Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis is one of the most realistic war simulations I have ever played. At times this can be both wonderful and frustrating at the same time.
You start out in the campaign mode as a single infantry soldier. You are confused as to what is happening and so are the rest of the men, as evidenced by the different cut scenes where you and your buddies get to talk. You get to do everything from being part of a massive infantry attack on a town, to running in full retreat when you are obviously overwhelmed, to walking patrol around your camp at night to prevent commando intrusions and sabotage. You really get to experience the life of a grunt in all its glory and hardship.
You also get to experience the life expectancy of a soldier in this type of conflict, which often is quite short. You are not a superman. One bullet can generally kill you and being too close to an exploding shell certainly will. You can accidentally shoot your own troops in the heat of combat, especially when the lines get blurred and you are making shots at longer ranges.
The plot of the game is a bit unrealistic, but it sets up a scenario where American troops are fighting Russians. Basically there is a rogue Soviet general with a major army that decides to attack the tiny Malden Islands. The Islands are strategically important because Sweden gets 80 percent of its oil from there. At least that is what I have learned from the fan pages. The game is kind of vague as to why the Soviets would want this barren island hamlet. The United States, under a NATO banner, has training bases stationed there and that is how the different characters you will play get into the scenario.
The silly thing about the plot is that in the opening rounds, something like 50 percent of the NATO forces are wiped out. These are American soldiers that are going home in body bags, and you are forced to retreat to the next island over. That could certainly happen in a surprise attack, but then the U.S. and its allies decide not to act. No retaliation? The year is 1991 and forces in Europe are bristling for a fight. Anyway, you and your force of trainees have to defend yourself and launch counterattacks while NATO figures how best to respond. I can’t believe the U.S. would decide to send trainees into battle without any backup, or that they would let some wacko Russian general play havoc with our forces.
Anyway, I guess they needed some plot hook to explain why we would not just launch a massive fighter and bomber attack against the Russians and why this supposedly massive war is mostly being fought using small unit tactics. If you can get beyond this implausibility, you are in for a really good time.
The graphics are awesome and are complimented by amazing sound. You hear the creaking of tank treads as they roll past you, the crack of different rifles and the explosions when something gets lit up. The only graphical problem I have seen is that soldiers can turn their heads way to far in one direction. During several briefings my commander’s head did a sort of exorcist-like turn which was really freaky. Guess it’s true that the commander has eyes in the back of his head. These graphical glitches only seemed to happen in the cut-scenes though, as the game itself was pretty flawless.
I was highly impressed with the weapons and their characteristics. I did several experiments at different ranges and on different targets, and they all matched my real world experience with those same weapons. The M-16 for example, is highly accurate within 300 yards. I could pick off the Russians from a safe and concealed location. The gun did not have a lot of recoil, so I could pour shots into groups of troops once I found my range. When I picked up their AK-47s and AK74 Kalashnikovs I found that the accuracy was a bit less, but that the stopping power was greater. One hit from an AK74 often took an opponent down, whereas it normally took two shots from the M-16 when not being used in burst mode.
There are some other neat weapons like full-auto HKs used by Special Forces troops and also sniper rifles. This is the first time in a game where I found the somewhat confusing sights inside the standard Russian Dragunov scope to be accurately reproduced. Thankfully, the instruction booklet with the game explains how to read and use them.
Later in the game you get to play with vehicles, which is where it is often handy to switch between the available first and third person views, although this decreases realism.
As an infantry guy, you might get to drive a truck, but to be realistic, when its time to drive a tank you are introduced to another character. A standard infantry soldier does not know how to drive a tank, and certainly not an attack helicopter. So when those vehicles are introduced, you begin playing a new character.
In addition to commanding, driving and shooting from a variety of military vehicles, you also are often placed in command roles over multiple groups of people. This is probably the most difficult part of the game. You have to use a somewhat complex interface to give orders, which slows you down. For example, to tell your heavy weapons guy to get out of a truck, you have to push the function key that corresponds to his number in your squad, say F4. Then you get a menu with different commands. You select group 4 to give a move order. Then you get another submenu with different commands. You then tell him to disembark. Then you have to give him orders when he gets out of the truck and not forget that you have an entire squad waiting for your combat wisdom.
Couple all this with the fact that you have to make sure your main character does not get killed and you have a bit of a difficult situation. Still, you experience the entire range of combat operations from commanding a large unit to lone wolf operations deep inside enemy territory.
Multiplayer is a lot of fun and although the battles online tend to devolve into the standard shoot-em-up, the realistic weapons and physics means that unlike Quake or Half-Life, running fast, jumping and all that flashy stuff wont save your butt. Using proven battlefield tactics might. I’ve stated to see this game creep into LAN parties where previously the only games played were the Tom Clancy-supported Redstorm series. That’s good news for Codemasters, since they obviously wants to compete in that market.
Operation Flashpoint is more of a simulation than a standard game, yet it is also very exciting to play. In a way it reminds me of the game I’m Going In, where the claim to fame was that they used a flight simulation engine for a ground combat game. But where IGI was a bit boring and gave you the felling of "floating" over terrain, you won’t have much time to relax at all in Operation Flashpoint. Some missions will have you begging for mercy, such as one where your entire squad is wiped out and you have to make your way through miles of Russian-infested terrain to a safe haven. I got to see the Malden Islands from about five inches off the ground, since I was crawling through the underbrush trying to stay hidden most of the time, except for when I was running full tilt through a clearing and hoping that the encircling attack helicopters would zero in on someone else.
Operation Flashpoint finds the sweet spot between action and realism, combining both into a product that offers a thoroughly addictive experience. It earns 4 1/2 GiN Gems, and is sure to produce an instant set of diehard fans.