Reviewing the Military Simulation Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

Image: Official Boxart
Written By: Elijah Moon Blackwell

It’s the mid-2000s. You are a racing video game based company. In 2001 you published a military simulation by the name of Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis and it released to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, your company and the developers of Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis couldn’t come to an agreement a few years back, so now you are alone.

Good news is you own the Operation Flashpoint name. Bad news is all those developers who made the actual game are gone. What do you do?

Well, if you said try to make your own version of the original game, then you are either a Codemasters employee or you think like one.

2009 marked the release of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. Codemasters developed and published the game themselves.

How is it? Well first, let’s look at some background drama.

Names Make this all Very Confusing

Bohemia Interactive was formed in 1999. Their first game game was Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, which released in 2001. Codemasters published the game. [1]

After Cold War Crisis, Bohemia Interactive ported the game to Xbox. Believe me when I say it is pretty awful when compared to the PC version but it is still kind of impressive to see on a console. However, it being released in 2005 meant it was perceived at outdated. [2]

Somewhere after the Xbox port Codemasters and Bohemia Interactive split. I can’t seem to find a real good concrete answer as to why. Regardless, they don’t work together anymore.

In 2007 Bohemia Interactive released Arma, a somewhat spiritual successor to Operation Flashpoint. It was called Arma because Codemasters legally owned the Operation Flashpoint name. In 2009 Codemasters announced that sometime that year they were releasing Operation Flashpoint 2 and this made Bohemia Interactive a little angry. [3]

Bohemia was also working on releasing Arma 2 that same year. They began to claim that calling the game Operation Flashpoint 2 was misleading. [4]

So to further oversimplify this drama: Bohemia was making their third game called Arma 2 and Codemasters was making Operation Flashpoint 2 which was supposed to be the sequel to the events of Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis which is now called Arma: Cold War Assault for legal reasons. Yup…welcome to the confusion.

The big takeaway here is that Codemasters released Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising in 2009 which was not developed by any of the original developers of Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis.

So What?

Looking at Dragon Rising without comparing it to Arma is almost impossible. While you could say this is bias (especially since I am an Arma fan), Codemasters asked for it.

The dialogue is one example. Arma is known for the very robotic AI voice acting.

“Man! 200 meters! left!”

Dragon Rising copied this style of voice acting. Hearing that speech is like hearing the Super Mario Bros. coin sound. You know where it came from originally and if you hear it somewhere else, you know that the game you are playing isn’t that original product.

This review will heavily compare the two franchises because they come from the same start. Also, there weren’t many military simulation shooters to choose from at the time.

Call it bias if you want, and to a degree it might be, but just remember that Codemasters themselves decided to call their game Operation Flashpoint. It begs to be compared.

From here on out to avoid confusion I will be referring to Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising as simply Dragon Rising. Also, Arma will refer Bohemia Interactive’s games including the original Operation Flashpoint.

Reviewing Dragon Rising

China is experiencing a financial crisis. To combat their failing economy, they occupy a fictional island, called Skira, which was originally owned by Russia. Skira has a lot of oil and China wants to control it.

Understandably upset, Russia declares war on China. Russia calls the US for help. While they fight the Chinese on the mainland, they want the US to take Skira back.

The entire game takes place on the island. Each mission is separated into different objectives on a particular part of the island. It sounds small because I say “the island” but the map is actually gigantic.

The map is roughly 217 km2 (135 mi²) big.
Grand Theft Auto V’s map is roughly 78 km2 (49 mi²)

That is a lot of ground to cover, especially since, unlike Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll be running for the majority of it. No high speed sports cars here.

Before we go further into details about the map, let’s discuss the gameplay.

The Good Parts of Gameplay

You control a US marine accompanied by three AI controlled teammates. You can issue commands to your teammates to carry out certain tasks.

Teammates can be told to do a lot of things. In fact it is pretty incredible how many options you have. They can be told to flank, change formation, hold fire until told to fire and much more.

It reminds me of the classic Rainbow Six games where you have full control of your squad. Assuming they do what you tell them to do, that is….problems with the AI will be addressed later. The commands allow you to approach each situation in your own way. Stay spread out and attack from multiple fronts or keep it tight with focused fire. The choice is ultimately up to you. It is possible to just tell your squad mates to follow your lead while you take point.

The game plays as one would expect a first person shooter to play. You have a gun, you point, you click and bang. Tango down.

Unlike other first person shooters, however, this one borrows Arma‘s realism. Aiming requires being still for accurate results. Moving and shooting is almost impossible (kinda like real life). Crouching or going prone is a necessity if firing at long ranges. Recoil is also difficult to manage. Firing full auto is a waste of ammunition as you won’t hit anything beyond 50 or so feet. Single or burst fire is the optimal way to hit targets.

The realism doesn’t stop with firearms. Your character will die in a few shots. You can survive one, two, three and maybe four shots at max. It depends on the caliber of the gun and where you were hit.

Compare this to Call of Duty where, unless you are playing hardcore mode, it can take a full magazine to bring someone down.

It does a great job at bringing the realism of Arma to a different game.

The Bad Parts of Gameplay

The AI is the ultimate issue with this game. Issuing commands is a hit or miss function. Sometimes your squad mates will listen and other times they will get stuck trying to process what you just told them. On top of this their accuracy is horrible.

Match this with the enemy AI who will shoot you with pin point accuracy. If you are in a bush or partially concealed the AI will hit you no problem. However there are some occasions where an AI will toss a grenade, miss and end up kill their own teammates.

It breaks the immersion. The AI is considerably worse than Arma, which is extremely bad. I always thought the AI of Arma II was subpar but at least it’s even. Both friendly AI and enemy AI can’t aim.

Dragon Rising is worse because it’s four vs many and the teams are not balanced. This leads to deaths that leave me tossing up my hands while I scream obscenities at my teammates for not flanking left when I told them to. I don’t like using the word “cheat” often but I swear the enemy cheats. It’s like they know you are behind a wall and what corner you are about to turn around.

Mix this with the lack of a manual save and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Dragon Rising utilizes an autosave feature for recording progress. This means you have to activate checkpoints to trigger said autosave. I’m okay with that. I grew up during the beginning of the autosave era. However, in Dragon Rising the distance between each checkpoint is outrageous. Instead of the stereotypical autosave every five minutes it’s every hour or so.

If you die right before a checkpoint it is no joke an hour of wasted progress. One stupidly accurate AI is enough to enrage whoever is playing.

A simple manual save function would solve this issue.

Lastly, the missions are straight forward. Aside from controlling your squad mates the missions will carry out the same way. Each time you play the single player campaign the experience will stay the same. Run forward to the objective, take it, then move on to the next one. Each mission is scripted so if you’ve played it once you know what to expect. This is standard and fine except the developers sort of lied about this.

This is straight from the Steam page for the game.

Yeah…unscripted missions is an extreme lie. The game probably would be better if it did include some randomly generated missions. Instead we got 11 levels plus some that can be unlocked with codes. The game can be completed in about 10-15 hours.

But Hey It’s Not All Bad!

The PC version has a mission editor and this is extremely welcome. Dragon Rising has a ton of weapons and vehicles. Since the multiplayer servers have been shut down the only way to access this weaponry is to put them in a custom mission. Of course this relies on the knowledge of using the editor and there isn’t a built in tutorial.

I honestly could hammer on this game more, especially since the field of view is capped a horrible degree making the game seemed zoomed in, but I oddly….like this game?

Unfortunately, tough as nails singleplayer shooters don’t really exist. Most military simulation games are multiplayer only or have AI that are ridiculously bad at strategy and aiming. Red Orchestra 2, for example, is one of my favorite military simulation games and it is slowly dying as the playerbase moves on. The tacked on AI just run in head first while you lay waste to their ranks. It’s sad because one day the game will have no playerbase to speak of and the useless AI will be all that’s left.

Also it helps that Dragon Rising goes on sale for dirt cheap during Steam sales. I got both the physical version and the Steam version for under 10 dollars.

But in the end the game has good ideas that are poorly executed, leaving me to cautiously recommend it. It’s really only for those who are curious and dying for a different shooter.

Maybe one day Codemasters will try again? Here’s hoping that if they do they learn from their mistakes…but it seems highly unlikely. They did indeed make another Operation Flashpoint game. It’s called Red River and it is somehow worse than Dragon Rising.

Believe me…one day we will tear deep into it….

Got any games you’d like to see get reviewed? Leave a comment or email us at cdromfossil@gmail.com

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