Flawed game, enjoyable sim
I was skeptical starting Dragon Rising, since I am an avid fan and player of the original Operation Flashpoint. The developers of the original, Bohemia Interactive, lost the license to their publisher Codemasters, giving the publisher full rights to develop this sequel. Codemasters aren't exactly known for their actiontitles, and discarding Bohemia that way gave me and other fans a certain disbelief in their capability to produce a competent game.
Since their departure from Codemasters, Bohemia have continued their path of creating realistic military sims with ArmA 1 and 2, both excellent and very complicated games -- but in many ways broken and unpolished.
Codemasters instead seem to opt for a slicker game, more catered to console gamers and someone else than the hardcore soldier sim fan. Before you scream foul, the game might have been made more polished -- it is not dumbed down, however.
The polish is visible straight from the intro and the menus, as they are very well designed, informative and easy on the eyes. You can tell that they decided for a certain art direction early on, as the yellow, black and grey you can see in the logo is represented in the menus and in-game You identify waypoints and other important markers in the game by their yellow color that stand out in the enviroment, letting the game's interface do it's job without cluttering the screen or breaking immersion.
Unfortunately, this level of polish and good design isn't really followed through when it comes to the other aspects of the game.
The graphics do their job without much more then just that. Smoke looks good, but in contrast to the subpar textures -- it really doesn't shine. Characters look a bit weird, just in between of ultrarealism a la Crysis and ArmA 2, and more blocky and stuffy design that's a trademark of Unreal Engine 3 games.
Bloodsplatter and dirt flying up from the ground looks great however, making it feel like your weapons really make an impact. Explosions and especially fire look really cheap and more suiting for a game that came out five years ago, and when you hit a tank with an RPG, it basically just switches the model -- not too impressive if you recently played, well, any action game.
The sound design works, but effects on weapons especially can be somewhat weak. When you do get shot at, the sound of bullets hitting the enviroment are as scary as they should be, and really makes you want to take cover. This effect is increased by dirt that obscures the screen when bullets hit the ground next to you.
The voice acting is downright horrible, and your squadmates just feel stupidly generic when they spurt out stuff like ''I don't get paid enough for this!'', making you want to shoot them rather than protect them. I also find myself bored to death by the term ''Solid copy'', as it is repeated ten times in every conversation.
I didn't really notice the music, except for the theme in the main menu which just feels weird and out of place. Inside the game it's very rare you hear music, which must be said is a good thing in a combat sim.
Controls are a bit better, making you feel in control of your character at most times, except when you hit small obstacles of which you can't jump over. Why? There is no jump button. Therefore I found myself unable to pass over 30 centimeter high rocks, sometimes getting stuck in bushes, and generally feeling clumsy.
Aiming feels solid though, as you rarely miss if you just aim right. The engine has nice ballistics built into it, so if you have a target that's 600 meters away, you're going to have to adjust your sights for the distance, basically shooting in a curve.
It's satisfying spotting targets with your binoculars, checking your scope's distance meter to adjust for the range, and taking the shot, hitting them dead on from almost a kilometer away.
In close combat it's a bit more frantic, chaotic and occasionally random. There were several times I got a bit too close to an enemy, and got slaughtered for my mistake -- even if I had no idea he was there, as he popped up from nowhere.
The enemies shoot quite randomly, as you can be several hundred meters away, not taking a shot, and then you get your head blown off by someone that was pretty much invisible. This also repeats itself if you're in a vehicle, driving down the road, no enemy in sight, while suddenly the entire jeep just blows up, and you're done for. Of course this is the penalty of a realistic game, but it gets very frustrating ,very fast, making the game somewhat trial and error.
This extends to the annoying lack of checkpoints in the Experienced difficulty mode that I played, finding that it just frustrated me alot rather than making me taking it easy and going slow to protect my precious life. Checkpoints are horribly placed, where you can get two in under 10 minutes, then playing another 45 minutes without getting a checkpoint. Wouldn't it be easier to allow the player to save on their own a limited amount of times?
As I said earlier about the enemy AI, it can be quite random. The same goes for your squadmates, which are with you at all times, if they didn't get themselves killed, that is. You play the role of squadleader in every mission, so you tell them what to do.
Sometimes they do exactly what you tell them, and are well and capable of taking out enemy forces, aiming from a distance and hitting their target. That changes however, as they sometimes go exactly the opposite of the way you ordered them, or just shoot randomly and hit nothing. Their driving is also horrible, as they run into to pretty much everything before getting picked off by enemy anti tank units. You're going to want to do the driving -- trust me.
The interface for ordering said soldiers is overly complicated, making you hit orders you didn't mean to by accident. It can also take a good 20 seconds to reach the order you were looking for, as the radial menu isn't really capable of handling the multitude of orders you can give. You're going to be better of using the map to give orders. That also seems to work better with the AI, as they seem more capable of carrying out tasks when given from the map.
I unfortunately couldn't try out the multiplayer, as the servers seem to be down. I would have liked to check out co-op and the competetive elements of multiplayer, but since I couldn't find a server to play on or even connect to the matchmaking service most of the time, that will have to wait until a later date.
One thing I haven't touched upon is the story and pacing, and that's because it's just weird and doesn't give you any incentive to complete your tasks. You're fighting a faceless enemy, in a war over nothing. Perhaps this is what the game tries to portray and criticize, which in that case does very well. Still, a more compelling story wouldn't hurt.
All in all, Dragon Rising is a decent game with quite a few flaws. If you like combat sims and have three friends you can play co-op with, I would recommend it, as you don't have to deal with the friendly AI .
If you, like me, would play it on your own, I would wait for a weekend deal or a price drop to play it, unless you really crave a good dose of realistic shooting, and can see past the flaws of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising.