part of the Fireteam Engagement portion of the game and serves as missions built solely for play outside of the campaign. The directive is to survive as long as possible against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Targets spawned on only one side of the mountain outpost we were defending, so with the exception of restocking ammunition between rounds, there was no need for us to fight on more than one front. Scouts were particularly useful to take down bad dudes as they dropped in by air, giving us the chance to pick them off before they could take up a fortified position. The big selling point of Last Stand is that you can bug out anytime you feel the battle has turned bad by calling for an evacuation. However, you need to survive and get to an extraction point to do so, adding strategy to knowing when to pull the pin and go.

Wannabe trench warriors don't need to wait much longer, with Operation Flashpoint: Red River firing its first salvo when it hits shelves for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on April 21 in Australia. Want to see more? Be sure to check out this week's episode of Crosshairs for our video interview with the development team.

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