Updated: February 23, 2008
There are hundreds if not thousands of First Person Shooter (FPS) games available to young, developing minds of teenagers all over the world, all aiming to be cool and sharp and as graphically blastonomic as possible. But the thing is, none of them are very convincing.
The major problem with most FPS games is that they fall under the category of arcade rather than simulation. As such, they are prone to be very, very rich in graphics and 3D effects - but very, very poor in realism. And realism is what FPS are all about. Yet there's one game that stands apart, all alone, at the very top of realism, with leagues of empty chasm of incompetence of its rivals yawning darkly below: Operation Flashpoint. In this article, I will try to explain why Operation Flashpoint is the only real FPS - while all other games are nothing but sissy pixelators.
|Firing salvos of 57mm rockets as I swoop low over an enemy airfield in a Mi-8 Hip helicopter. The bright flash is from an AH-1 Cobra freshly destroyed by my accurate rocketry.|
Even though it was released in 2001, Operation Flashpoint (OPF) still enjoys immense popularity and is actively played on multiplayer servers hosting more than 10,000 available missions. And while many FPS games use this or that anti-cheat mechanism (usually in the form of some semi-spyware semi-rootkit software) to prevent the gameplay from turning into a god-mode chaos, Operation Flashpoint is simply, blessedly cheat-free. How come?, you may wonder.
Well, it's the matter of audience. At this moment, it is prudent to mention that Operation Flashpoint is a very hard game. It has none of the arcade eye-candy that all the other games so aggressively advertise as gameplay. Soldiers do not jump or bunny-hop or run sideways. And they die when hit by a single bullet. How unspectacular.
Kids do not like this kind of fun. And 99% of cheaters are kids. Which leaves OPF with a mature, responsible and, above all, adult audience of people who simply strive for good sportsmanship. Operation Flashpoint is not for anyone under the age of 21. This is the FPS that dads (and sugar dads) play.
Indeed, the community is one of the strong sides of the game, which makes the game all the more enjoyable. People who play OPF are mature and responsible. The key words to online sessions are cooperation and team work. Not something for feeble-minded.
|Death is no stranger in Operation Flashpoint. Camera zooms out Matrix-style as I take a hit from a tank in one of the hardest missions in the game - Alamo.|
Oh, boy ... Operation Flashpoint is extremely difficult. It's the only game that I know that can take hours to complete but a single mission. It's the only game where you can fight for hours only to die just before you finish the mission - and then have to repeat it, all over again. Some of the missions took me days to complete. It's the only game that I know of where you can actually complete some of the missions without firing a single bullet - it's all about team work.
The AI soldiers are smart. If you can see them and shoot at them, so can they. Forget jumping 3 m into the air. Forget crab walk. Shooting without sights is a no-no. Bunny hopping, gimme a break! All these rambo tactics are completely worthless in Operation Flashpoint. If you wish to fight, you have to do it like a man.
Infantry combat is the real deal. You sprint a short distance, you go flat, you seek enemies. You do not spray bullets like a madman. You fire in the semi mode, with the sights up. You time your shots between the breaths. Usually, you will carry only a few clips and some hand grenades. If you want to carry another rifle, you'll have to drop yours. No soldier lugs extra iron if he does not have to. When you run, you tire. When they hit you, you die.
|A tank strikes a mine in a well-laid ambush at one of the entrances to an idyllic little town called Montignac.|
There's no radar. Or bearings on the HUD. In fact, there's no HUD except in a very limited number of cases - when your team mates identify an enemy and call its position, where you perform an action like reloading a clip or collecting an item or when you issue commands to your squad. If you want to know your whereabouts, you have to flip up a compass.
Another strong side of the game is the world. Unlike most games, which have disjointed, individual and small maps, OPF features a single (huge) map, made of several islands. Theoretically, a player can go walk one mission setting to another. In reality, it can take hours of walking to cross the islands from one end to another.
The game was so popular that two extension packs were released. The original campaign, called Cold War Crisis, lets you play as a number of American soldiers in a fictitious conflict between NATO and Soviet forces. The first extension, called Gold Upgrade, allows you to play the Soviet side in the conflict, as an ex-Spetznaz Dmitry Lukin. This campaign is called Red Hammer. Resistance, the third installment in the game, is about another conflict that happened three years before the current one (as told in Cold War Crisis and Red Hammer), where you take the role of a Resistance leader Victor Troska in a rebellion against a Soviet invasion.
At this point, it's important to say that the game was developed by Bohemia Interactive, a Czech company. Not surprisingly, many Czech motifs can be found in the game, from the very idea of a Soviet invasion to names of the Resistance soldiers to landscape to cars. The legendary `koda 105 (or maybe 120) features heavily in the game. Lo and Behold! The two things that stand out from the very Central-European setting are the French-like names of islands and places in the first two campaigns and the location of the would-be conflict: Pacific. Go figure.
|What a car, what a car!|
Cold War Crisis
Since I do not intend to spoil the fun, I'll be very brief here. A renegade Soviet general decides to invade the independent republic of Everon, in preparation for war against Americans. The player takes part in the American effort to prevent a global war, with a little help from resistance forces.
|This is exactly the kind of bad-ass attitude that got Dima in trouble.|
A former Spetznaz with bad-ass attitude, Dmitry Lukin is thrown into the conflict when he's ordered to mop up local militia on Everon. From there, Dmitry faces not only a difficult physical but also an emotional campaign as his loyalty to the party (or whatever) are put to test. Not very plausible a scenario for an Afghanistan veteran - trust me, I know a few; nevertheless, Red Hammer is a very interesting campaign.
Victor Troska does not want to fight. But like any real tragic hero, he's forced to make a choice. Witnessing the brutality of the Soviet invaders, his choice is simple really. He takes up the arms and becomes the leader of the resistance. The campaign is fun, colorful and challenging.
Apart from a completely new set of missions, Resistance also features improved graphics and sound, as well as a range of new weapons and vehicles.
|Being a sniper is not an easy job to do. Tens of US soldiers are storming the Soviet squad while Dmitry tries to take them down.|
It is said that inside every man there's a little man with a big gun. And this is true. Most of us have a bit of Casey Ryback or John McClane in our blood. Why all this philosophical intro? Well, Operation Flashpoint has such a well thought-out gameplay that you can actually feel like you're in a classic, good-ole-style war movie. The missions are interluded with short movies that add to the rough, soldierly atmosphere. The Resistance campaign begins with a 15-min introduction movie.
The missions are very colorful. You get to fight mainly as a poor infantry soldier, but you also get to drive tanks and fly in helicopters and strike planes. While the vehicle simulation elements are simplified, they are masterfully integrated in the overall feel and pace of the game. Operation Flashpoint phenomenally accurately depicts the tactical cooperation of combined arms in combat, with armor and air units supporting infantry.
This makes the game far more profound and complex than any graphics or a number of fancy weapons that are the trademark of sissy arcade FPS. When it comes to weapons, OPF is rather spartan in weapons. But it more than compensates in what you can actually do - and more importantly, what tens and hundreds of soldiers around you, both friends and foes, both foot soldiers and tanks, will do. Any real soldier will appreciate this. The feeling of impotence one experiences when facing an onslaught of tanks and no RPGs to fight back is fantastic. The real fear of enemy gunships as they prowl above the forest, searching for you, is unmatched in any other game.
|Explosions are mostly gray, like God intended. Here, an American M60 bites the dust as Dmitry Lukin sabots it at close range. Look at all that smoke!|
Sounds are real. Explosions are real. Simple, dull sounds. No bright red mushrooms. Everything is just gray. A brief flash and then lots and lots of smoke. People who have actually seen explosions other than the movies will know this and relish in the intimacy of knowledge and detail.
As a squad leader in a number of mission, you'll be able to command up to 12 soldiers. You'll even have a chance to micro-manage them, if you must, ordering to pick specific weapons, climb ladders or rush to a medic for treatment. In return, they will do your bidding with professional precision. Unlike most FPS where AI help is merely symbolic, you will find it very hard to complete missions without their aid. Rambo cannot survive in OPF for long.
You'll be more than impressed when you see your bots fire LAW rockets at enemy armor, as the machine gunners lay down suppressive fire and snipers pinpoint enemy officers, all at the same time. You'll be even more impressed when they call enemy positions, report status and kills, and ask for ammo and medic. It's a real army clockwork. Dirty, messy and fast.
Hiding in buildings in urban warfare will not help you much because they are destructible. I have died many a swift death when I mistook enemy tanks for fools and hid behind the corner of a building, falsely thinking I was safe. Did I mention satchel charges and mines? Or patrol boats? Or Scud launchers? You'll be able to fly helicopters and fire rockets and missiles at enemy convoys. You will also be able to man Shilkas or Vulcans and fire back at enemy air units. You'll have Stingers and Strelas, too.
|A friend of mine and I are trying to out-snipe one another. Here's he, a poor soul, hiding in the attic, unbeknownst to him that he's a dead man.|
Multiplayer is another strong side of the game. I must admit I have never played OPF online, but I have enjoyed countless hours of LAN games with friends. Cooperative missions are most fun, although duels and team matches are also very interesting. The game has a standard set of missions, but many more can be downloaded from OpFlashpoint.org - missions.
You can also use a wizard to quick-create missions, although the game features a full mission editor. If there's one facet of this gem that can be called wanting, it's this editor. It's too hard. It requires quite a bit of skill, especially in scripting, to make useful, non-static missions.
Nevertheless, multiplayer allows you to enjoy all the facets of this superb game, with some of the AI replaced with actual humans. This aspect significantly enhances the quality of the game. These missions are also much harder than the actual campaigns. I have yet to finish the Lost Squad mission, me and my friends having tried it only 633 times.
On many capture-the-flag maps, there's an abundance of vehicles and weapons available. Thus in addition to pure fighting, you can play a variety of crazy setups. For instance, my friends and I often play maps where one has to defend a checkpoint or a base, armed with RPGs, while another attacks with armored vehicles. Alternatively, we play sniper hunt games. Or try to outmaneuver tanks with patrol boats. Jeep and `koda races are great, as well. Operation Flashpoint is a special treat. I doubt there will ever be such a game again. Armed Assault, the current successor, lacks the magic that OPF has. So ... I say again ... try it. You won't be disappointed. Cheers.
|You can color up the night any which you want ...|
Some cool links
OPF.info - a superb community site, with tons of everything
OpFlashpoint.org - a brilliant site for both Operation Flashpoint and Armed Assault games
OpFlashpoint.org - missions (the real gold!)
Here's a small gallery with some of the spectacular images. Just like the screenshots above, some are linked to enlarged images, to allow you to bask in the full glory of this masterpiece game. Enjoy!
|Seated comfortably inside a ZSU-23-4 Shilka, Dima takes an aim at an enemy AH-1 attacking a convoy of troops fleeing the island of Malden.||A few seconds later, the helicopter is no longer airborne, its two crew members gently floating down to the earth.|
|In one of the last missions as a US soldier, you must get to an enemy Scud before it launches; alas, the way is paved by enemy tanks.||Yet, it's nothing a few well-aimed rockets can't solve ... KABOOM!|
|After some grueling combat, I have finally located the missile launcher.||The world is a better place now.|
|The evil General Guba had another nasty surprise up his sleeve, but nothing a commandeered Mi-24 cannot solve. Another Scud bites the dust.||Guba is going to get captured ... oh-oh!|
|Taking out tanks with nothing but unguided rockets is not simple but doable. Dima is doing his best to save stranded comrades from a heavy armored assault.||My results from the hardest mission ever: 9 armored vehicles and 34 soldiers.|