Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Updated Hands-On

We tackle two missions in Codemasters' upcoming realistic shooter, which will include online cooperative play.

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Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
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Operation Flashpoint is a squad-based shooter from Codemasters that's set in a near-future setting amidst a three-way kerfuffle among China, the US, and Russia over an energy source found on the fictional island of Skira, just off the Russian coast. You'll play as leader of a four-person squad of soldiers tasked with carrying out various military goals throughout a campaign that will test your tactical skills, as well as your trigger finger. Codemasters reps dropped by a few weeks ago to show off some areas we'd last seen at E3, but this time, there was a new twist: online cooperative play.

Now, "online" was a bit misleading for our demo purposes; because the Codemasters servers aren't live for the still-in-development game, the demo was played via a system link. However, Codies reps said that the game will support four-player co-op play when it's released. Judging by the game's wide-open spaces and tricky AI, it seems that all four players are going to need to be spot-on when it comes to taking assignments and staying frosty in the field. Though we didn't get a chance to try out cooperative play for ourselves, it does seem like communication will be the key.

In the opening mission, which also serves as the game's tutorial, your squad is sent on a series of objectives--the first of which is to make it up a hill, take out a bunker full of bad guys, and then make your way over the hill to destroy a radar array that's creating havoc for your forces. The open-ended nature of gameplay in Operation Flashpoint means there's multiple ways of completing an objective. There's the direct approach, which is usually foolish considering the game's realistic injury modeling; your team can be wiped out in a matter of seconds after a single bad decision. Rather than running in with muzzles blazing, the best approach might be the considered approach--having plenty of recon on objectives beforehand and using your teammates (be they AI or humans) to their optimum.

With human teammates, issuing orders is simply a matter of voice commands. When controlling the AI, you'll use a radial menu that lets you control everything from fire permission (such as suppress fire, hold fire, or fire at will) to specific offensive and defensive orders. A typical tactic early on in the demo is to send your AI teammates on a flanking maneuver so you can attack a position from two vantage points.

After dispatching the radar in the first demo mission, you'll be tasked with wiping out a village crawling with enemy soldiers. The village is set below the radar position, and the first step is to call in an artillery strike. To do so, you first equip your binoculars and then press the X button to bring up the artillery option--your range goes from mortar attacks all the way up to Howitzer strikes. From that point, it's simply a matter of taking your squad down to the village and taking out any enemies that were left.

The second demo mission in Operation Flashpoint is known as United We Stand and opens on the beach being stormed by American troops and vehicles. Your overarching goal here is to protect your Assault Amphibious Vehicle Personnel, as they make their way from the beach up a massive hill, coming under fire by antitank equipped personnel in the process. After laying down a smoke grenade cover, you and the squad hit a nearby grove of trees.

If you manage to take out the antitank teams, your remaining AAVPs will be crucial in upcoming firefights. From there, it's up the hill to deal with a group of bad guys firing mortars at you and then on to assault another farm that's crawling with enemies. If you've managed to pick up a scoped rifle--by looting bodies, which is also a great way to keep up your ammo supply--you can use it to take down a few enemy soldiers before storming the farm, wiping out the remaining soldiers, and then holding your defenses while PLA reinforcements arrive. Once all the enemies were dead, the demo ended.

A nice thick smokescreen is an ideal way to avoid trouble.
A nice thick smokescreen is an ideal way to avoid trouble.

Operation Flashpoint's realism is its selling point--huge areas to explore, various mission objectives that test your strategic thinking, and enemies that look to be as ruthless as you'd expect. The game will have three difficulty levels to choose from--normal, experienced, and hardcore, with the main difference among the modes being how much information you're given onscreen. For example, at the default normal difficulty, you'll see things like onscreen icons for mission objectives and indicators for team health (which turn yellow, orange, or red depending on each of your squadmate's health). At the hardcore level, however, the onscreen icons are stripped out completely, leaving you to rely on your in-game map (which can be accessed with the back button on the Xbox 360 controller). Interestingly, things like damage and enemy intelligence don't seem to be affected by difficulty level, which means that you'll be in for a tough fight regardless of which level you're playing.

With gameplay that moves from recon and stealth to hectic firefights, there's a lot to experience in Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. The game also looks to be enhanced by playing with like-minded friends online, preferably those who like to work a little military jargon into their daily conversations. Look for more on the game ahead of its release in early October.

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