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Panzadolphin56 avatar 11:20 AM on 07.17.2011  (server time)
The Failure of Flashpoint Red River

Ok, so I'm going to talk about something nobody's ever heard of - Operation Flashpoint: Red River. At this point in the blog you've probably raised an eyebrow or are poking the screen (please don't do that, you'll only get it mucky), and are thinking 'what the Fu...?!' and tbh I wouldn't blame anybody for not having heard of it - let alone played it.

To cut a long story short, it was the sequel to Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, which itself was the sequel to Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis but seriously, screw all that because frankly if you don't know that already then you're really not going to be interested in this blog, because I'm basically going to run through the appalling aspects of Red River and talk about how they really should have done it - instead of trying to make it Operation Flashpoint: Modern Warfare.

Don't get me wrong, I love Modern Warfare, it's a great series and it really plays to it's strengths and gives players what they want, but the fact is Operation Flashpoint isn't Modern Warfare - it doesn't look like it, it doesn't play like it and most importantly it doesn't have it's budget. The problem is Red River's developers seemed not to have noticed this and have just nobbled the gameplay mechanics of Dragon Rising in order to create a 'fun' shooter.

The thing is, it doesn't work.

They might aswell have just put wall-to-wall boobs in the game or explosions every thirty seconds if they thought that's how simple the people playing Red River were.

Again, I'm not saying Modern Warfare is dumb - both MWs really well put together games, but what the developers of Red River have seemed to latch onto is the idea that people who buy shooters are just going to be guys who want to pretend to be a soldier, fed some macho bullshit about how they're saving the world by shooting people in the face, and then given some points on a leaderboard and be satisfied; so rather than trying to make a really well-built shooter they've just tried to make it as low-brow and simple as possible - which really spoils the charm of the Operation Flashpoint, which was it's sense of action combined with a relatively realistic battlefield experience.

Having said that though, for all Dragon Rising's interesting points I was never really that impressed with the lack of 'getting into vehicle' animations for a game described as being 'realistic'... seriously, if you're making a game you want people to think is 'realistic' then gaps in animation is probably not going to impress them.


Both Dragon Rising and Red River borrow a lot from the earlier Cold War Crisis's sense of teamwork and realistic battlefield situations, though they tried to tone it down in the both - especially so in Red River - mainly because this is what made the earlier games so hard. If you advanced alone you'd die very quickly, or if your squad members were all killed before the mission objective was completed you'd be in for a much tougher fight. Back in 2001 this was pretty revolutionary (in Cold War Crisis), and even in 2009 with Dragon Rising it made the game stand out, but it also made it a lot harder and a lot more challenger than most shooters. I'm guessing Codemasters changed it for this reason, Bohemia, who originally made CWC went off to make uber-realism military shooter ARMA which went in exactly the opposite direction.

I think the biggest problem with Red River is that at no point did anybody ever sit down, play the game, and wonder 'will anybody really want to play this?' and instead just decided that copying everybody else would help it to sell, which it didn't. I mean seriously, it's not just the story that's bad, it's the AI, it's the gameplay mechanics, it's the gaps in animation that really should have been sorted since the last game - especially since the developers went on and on about how Red River was going to be a 'much more focused experience' than Dragon Rising... so somebody should have noticed the shit stuff at some point.

However, in this case, 'focused experience', seems to just mean that they decided to take out all the cool stuff from Dragon Rising and fix none of the bugs, like the strategy and command aspects. The strategy and command aspects still has some impact on the gameplay and on how well you do. You can still tell your squad to defend, or storm a building, or wander somewhere; and you also have lots of little gadgets and ordinance you can take with you onto the battlefield to help you achieve your goals. However it doesn't work; primarily because the player is never taught how to use the tools he has at his disposal nor given a range of potential opportunities to use said tools, so some tools go completely unused mines and IR strobes being a case in point seriously, wtf are they for?

However rather than realising ' hey! We never explained what any of this stuff is for or how it works, maybe we should this time!' The developers just seem to have taken the perspective that the franchise isn't enough of a dumb shooter for it to rate highly. Which really isn't the case. With Red River they really should have focused on giving the player avenues of opportunity - do I suppress that riflemen position ahead whilst my team flanks them, or do I call in mortar support on the position. Flanking takes longer but calling in a mortar strike costs support tokens (or whatever you'd want to call them).

In that situation the player would be calculating, would be working out how he wants to use his resources best - he may decide that flanking is out of the question because he's spotted a machinegun nest to the side of the riflemen position that could cost his team. In games like Modern Warfare stuff like this is scripted, but in Operation Flashpoint they could have made decisions like this dynamic based upon how you tackle the map - hell you might not even hit that riflemen position, you might choose to go cross-country, evade it, and hit the enemy somewhere else - thus reserving your troops, equipment and support but leaving those troops alive to harass and engage you at some later point (possibly making the game more difficult for yourself dependent on how it turns out.)

Obviously I'm not stupid, I know strategic planning isn't to everyone's liking, so the game would likely have two levels of engagement - the simple first-person shooter mode, in which the game can be played linearly, you just head in a straight line to objective markers; and the more engaged, harder difficulty modes which would emphasis strategy over run and gun. You'd die easy, likely have more friendly fire incidents/missfires with artillery and need to be careful about when to start shooting people instead of using stealth but generally being clever about stuff would pay off. A bit like the way Forbidden Siren 2 plays on it's different difficulty levels, just you know without all the bugs.

This brings me to the next big problem - AI. Seriously, this game has terrible AI, sometimes I think 'WOW! Nice one!' when one of my team mates does something good, but then for every one time like that there are atleast 9 times when they fuck up or do really stupid things. I've had team mates stand still while an enemy has flanked them and shot them in the side - SERIOUSLY, HOW CAN YOU NOT FEEL THAT?!?!?!?, numerous times my team mates have left me to bleed to death, and other times run into incoming fire to heal me... and dying before they can because they didn't bother to fire a few bullets off first. They also enjoy running in front of my line of fire - I was vaguely apologetic at first for shooting team mates in the face when they ran past me at first, but now I just swear loudly at their incompetence.

This is part of the problem why Red River (and to some extent Dragon Rising) don't work, because they pit you as a regular soldier, not a bullet-proof special forces guy; an ordinary guy whose face isn't resistant to bullets. However, where as real soldiers can rely on their fellow soldiers to work with them, as cohesive members of a team, each pulling their own weight, you pretty much spend most of Red River babysitting the idiots in your team. Numerous times I've failed mission objectives, not because I myself failed but because I went back to help a dumb AI team mate... seriously it's one of those 'smash your head against the wall' situations. Because the game relies almost completely on team work, and when you're the only person of your four-man team who can pull their own weight it becomes a little tiresome.

I'm going to leave it at that, because otherwise I'll just go on and on, the AI infuriates me that much.

ANYWAY, onto other ways Red River sucks:

Why is there only one skin for each class? Seriously, if you change your team to all be Riflemen they all look the same! As do the Auto-riflemen, and the Grenadiers! I really don't get this, Dragon Rising had about ten-fifteen faces for the american soldiers (according to the list in the editor), they could have just used these and put the class equipment as attachments over the top of the base model and randomised the face with each play - or alternatively given each marine in each squad an individual identity and had the gear go over that.

Sgt Knox is an incredibly annoying character, I've played a lot of Red River, so I've sort of got used to his shit, but he's still quite annoying - and somewhat offensive and racist at times. I get that Codemasters were trying to make him 'real' instead of a polite soldier man, but he's just too much - plus who can seriously thread that many pop culture references together whilst insulting a person? NOBODY, that's who.

Nor do I like the 'guy talk' they put in, to make the characters sound like real marines, who I guess swear a lot and talk about nakey ladies. It sounds fake, the actors sound fake saying it, and it doesn't make me feel like I'm playing a soldier. Modern Warfare 2 did a better job of this, and it would have been better if they'd just done a few scenes showing the marines chilling in the their base, talking about their private lives or how scared they are to get shot.

Probably the only interesting upside to Red River (compared with most shooters), setting aside it's long list of problems, is the fact you fight the Chinese in it and not the Russians. Granted the excuse as to why you do fight them is pretty flimsy but it makes an interesting change given the difference in hardware. You do also have the ability, though limited, to customise your equipment for different missions - though the fact this is never signposted lets the game down too.

The thing is the premise behind Flashpoint is pretty good - a relatively easy to get into shooter with realistic physics and the need to think before you rush into a fight. The problem is it seems like the Codemasters' team have taken Bohemia's original concept and rather than improve on the good points and iron out the faults have just decided to make it as meh as possible in the hopes that the dumb shooter story will make people overlook the ropey mechanics and bland script which doesn't work.

I'm a little sad that there probably won't be another Flashpoint game, though not surprised at how few copies it sold, but given how poor Red River was I'm not really surprised it did so badly.

Seriously, it sucks.

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