Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

Do you have what it takes, soldier?

While the comparatively accessible Call of Duty continues to sell by the bucket load, Operation Flashpoint offers something far more niche, delivering resolutely harsh and unforgiving gameplay that places you in command of a four-man squad. Put simply, Op Flash sequel Dragon Rising is aimed squarely at dedicated players looking for a more hardcore experience, where the odds are stacked against you and one hit kills mean that death can come from anywhere at anytime.

There's relatively little out there that currently offers the type of ultra-realistic military thrills provided by Operation Flashpoint and while original developer Bohemia Interactive has been off making the equally mega hardcore ArmA II, Codemasters' in-house team have been working hard on Op Flash sequel Dragon Rising.

We've had an extensive hands-on with preview code of the forthcoming game and can confidently declare this to be the most exacting and brutally authentic shooter we've ever played. The uninitiated expecting a CoD style romp taking bullets to the chest as you heroically march into enemy territory with an M16 can forget it. Dragon Rising will unapologetically eat you for breakfast and leave you to bleed to death in a field.

It's about as close to experiencing a real war situation without being subjected to the risk of being shot or blown up. Op Flash 2 is a thinking man's shooter that rewards patience, tactics and cunning over brazen run and gun recklessness. So, it's no surprise when our foolhardy, unplanned attempts to complete mission requirements invariably result in a swift slug to the temple and a slow painful death, face down in the dirt.

Everything about the game is uncompromising, so any enjoyment you might derive from playing will depend entirely upon your fortitude out in the field. If a slow crawl through long grass to a vantage point sounds like your cup of tea, but you don't fancy joining the army, then Op Flash is most definitely for you. Getting wounded means sorting yourself a tourniquet from your field dressing kit, lest you lose your designated eight pints of blood and die. Taking damage to specific limbs will also impede your performance; so avoiding bullets is a must (as in real life, kids).

Action hounds like yours truly however, may find unexpected one-hit deaths massively frustrating, but wannabe war heroes will lap this up. Although the open-world action unfolds upon the vast, fictional 220 square kilometre island sandbox called Skira, based upon Kiska Island in Alaska, there's nothing fictional about the depth and detail that Codies have managed to cram into the game.

Your commands accessed via radial menus, come straight out of the official US Marine Corps handbook and you can issue any of these orders on the fly to your allies. The volume of your voice adjusts accordingly depending on the situation, so you don't bark an order at the top of your voice in the middle of a stealth mission. Instead, you'll softly whisper your commands, which may seem like a minor, even insignificant touch, but it does add a great deal to the authenticity.

And that's really what Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is all about - formulating the most realistic and accurate depiction of actual warfare, which means trimming away the action movie excesses of a Call of Duty title. What's left may seem like a seriously po-faced and humourless game, but then that's the idea. Real war is not a game and Op Flash really drives that point home, Art Lead Mike Smith hitting the nail on the head when he says that this is, "War as seen through a lens." So translated that means less Schwarzenegger, more CNN.

During our time with the game, we rapidly come to the realisation that we're absolutely useless, dying countless times regardless of the effort we make to shuffle unseen through the undergrowth. Gunfire can come from seemingly nowhere at anytime, so taking the time to plan your approach is absolutely key. In the spirit of giving the demo a proper playtest though, we enlisted the help of our old friend Alan, a proper soldier at Keogh Barracks just outside Guildford, to see what he thought of the game.

Firstly, he survives for far longer than our feeble attempts, his real world training actually giving him the edge straight away. In fact he completes the demo mission with little effort, the only obstacle being the slightly skittish AI that sabotages his extraction as one fellow comrade gets lost and then refuses to get in the helicopter. Obviously, this has been fixed for the full version, which is looking suitably slick for its impending release next month.

Still, he utilises all of the tools at his disposal effectively, capturing an enemy jeep early on to get around faster while carefully avoiding attracting the attention of entrenched enemy soldiers. After several playthroughs of the same objectives, we have the whole platoon in the jeep, one manning the mounted machine gun and firing away at enemies guarding a SAM site that needs to be neutralised. Suddenly, we're starting to see the potential for moments of real action within the realistic framework. You just have to know where and when you can let rip.

Great care has been taken with the visuals for Dragon Rising too, so while they're not necessarily the best you'll ever see, they do allow for an astonishing draw distance of over 30 square kilometres, which means whatever direction you look in will run directly to the horizon, free of unsightly glitches or pop-in.

Smoke bombs create an impenetrable veil of fog that hovers over the battlefield at the opening of the next mission - a tactical barrier used to keep the enemy obscured from view. A full day to night cycle means that there're also some spectacular night time missions that really test your know-how with the field equipment you're given, and naturally, night vision goggles are a must.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising might be somewhat sadistic in its slavish devotion to realism, and frequent unexpected deaths await those who ignore the deep, strategic approach required to succeed. The highest difficulty level is particularly rough, completely dispensing with checkpoints and the help of an on-screen HUD, but there are lower levels that allow for limited progress saves and other assistance. Still, casual gamers will be well out of their depth whatever the level of difficulty, but if you fancy a challenge, then Op Flash should serve in scratching that itchy trigger finger.

E3 Trailer