If playing Operation Flashpoint: Elite for the Xbox feels like a time warp, that's because it really is like hopping into the way-back machine and setting it for four years ago. And four years in terms of first-person shooters is an eternity. While the game helped pioneer vehicle-based first-person shooters as we know them today, Operation Flashpoint: Elite is almost a straight port of the original 2001 PC game, complete with a now-ugly graphics engine and sound effects that are completely primitive by today's standards. The game simply hasn't held up over time.
Operation Flashpoint: Elite ships with two different campaigns--the one included in the original game, Cold War Crisis, and also a later expansion pack, called Resistance. This is a ton of content that includes dozens of missions that put you in the role of an American soldier fighting against Russian invaders on a fictional archipelago. The game is set during the later era of the Cold War, so you'll employ weapons and vehicles contemporary to that period of time, including M16 and AK-74 rifles, Mi-24 Hind and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, and Abrams and T-80 tanks, among others. As you can imagine from that partial list of vehicles and weapons, the fight happens on land and in the air, and some missions even have you at the coast fighting with boats, so a complete wargaming experience is ready to be had. Perhaps more impressive, at least at the time the game was originally released, are the massive maps stretching out over several square kilometers. These landscapes include rolling hills, open plains, and thick forests to maneuver your troops in and around. An intricate network of roads also crisscrosses the island landscapes. The missions are pretty varied, ranging from search-and-destroy missions on convoys to guard duty at a base or simple patrol missions. Other missions have you dressed as a civilian as you try to sneak around Russian-held territory. In many ways, Operation Flashpoint was Battlefield before there was Battlefield, with its focus on contemporary combat with drivable vehicles like tanks and attack helicopters.
It all sounds really fun and impressive on paper, and at the time, it was. The problem is that today, the game looks and sounds so primitive that it negatively affects the gameplay experience. Textures used for landscapes and buildings are very rough. Soldiers animate stiffly, whether running or walking. Foliage in the forests looks woefully repetitive and similar, as though the level designer copied and pasted the same tree and bush hundreds of times to create the forest. Many buildings in towns can't be entered or explored either. Perhaps the biggest problem with the graphics is that the draw distances are very short. Combat in the game happens at extreme distances, requiring you to shoot at tiny antlike silhouettes in the distance. Since you can't see anything more than about 100 or 150 meters away, this detracts from the wide-open feel of the battlefield. It's also very easy to accidentally shoot at your own allies since you can't tell at a glance who's who.
The sound effects in the game also leave a lot to be desired. Gun effects are absolutely terrible--they're so limp and low-fidelity that they sound like gunfire from an '80s-era arcade game. Tank cannons and machine guns mounted on vehicles don't carry a lot of oomph either. The included cutscenes in the campaign have plenty of voice acting, but it's so wooden and poorly done as to be laughable. The voice actor who plays the drill sergeant at the start of the game, for example, tries painfully hard to sound like a gruff American but falls out of accent so many times that it's obvious he's a European trying to sound like an American. Worst of all is the voice used in-game. Your squad will constantly report on their position and the position of spotted enemies, which is nice, but the sound mixing is so terrible at matching tone of voice and intonation that everyone sounds like a Speak & Spell.
There's definitely a certain sense of realism in the game, as the chaos of pitched battles does lead to a lot of confusion. You have to pay close attention to the mission parameters and learn the shapes of various vehicle types to figure out what's going on in the game and on the field. But you never get the sense that there's a war being waged all over the island. It feels as though stuff only spawns and pops in within the immediate area that you travel, giving the game less of an epic feel than you'd expect from a game of this type. And given the refinements that the genre has seen over the past few years, it's tough to go back to a game like Operation Flashpoint: Elite, which puts a lot of the onus on you to make sure you are doing what you need to be doing on the battlefield. You're not given a lot of feedback about your weapon's effect when firing at the enemy. There's a map in-game to peer at, but it's difficult to read, so getting your bearings with the map and compass is still very tricky. Hardcore grognards may feel a lot of affinity for this game, but compared to similar games available today, the gameplay in Operation Flashpoint: Elite just doesn't stand up.
Online play for up to 14 players is included over Xbox Live. We noticed a server running that accommodated 28 players, but no one ever joined it. In our play testing we were never in a game with more than 12 players at any given time anyway, as the online population for Operation Flashpoint: Elite is pretty thin. The matches we played worked pretty well, and the game will also spawn in bots to help fill out the huge battlefields. Standard game types like team deathmatch, capture and hold, cooperative mission play, and capture the flag are available, along with dozens of different maps to play on. The game is somewhat more fun when you're playing online, but the pacing will definitely be off-putting to those who are used to playing more modern team-based shooters. Somehow it just isn't all that fun to plink at guys you can barely see in the distance.
It's tough to recommend Operation Flashpoint: Elite to anyone in this day and age. If you're curious as to the history of vehicle-based first-person shooters and want to check the game out to see how far the genre has come, then it might be worth a look. There's certainly a ton of content with dozens of campaign missions and stand-alone single-player missions. Given how dated the game looks and plays, though, it would take quite a wargaming fanatic to want to get through all of it.