Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crises

I was a big fan of the Jane's Combat Sims and the Rogue Spear, Delta Force series of games. But I always wanted a developer to bring those elements together in a freeform free-roaming gameworld. Wouldn't it be nice to soar above the forest line while raining down hell from your attack chopper? Wouldn't it then be nice to land that chopper and get out, whip out a machine gun and go after the enemy personally?

Operation Flashpoint promises this and a whole lot more, and I'm one of the few to actually have played the recent review/preview code of the game and I can tell you my drool circuits have gone into overload.

It's 1985 and in the midst of the Cold War, President Gorbachev has been elected to power bringing with him Glasnost and Perestroika. However there are certain resistance groups in the Soviet Union who are opposed to this new wave. One such group has taken control of a small island community and is using it as an armed stronghold for the old order. A very dangerous and volatile situation: one of its neighbouring islands is an independent republic and the other serves as a base for NATO.

NATO has been called in to act as peacekeepers. Operation Flashpoint gives the player the chance to join the first mission of the game against the resistance.

Developed by Bohemia Interactive who are based in Prague, Operation Flashpoint offers us as players unprecedented control over the game. From lowly squaddie to colonel you'll rise in the ranks. You'll be able to command soldiers of many different types, vehicles of many different classes, drawn from Air, Land and Sea, and the first time you climb into the cockpit of a AH-1 Cobra you'll find that the whole thing feels real, it looks real and sounds real.

It's impossible for me to list all the things that are available for you to interact with in Flashpoint, there's a staggering amount of Military tech in here that defies belief. I'm a jaded hack and it's got my eyes popping.

The games realism comes down to the fact that the developers are all ex-members of the Czech Army. They have drawn on their military experience and training to provide us with one of the most realistic and downright enjoyable game experiences to date. They have taken the time to create some of the most impressive pathfinding and soldiering AI yet...the enemies and allies in Flashpoint don't just sit there and do nothing, they patrol, and they react to threats with realistic movements and actions. Miss your shot and the enemy goes prone, but he will quickly move to find cover and get out of sight, returning fire to the location you are, or if you're quick thinking, were.

Flashpoint comes alive with a host of tiny details that make it into a solid contender for the best solider sim/fps to date. The vehicles and landscapes are all gritty and rich in visual detail, inside and out. It's possible in Flashpoint to be the pilot, gunner, and passenger in any of the vehicles in the game. There's something about sitting in a M113 APC and watching your colleagues bumping around in the back with you.

The game is played from a first person or third person view and offers a massive landscape to explore and fight in. The game's atmosphere is further heightened by the use of sound and weather effects. Rain, thunder, lightning it's all there and it's all in real time. Weather patterns are forecasted in the mission designer and they will actually move from stormy to sunny as you play...time also marches on, if you play the game at 5:00am in game, you'll expect to see the sun rise at the right time of year. And it does. Play at twilight, you can watch the landscape plunge into darkness, the moon rises, the stars twinkle...unless of course fog rolls in.

It's jaw-dropping stuff I can tell you.

The character animations in Flashpoint are another strongpoint with Bohemia building and using a motion capture studio to record the movements of ex-Army instructor, which were applied to the soldiers to create 500 movements.

The games equipment is also realistic; sights on weapons and the M21 Standard US Sniper Rifle are authentic and give the player accuracy and immersion. But it doesn't stop there, not by a long shot. Your character gets tired and breathes heavily, you can hear the heartbeat pounding in your ears after a long run, or a short fast sprint. Take time to sit down, put your gun on your back and hit the action control, select sit and take a breather...as I said, jaw dropping.

Each of Flashpoint's 3 islands is around fourteen square Kilometres, this makes the levels utterly massive and they need to be with the amount of detail that's been lavished on them, forests stand out in green detail against the landscape which rolls and contours as you would expect. Houses stand quietly around like stalwart soldiers against the weather, some in perfect condition and some in utter disrepair.

Barbed wire and authentic military buildings are also used to deepen the atmosphere in the game, and don't expect the people or vehicles to stand still. With clever use of the mission editor Bohemia have created the depth of realism that's been sadly lacking in a lot of recent games. Expect to see Choppers land and take off; people get in and out, officers commanding drill troops. It's all there.

In game tools are gear and expansive, with anything being able to be taken from crates and dead comrades/enemy soldiers. You're presented with a watch and a compass, not forgetting your map. These tools can really save your life. If you're playing at Veteran level rather than Cadet then you'll find the amount of on-screen help is much different, allowing the experienced PC Soldier to forgo the hints to targets and waypoints and use their own visual acuity to find the target. I've tried it, and it's hard but rewarding.

Flashpoint comes with Single Missions, Campaign Missions and of course it can be played Multiplayer across a LAN or TCP/IP connection. You can play Deathmatches, Capture the Flag or Co-Op across the game missions. With any human player spots that aren't filled being taken over by Flashpoint's superb AI.

Also Flashpoint comes with its very own Mission Editor, this isn't some hackneyed tool that is cut down from the developers, this is the real deal and even for someone without any documentation I soon had a basic mission up and running. The editor can be used to create new campaigns, quick missions and multiplayer games. But what really shines is the size of these missions. Most are 10k or under which means you can easily email them to a friend.

I'd tip this game for Game of the Year 2001 and it'll get my vote on any polls where ever I see them. I can't go into all the details I'd like to but I do plan to run another review when the game is out in June, until then I'm off to practise my jeep driving skills.