Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
Kids these days, getting sent home in body bags because they thought they could survive real bullet wounds simply by hiding behind a wall long enough to recover. But some of us know better, that it usually takes only one bullet to kill you, or at least render you semi-useless. We also know never to rely on friends as in real life their actions are not pre-determined by a script. That, at least, is what Operation Flashpoint taught us.
If Call of Duty is essentially a one-dimensional pipe, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is the opposite. If you see a location, you're pretty certainly allowed to go there. The game won't throw invisible obstacles at you or force you to take a pre-determined route. The Chinese military doesn't have a generator that'd magically spawn infinite amounts of Chinamen. Vehicles are not limited to specific "turret scenes"; their utilization is purely based on circumstances.
So, if anything Dragon Rising is refreshing. It can also be unforgiving. As said, a single bullet can kill. You'll be spending a lot of time lying prone, hoping that your friends distract the enemy enough, leaving you with a chance to take a shot. You'll also spend a lot of time running from one location to another; while vehicles are present in pretty much every map in one form or another, it rarely makes sense to use one. The game does not allow manual saving so you have to rely on checkpoints, some of which are painfully distant. This adds either to the excitement or the frustration factor.
To be sure, the game does help you in many ways. Spotted enemies are displayed on the map and the compass at the top of your hud indicates their direction even when not looking at the map. Locations where you're supposed to go are also displayed with markers. However, you can get rid of all these by inreasing the difficulty level. I played on normal, the lowest level, to avoid losing my mental sanity. Interestingly, the difficulty level has no effect on anything else besides visual information and the amount of checkpoints. I'd have preferred to have everything else but checkpoints stripped but this didn't seem possible. While it may sound like Dragon Rising is a difficult game, it's not. Missions are usually pretty straightforward and there aren't tons of extra keys you'd have to memorize. The first mission is simple and short enough to work as a tutorial.
As for graphics, the game has some impressive terrain that appears to have no limits. Vegetation helps you take cover; something as simple as grass can make you feel safe when things turn hot. There's also a day-night cycle but since the missions are only about 30-50 minutes long, you hardly get to notice it. Overall the graphics seemed a bit too rough and there's an annoying bloom effect that can turn visibility from good to bad if you look at things from a bad angle. As a war "simulator" that relies on making you feel "there", the environment should be more dynamic with changing weather patterns, bursts of wind, destructible environments etc. that are unfortunately missing from the game.
The game's biggest failure is exactly where it should excel: realism. Your AI squad is often next to useless, all of them sometimes dying in one go. If this happens when the mission is at an early stage, you're inclined to load a previous checkpoint rather than continue with the mission alone. It's pretty simple to issue commands but there were moments when the game punished you for taking what it perceived as the wrong route, resulting in your friends refusing to follow you even though this is exactly the kind of shit that shouldn't happen in this game. Sometimes enemies also seemed to be aware of where you are even if you had maintained cover long before the enemy had any chance of spotting you. It also seem that some enemies are aware of whether you're aiming at them or not, maintaining their cover until their sixth sense tells them that you're no longer after their heads. Maybe the strangest of all is that no surface seems to be too steep as you can walk down any hill or mountain without any fear of falling down. (Disappearing bodies are a close second in terms of strangeness. How's that for realism?) There were also several stupid Rambo missions where you're expected to take down tons of enemies in one location.
Conclusion: As far as being a combat simulator goes, Dragon Rising is a mixed bag. The combat environment is filled with beautiful landscapes, mountains, beaches, seemingly never-ending fields and so on but at the same time the environment feels static. And while the AI does many things right, it's an unfortunate fact that in a game that seeks realism and is stingy with checkpoints, even small deviations from rationality can be frustrating. Still, Dragon Rising is more exciting, refreshing and enjoyable than it is frustrating. Moreover, it's got content: the campaign is around 10 hours long (11 missions) after which you get to play several bonus missions.