Forget it! Just... Forget it! Pretend Red River never happened and just get on with your lives, my friends...
If you want a video game equivalent of war, I suggest brushing the dust off the old Cold War Crisis, and leaving every OF and ArmA sequel in the trash can where they belong. I seriously tought ArmA was the worst thing that could happen to my favorite battlefield sim, but I guess I owe Bohemia Interactive an apology. Because Operation Flashpoint just reached the new level of disaster. And I'm talking „Kevin Costner's Waterworld" levels here.
Let's start from the beginning... Since the first press release materials for Red River came out, I sincerely hoped it would be a ray of sunshine in the bleak, post-apocalyptic wastelands of video game industry. The first and foremost thing Codemasters bragged about was a realistic, gritty and no-nonesense portrayal of war. Soldiers that don't look like clones, vehicles that look like they've been actually used by someone, believeable story... And sure, it lives up to some of it's promises. I have to hand it to them - Red River is (at least visually) the most realistic, gruesome and believeable portrayal of warfare among video games. This time you travel to Tajikistan to fight the evil terrorists, and later, the Chinese. At last, no fictional „Team America" countries posing as the Middle East! Even tou the story is a complete cliche, and characters have exactly zero personality, it's a nice change.
But to be fair, the only character that actually talks is your badass sergeant. He's a shallow cartoon of a US Marine, but at least I had some funny moments with him. I actually laughed out loud a couple of times while listening to his ranting. So... that's a plus, I guess. It borrows heavily from pop culture icons such as „The Hurt Locker", „Generation Kill" and „Over There", and it's not a bad thing.
Well, it certainly looks more real then the previous one (not that it's much of an accomplishment to top kindergarten colored Dragon Rising as far as grittiness is concerned). It certainly has it's moments, such as when you're driving through countryside with the setting sun on the horizon and grey mountains towering in the distance. Unfortunately, this is where the graphical prowess of Red River ends.
The environments might look good at times, but the buildings, soldiers, enemies, even the freakin' grass looks horrible. Soldiers are murky mess of low-resolution textures with far too few details. Your men look good enough, I give them that. But everyone else in the game looks simply horrible, friend or foe alike. I've seen toy soldiers with more details then this! Everything in this game looks like plastic, and you can't see even one emotion on your squad mates' faces. Observe an abandoned house through your scope and you can actually see the pixels, not to mention it looks like a cardboard box. And I'm talking maximum graphics settings here.
The sound is actually good, voice acting is half-competent and the soundtrack kicks ass, but unfortunately, only during cutsceenes. During the actual game, you will hear the same phrases over and over again, like a broken record, which becomes really annoying, really fast. And apart from the gunshots, there's not much else to hear.
From the first opening sequence in the base, it's clear something went wrong. Your screen is buried under hundreds of waypoints, numbers and letters, effectively killing any sense of realism. Everything is shown here - even the direction of your enemies. I don't think there could be anything that takes me away from the world of Red River more violently then this. Well, except maybe the entire crew of Codemasters gathering around me, screaming „None of it is real! You're playing a video game, dude!". So much for immersiveness... True, some of those HUD elements could be turned off, but not many. Tents and vehicles that look like pieces from my old toy soldiers collection also don't help much. Yes, all vehicles (at least the most visible ones) look different, but unfortunately, they also suffer from murky textures and lack of details.
So, on to the gameplay we go... Again, try to remember everything that was good about Cold War Crisis. Now try to imagine Cold War Crisis WITHOUT all those cool stuff - that's Red River. Or, if you're not an Operation Flashpoint veteran, imagine this... What would you say about a tactical shooter without any tactics at all? Let me explain...
From the very beginning, you are given command of three other soldiers, each with his own unique weapons and loadout. You have a marksman, machine gunner and a grenadier. Typical. You command them via quick command button which opens up a small circular menu. Then you use WSAD keys to choose which orders to give. Very simple and very effective. Thank God, you can customize the controls any way you like, and I find the quick command button on „Mouse 3" the best solution. They actually improved it slightly over the similar command system in Dragon Rising. It's really easy to get used to it, so... Good job, guys!
It would all be great and super if your men actually followed your orders. But they require more babysitting then a retarded baby racoon. The A.I. in this game is not simply horrible, it doesn't even exist. None. So far I found exactly zero trace of intelligence in both your men and enemy soldiers. When not standing in the middle of a gunfight, looking dumb, they regularly run in front of your line of fire, just so you could shoot them. Or cower behind a wall, oblivious to the war around them. They also like to run into an enemy fire quite often, and generally act suicidal. While at the same time being completely useless in killing anything, regardless of my orders.
In Dragon Rising my squad mates were by no means perfect. But at least I could count on them to shoot and kill any enemies I might've missed, and supress an overwhelming force with machine gun fire if needed. And since 90% of the game took place in the wide open outdoors, taking cover and navigating through tight spots wasn't really an issue. It worked, dammit!
Not so in Red River, oh no... Forget about it! I think every one of us that complained about A.I. in Dragon Rising owes those brave men that fought on Skira a big apology. Compared to these idiots in Red River, they're freakin' Navy SEALs!
Sure, you can order your men to lay down supressive fire, or fire at will. Which they promptly ignore, of course. My favorite incident happened during the first mission, when I was defending a convoy from a surprise insurgent attack. I bunkered up in a nearby house, with my men at my back. They quickly took positions near windows, but none of them fired a single shot. I checked to make sure I didn't order them to hold fire by accident, but no...My orders were clear. It turned out they were simply pacifist. I ended up mowing down a couple of waves of insurgents all by myself. Semper fi, a**holes!
But don't worry, your enemies are about as smart as your men. Their tactics are just as deep as „send as many as possible into the meat grinder" and „stand still and wait patiently to get shot". I could understand why poorly trained insurgents might not pose more of a challenge for a highly trained Marine marksmen. But when the awe-inspiring Chinese PLA uses the same tactics, I find it a bit of a hard pill to swallow.
That's right - the whole game is just a bunch of cutsceenes that serve as a pause between shooting galleries. No dynamic campaign, no diversity, no cool missions... Just shooting waves of brainless enemies.
So, now that you know all this, let me ask again - what do you think of such a tactical shooter, my dear reader?
OK, let's be fair - Red River is certainly more realistic then any other shooter available today. Controls are almost great, but unfortunately, you can't lean to peek behind a corner - a serious drawback in a game where every shot counts. Aiming your rifle feels great, and they even added a few tweaks that further help your aim - something that other FPS games should copy. It helps you feel like a badass marksman. Switching your weapons and items is also wonderfully simple, and quick command system actually works great. The game is more linear and more forgiving then Dragon Rising and Cold War Crisis, sure. The missions are much smaller and they don't allow you to explore the map at will, but you still have a lot of freedom. And all your wounds can be magically healed in a few seconds. But hey, not every military-themed game has to be hardcore...
But I don't mind. No, seriously. I don't care if you make it more accessible for wider audience, and turn a battlefield sim into a tactical shooter. I don't even care if you make it shorter, and more linear. Call Of Duty 4 is the shortest game I ever played, and yet among the best FPS games I've ever seen. Tactical shooters, if done properly, can simulate a real battlefield more faithfully then any pretentious „military sim" in the world. At least as far as the video games are concerned. But this is NOT a tactical shooter done properly. So if you want more faithful experience, you could try airsoft...
Anyway. What pisses me off about this game is all the wasted potential. It has great atmosphere, great setting, great controls (well, except for the lack of „lean" option), great command system, and endless possibilities for modding, as well as expansions. I don't even care about the crappy graphics! But I do care about the A.I., tactics and mission design. If everyone on the battlefield is utterly retarded, and every mission consists of „go there and kill stuff", then it's time for me to call bulls***.