I started playing Operation Flashpoint: Red River with little knowledge of the series' pedigree. I never played the Bohemia Interactive games or Codemasters' OF: Dragon Rising. I guess you could say I was an Operation Flashpoint rookie. I have however, posted or watched almost a dozen promotional trailers leading up to the release of Red River, so I'm familiar with the characters and setting for this particular first person tactical military shooter. Like the old saying goes; I'm not an expert on Operation Flashpoint, I just play one when I'm online.
That being said, the front end of OF:RR alone is intimidating for the uninitiated. The main menu gives you the choices of Campaign, Fireteam Engagements, Join Game, Class Setup, Player Progress, and as always, Options. In addition to the menu items there are four icons in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. If you push the "back" button a game lobby opens up. Here you can set classes for your four main characters or manage the online lobby. It's a little daunting at first and there's no real tutorial (in-game or in-manual) explaining how your class setup will work. After a little menu exploration I found that I could play as any of the characters, and I could also change their classes. If I wanted everyone on my team to be snipers, here's where I could do it.
There are four available classes in OF:RR, - Rifleman, Grenadier, Scout, and Auto Rifleman. The Rifleman is the most adaptable class. The Grenadier has, you guessed it, grenades. He also has access to close quarters battle (CQB) weapons like a sub machine gun and a shotgun. The Scout is a sniper specialist, and the Auto Rifleman has a useless light machine gun. Seriously, after a few shots you're aiming at the sky. Additional weapons, gear, and B-Mods (perks) open up for each class as you level up. Yep, this is another FPS with an XP and progression system.
The characters themselves are simple placeholders for your classes. There really isn't much to them other than different voice actors. Speaking of voice acting, some people may have a serious problem with the language in this game. The cursing flows as if spewn from some sort of F-bomb-loaded mini-gun. The biggest offender is SSgt. Knox. Picture Jamie Foxx's SSgt. Sykes from the movie Jarhead. Now take any redeeming value you find in Jamie Foxx, remove it from your mind completely, and replace it with the word "f*ck." Now repeat it over and over again until it has no meaning. That's the same effect you'll get from listening to Knox's drivel after the first five minutes of the game. It's juvenile, it's grating, and worst of all, it's not entertaining. Knox will bark in your ear for much of the missions. It's almost unbearable. And no, I didn't see any content filters.
As for the actual gameplay, you'll have to wait for it. Do you know what's worse than watching a "Loading" screen? A "Buffering" screen. In some misguided attempt to add to the realism, you'll have to watch the game "buffer" before each engagement, complete with the spinning dial, as if your playing through some sort of front-lines video. The load times are incredibly long, lasting at least thirty seconds. That doesn't seem like much until you count them out loud. If I'm going to watch a screen buffer for that long, I better not have pants on.
Things don't get much better once you get into the game. Tajikistan (a real life country!) is made up of that plain, browny-vastness we've seen on the news for the past ten years. Hostile engagements are broken up by painfully long Humvee rides, where SSgt. Knox will fill your ear holes with his volcano of f*cks. Your fireteam members will punctuate his diatribes with "Get Some!" or some other equally profound crap. Just when you think the Humvee ride is the worst part of the suck, you find yourself entered in a Tajikistan 5K. You'll be sprinting to your next date to get shot at, on more than one occasion. If Knox isn't running with you, that's okay! There's a radio! You know you've always wanted to play a desert marathon simulator while wondering if someone really did just use the word "f*cktard."
If you can get over the never-ending expanse of desert you'll notice the game is quite beautiful at times. It's a shame you're cordoned off by invisible walls. If you stray too far from the mission you suddenly drop dead. This also happens if you try to advance before you complete an objective. I was replaying an early mission where I knew I had to flank the enemy. I headed right and promptly died. Apparently, I had to shoot a couple of baddies from a distance before I could move forward.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River is nigh unplayable as a single-player game. This is due to the quadruple radial menu you must master in order to give your squad mates commands. I'm going to try to explain this as simply as possible, but I'll probably lose you in the process. Your whole fireteam is selected by default. If you want the three members of your team to do anything, you have to use the radial menu. To access this you hold the right bumper. Now you can choose maneuver, follow, tactics, or suppression with the d-pad. Each one of those commands has three of its own sub-commands. Therefore, if I hold the right bumper, press up on the d-pad, then press up once more, I'll command the team to move to the position I'm aiming at. If I hold the right bumper, then press the d-pad down, then left, I'll command the team to flank left.
Here's the catch. If I want team members to do different things individually, let's say have my Scout sniper flank left and take up an elevated position on a nearby hill, command my Auto Rifleman to lay down suppressing fire, and have my Grenadier flank right and rush in for a little CQB, I have to select each one individually with the d-pad before pressing the right bumper to begin issuing commands. Did I mention this is a first person shooter and I'm most likely being shot at in real time when this is happening? I should also mention that just because you issue a command, it doesn't mean your fireteam will act on it. Your team will stay in the confines of the mission area, eliminating a lot of battle options.
And what, pray tell, is shooting at me? Little black dots on the horizon, that's what. Enemies will engage you from 300 meters away. That doesn't leave much of a silhouette. Since the game is going for realism, one shot can drop you. You can ask you teammates to patch you up, and they'll do a good job, unless you're out in the open. If you are, you may as well bleed out and respawn, or else you'll have a bunch of shot-up teammates surrounding you.
Of course, all of the AI problems can be remedied with a few able-fingered friends. I played OF:RR with random people online and I had several enjoyable experiences. The game gets exponentially better when the radial command system is removed from the battlefield. The progression system is decent, offering new and improved weapons, gear, and B-Mods as you advance your level.
In addition to the main Campaign there are several stand-alone scenarios called Fireteam Engagements. Like the campaign, these engagements support four player co-op. They include sweep and clear missions, escort duty, and a survival mode. There's plenty of content here for people who are looking for it.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River looks great, sounds good, and with the exception of the AI and radial menu, plays well. If you have three online friends who like tactical military shooters, there may be something here. As a co-op game, it succeeds due to the fact that every element of the game is geared toward co-op players. The sometimes juvenile, even embarrassing, tone of the game really detracts from any connection you have with the dire combat situation. OF:RR does lack a visceral feel of battle due to the distance of the firefights. Covering a black spec with a red dot and pulling the trigger isn't very satisfying, and at times there are lengthy pauses in battle. Codemasters shot for realism, and they may have hit it. In the end, war isn't supposed to be fun.