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Something very odd happened to me while playing Conflict: Denied Ops on PC. I went from looking scornfully down my nose at arguably the most generic shooter I've ever played, to cackling gleefully as I blew up countless explosive barrels and killed the same poor soldier for the thousandth time, foam forming at the corners of my mouth. This is in no way a testament to the game's charm, more to the fact that I was forcefully in the game's company for so long I inevitably began to enjoy it. That's right; Denied Ops gave me Stockholm Syndrome.
I hate Conflict: Denied Ops. When I play a game, I want it to feel as little like a game as possible. I want an experience I've not had before, to be drawn into the mindset of intriguing, moving characters and a thought-provoking plot. Like when I was a child playing my NES or Meagdrive, just for a few hours, I want to forget about the real world and enter an entirely new one that tickles my imagination and tinkers with my emotions.
In every conceivable way, Denied Ops refused me all of those things. Instead it grabbed me from behind, strapped me to a chair and began to beat me about the head with rampant stereotypes. The storyline is a faded collection of scars in the back of my head about globetrotting terrorists, stolen nuclear weapons and some Venezuelan bloke called Ramirez.
At this point, I'm sprawled on the floor, still strapped the chair, all my memories of originality and innovation seeping slowly from a gaping head wound.
Worse, the two playable characters are little more than anthropomorphised clichés. Graves is a grizzled veteran with a hidden past and a sniper rifle named after his daughter, Lang a horrendously typecast black 'gangsta' who insists on calling everyone 'bro' and making up racially inappropriate nicknames for Graves such as 'whitey' and 'redneck'. They make a horrific team too; stumbling over each other, leaving one another behind regardless of orders, standing in the other's firing line. They seem determined to get themselves killed.
At this point, I'm sprawled on the floor, still strapped the chair, all my memories of originality and innovation seeping slowly from a gaping head wound. That's not enough for Denied Ops, though. It unties me, picks me up, puts a gun in my hand and forces me to kill wave after wave of dull, samey enemies. I can't put the gun down, not even to pick up another. Occasionally I'm allowed an upgrade such as a rocket launcher or a shotgun attachment to my sniper rifle, but these miniscule flecks of novelty barely register in my thoughts.
After a couple more hours I've well and truly cracked, giggling at each explosion and whooping at every bloody death.
Suddenly, though, as I move from the repetitive tedium of urbanised Rwanda to the crystalline beauty of Greenland, things don't seem so bad. Nothing has changed, I'm still killing a sickening number of enemies, either with Graves' ridiculously accessorised sniper rifle or Lang's cumbersome hand-cannon, but I'm beginning to enjoy it. I even start to worry when one of the molecule-thin characters takes a grenade to the face and I have to run over and heal them with my magical injection gun.
After a couple more hours I've well and truly cracked, giggling at every explosion and whooping at every bloody death. Denied Ops whispers in my ear that there's a cooperative mode but I don't care, I want it all to myself. I know the truth now. The formulaic level design, the awkward team mechanics, the nonexistent story and characterisation are merely forms of attention seeking. At its passive-aggressive heart, Denied Ops just wants somebody to care about it.
I love Conflict: Denied Ops. It would never hurt me. Sure, the beginning of our relationship was difficult, shallow and incredibly violent, but it has grown into so much more. We have an understanding, don't you see? Denied Ops has gone away for the moment, but it will come back. It has to come back. I know it will.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
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