Operation Flashpoint's latest avatar takes us to Tajikistan

Let's get something out of the way immediately — Operation Flashpoint: Red River isn't an open-world shooter, nor does it sport free roaming elements of any kind. It's as linear as a shooter gets, but admittedly, some of its battlefields are relatively large. Labelled a ‘tactical' shooter (thanks to elements of squad command) by developers and publishers Codemasters, there's undoubtedly something interesting about Red River's setting. The game is set in 2013 in Tajikistan where Al Qaeda and other terrorist remnants have supposedly sought refuge. What's more, there's a civil war breaking out as well. Tajikistan also shares a border with the Western world's favourite punching bags after the Soviet Russians, the North Koreans and the Middle Eastern stereotypes: the People's Republic of China. And as you would expect, the Chinese aren't too happy with the American ‘intrusion', and all hell subsequently breaks loose. Great set up, But does the gameplay hold up to tighter scrutiny?

The first five minutes of Operation Flashpoint: Red River are the best five minutes of the game, unfortunately. A cleverly edited opening cinematic talking about all the incidents leading up to, and following 9/11, to present day, immerses you in the fictional world of Red River. The voice acting is overtly macho with a lot of cussing (an ironic American stereotype). This was disappointing for a shooter of this type since last year's Medal of Honor (a run-and-gun shooter) really set a standard with the quality and authenticity of its voice acting. While it doesn't get to you at first, a surreal level of monotony awaits after the first hour or so. In fact, its effects are detrimental to the game, with your CO literally spitting out everything that has, is and will go on in the game world (a military version of Burn Notice, if you will). But then again, the gameplay saves the day, right?

Okay, Red River isn't a tactical shooter, nor is it a run-and-gun shooter. It's somewhere in-between. The Operation Flashpoint formula has been watered down (albeit slightly) for mass consumption in an attempt to fill the void between Call of Duty and, well, other Operation Flashpoint games (what shooter is completely ‘realistic' anyway?). Unfortunately, its lack of polish, outdated graphics and horrendous AI prevent it from putting up a fight. The shooting itself doesn't feel tight or realistic, the enemy AI is terrible and most of the game's set-pieces either feel terribly scripted or as if someone maliciously deleted several hundred lines of code, with seemingly endless respawning enemies heading to preset places from which they shoot and hit you with an incredible level of accuracy, or wander off to an obscure corner and pretend to be mannequins (this is particularly frustrating as some missions require you to eliminate all threats at a particular location). Friendly AI isn't much better thanks to poor path-finding. The lack of an actual, open-world environment is disappointing as well. Redeeming qualities? Well, any game with co-operative play is fun, and this is the case with Red River. Supporting up to four players, Red River's drop-in/drop-out co-op is a decent amount of fun if you've got the manpower, and is undoubtedly, the highlight of its experience.

It takes a brave publisher to release a first-person shooter that doesn't boast the same production values as the Call of Duties and Battlefields of this World and Codemasters have to be commended for it. It's just a shame that a game like Red River has come out five or six years too late because it would have been praised for what it achieved many years back.

Operation Flashpoint: Red River is now available for the X360, PS3 and PC.


Correction:The illustration accompanying the article titled “Of Conquerors and Spartans” in this column (MetroPlus, May 4) is not of the Age of Empires series by Ensemble Studios, but of Empire: Total War by the Creative Assembly. The error is regretted.