1985. The Cold War simmers as NATO and the Warsaw Pact are locked in a grim embrace. Masses of men and weapons stand toe-to-toe, ready to live out the nightmare of World War III. Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis is an ambitious and eagerly anticipated military shooter that turns up the heat on the Cold War, featuring advanced armies and weapon systems doing battle with you in the middle. While the setting may not be entirely relevant anymore, it's still perfect shooter material, and Operation Flashpoint does justice to it with complex gameplay coupled with a huge and truly memorable gameworld.
You'll feel like you're in the middle of a modern battlefield.
Operation Flashpoint puts you on the fictional Malden Islands, an area reminiscent of the Balkans. In the extensive single-player campaign, you learn that fighting has erupted on the islands, and at first it's unclear who's involved and who's to blame. As part of the sole NATO presence in the area, it's your job to help liberate the innocent villages caught in the mayhem and determine just what's going on and who's going to pay. Thanks to lengthy and generally well-directed in-engine cutscenes, you'll start to gather the pieces of the puzzle. You begin the campaign as a US Army private engaged in training exercises in an almost idyllic camp. So far, you and your fellow soldiers haven't seen any action during your tour of duty on the islands. That quickly changes, and you get the opportunity to confront enemies, explore the huge islands, and finally move up the ranks for new responsibilities and challenges.
The numerous campaign missions let you assault villages, run patrols, rescue hostages, and engage in a variety of realistic actions. Usually, you play as part of a computer-controlled squad, but one of the dramatic highpoints of the campaign puts you alone, lost in a forest at dawn, trying desperately to make it through heavy enemy patrols to an evacuation point. Unfortunately, the missions rely heavily on scripted events and triggers, which both reduces replay value somewhat and contributes to bugs. Sometimes an event will fail to register, leaving you and your comrades just sitting there with no way to finish the mission or progress through the linear campaign. Despite plausible enemy artificial intelligence, you'll often encounter enemies near the same spots each time you play a mission. Also, the game inexcusably gives you only one save per mission, though you can choose when to make it. Note to game designers: Let players decide for themselves if they want to play ironman-style, particularly when missions can last 20 or 30 minutes like they do here.
Outside of the campaign, which can be tackled on two difficulty levels, you can also engage in varied single missions that you can play in any order, bringing the mission total to around 50. On top of that, Operation Flashpoint includes a full mission editor, and there's a burgeoning mod scene for the game. Multiplayer offers a number of modes, including capture the flag, deathmatch, city defense, and cooperative. The team-based modes have lots of potential but require an exceptional amount of cooperation and coordination between players, which can of course be hard to find on public servers.
Operation Flashpoint's focus on realistic weapons and vehicles helps create exciting gameplay since it blends realism, diversity, and, frankly, lots of big cool guns. As an infantryman, you'll get to blast the enemy with M16 and AK74 rifles, the M60 machine gun, hand grenades, M21 and Dragunov sniper rifles, satchel charges, rocket launchers, and many others. If you don't like the weapon you're assigned, you can always pick up new ones from fallen soldiers, whether friend or foe. Operation Flashpoint offers one of the biggest selections of vehicles yet found in a shooter. You get to ride in or pilot six helicopters alone, including the Cobra, Apache, Blackhawk, Chinook, and Russian Mi-17 and Hind. Then there are ground attack planes like the A-10 Thunderbolt (aka "Warthog") and the SU25 Frogfoot, an assortment of trucks and jeeps, M113 and BMP-1 armored personnel carriers, the M1A1 Abrams tank, Russian T72 and T80 tanks, and more.
Give those feet a rest--you'll get to drive or just ride in a wide variety of vehicles.
You can control the vehicles and your individual soldier from either first- or third-person viewpoints, and movement and firing are controlled through a familiar keyboard-and-mouse shooter layout. You interact with the gameworld through a pop-up menu that offers contextual options like changing your M16 magazine or getting in a jeep as the driver or a passenger. It's an elegant system, but at the same time, it suffers from a lack of hotkeys for all available actions--at least the most important ones like reloading or switching weapons have them. To help you find targets and follow your squad leader's commands, a HUD features optional friend-or-foe and direction indicators, and you also get a compass and a detailed topographical map.
The controls remain largely consistent whether you're on foot or controlling a land or air vehicle, which makes learning the game relatively easy but also reduces the level of detail and realism with the vehicles. Don't expect a hard-core tank or flight sim here. With the exception of jeeps and trucks, vehicles tend to be very twitchy and awkward to control. In some missions, you get to command other troops or vehicle crews, but what should be a high point of the game is hurt by a cumbersome command system that's a chore to use even when you're not taking fire. Also, you can't rely on computer-controlled crews to drive vehicles, thanks to spotty AI when they take the wheel.