Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Review

By Brian Leahy - Posted Oct 12, 2009

With the original series creators working on Armed Assault, Codemasters picks up the reins of the Operation Flashpoint franchise with Dragon Rising, but will its console debut have crossover success or will it remain a niche hit?

The Pros
  • Realistic, Satisfying Combat
  • Four-Player Co-Op Campaign
  • Extremely Challenging On Higher Difficulties
The Cons
  • Only Eleven Missions
  • Useless AI squadmates, which also plagues console multiplayer
  • Frustrating Checkpoint System

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising takes place on the island of Skira, a small, oil-rich scrap of land between China and Russia. Chinese forces have seized control and US forces are called in to eliminate the threat without involving Russia, which could spark World War III. That’s about all there is to the story of the game. The rest of the game’s narrative is situational and presented in text-only mission briefings and in-game radio chatter. Your squad lacks personality and quickly become nameless faces over the game’s eleven missions.

A typical mission plays out like as follows: you and your team are inserted into enemy territory on the island and tasked with finding and rescuing the crew of a downed helicopter deep behind enemy lines. You and your squad of three other Marines advance on the chopper’s last known location, trudging through the mountainous terrain and sparse forests. Upon reaching the search area, you find no sign of the chopper, but instead discover an enemy anti-air emplacement. The choice is given to you: continue on to find the downed crew or stop to destroy the anti-air battery. If you pick the latter, you’ll open up more options for air support during the rest of the mission. Luckily, you’ve got one fire mission from the battleship parked off the coast of the island and the anti-air emplacement is quickly leveled from howitzer fire.

Continuing on to a nearby village, you hear a firefight between the helicopter crew and enemy forces. Moving in, you rescue the pilot and co-pilot, escorting them to a landing zone a kilometer away while taking enemy fire from soldiers and vehicles. It’s an intense mission and it’s extremely satisfying to complete.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

Sounds Cool, Right?

Unfortunately, getting to the endpoint of a single-player mission in Dragon Rising is often frustrating. Your AI squad might as well not be on the battlefield. Not only will your three allies fail to follow you effectively, they will often fail to find cover or even shoot at the enemy. You’ll be doing all the heavy lifting. Giving orders to your squad is quick and easy, but they don’t quite follow them.

Take, for example, the order to “engage”, which appears when you train your sights on an enemy. This enemy might be upwards of 200 meters away. Once ordered to engage, your squad will begin moving towards the soldier slowly. By the time they get into killing range, I’ve already taken the enemy down. Now it’s time to call my squad back to my position so we can advance. At least they serve as additional targets.

Dragon Rising uses checkpoints, which are spaced out at different points in each mission. Upon hitting one, your progress is saved and your squadmates will be healed or brought back to life on normal difficulty. Higher difficulties drop the magic healing and the checkpoints themselves will be less numerous. You’ll get used to checkpoints as you’ll be dying quite frequently, but sometimes your progress will be saved while under enemy fire. Other times a checkpoint will fail to trigger and you might find yourself replaying large sections of missions, most of which will probably just involve running for extended periods of time. It’s extremely annoying, especially when paired with the fade-in effect when your game loads. Your squad might be taking enemy fire and dying before the game allows you to take action because it fades in from black while the game is running.

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But What About The Combat?

Dragon Rising does have satisfying, realistic combat. It’s a great change of pace from other shooters, especially if you don’t have experience with a game of this style. It’s got some truly epic moments, such as when you hear a squadmate call out an enemy gunner in a machine-gun nest 200 meters ahead of you, only to pull out your scoped rifle, correctly use the markings on the sights to figure out how high over his head to aim and drop him with your first and only shot.

There aren’t many weapons in the game and you have no loadout options for each mission. The game decides for you and you’re left to pick up other weapons from dead enemies or ammo caches. Beyond that, you can’t customize your squad to deal with different situations. I would have liked to give one soldier anti-tank equipment while another received a sniper rifle to take out enemies at a distance. One particular mission tasks you with destroying two anti-aircraft vehicles without properly equipping you for the job, leaving you to find rocket launchers in a nearby building. On this particular mission, you don’t get C4, which you have on almost every other mission that requires you to destroy a structure or vehicle.

That being said, the combat is a slower affair with the chance of death riding along with each bullet fired by the enemy. Even on normal difficulty, players risk catching a headshot without any notice. You’ll spend a lot of time crouched behind cover or prone, popping a few shots at a target trying to adjust for the bullet’s drop-off during its travel.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

Can I Jump And Throw Grenades At Everyone?

Codemasters’s focus on realism is commendable. Dragon Rising isn’t a true simulation, but it’s effective at creating a dangerous combat environment. Death comes quickly and wounds will leave you bleeding and impaired. Took a shot to the head, but didn’t die? Your vision will be blurred. Hit in the arm? Have fun aiming. Enemies work on the same system and will be wounded, critically or not, as often as they are killed outright. Their squadmates will also move to heal them and get them back into the fight. Ammo conservation is also a factor if you want to keep your shiny US weaponry. Squeeze off too many shots and you’ll quickly find yourself using enemy weapons and scavenging clips off of downed soldiers, which I learned firsthand.

Harder difficulties begin to remove HUD elements, enemy markers, waypoints, and more if you’re up for a bigger challenge. On the normal difficulty, the game isn’t too challenging in and of itself. Most of your deaths will come from glitchy AI or overzealously running into a situation without first assessing the threat.

If The AI Is Bad, Just Play With Friends, Right?

The entire campaign is playable co-op online for four players, which easily makes up for AI flaws, provided you have three friends who will actually listen to you when you give them orders. Seriously, Dragon Rising is not a game for everyone to try and be the hero. It’s designed to be played cooperatively.

The competitive multiplayer is a bit like a Battlefield game, but way more realistic. If you aren’t on a team with a lot of organization, you can easily find yourself gunned down in short order. It’s a different game when one enemy can grease your entire squad before you even figure out where the bullets are coming from. On the PC, you’ll be able to fight in games of 16 vs. 16. On the consoles, however, the experience is very different. On the Xbox 360 and PS3, eight players are joined by three AI bots each for a total of eight humans and twenty-four bots. Each human controls a squad and must give them commands. Most of the time, however, the AI will just end up getting killed by other human players. It’s best to just ignore this aspect of the game on the console.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

Where Does This Game Fit?

On consoles, this game is the most realistic shooter you’ll be able to get your hands on, but its multiplayer component is sub-par, and the dysfunctional squadmate AI is a huge turn-off. On the PC, the multiplayer is better, but the game isn’t as realistic as Armed Assault II, the game from the original developers of Operation Flashpoint. That said, it is much more accessible than ArmA II and if you’ve previously been put off by Operation Flashpoint’s realism and interface, give Dragon Rising a try. Despite its very frustrating issues, it’s a step in the right direction for bridging the gap between military realism and playability. But it doesn’t get there quite yet.