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Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is the official sequel to the 2001 PC classic Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, though it is very much a sequel only in name. While Dragon Rising has a thrilling combat system, it is ultimately let down by lazy mission design, a distinct lack of plot, and a general failure to fulfil its potential.
It's 2001. I am fourteen years old. I really shouldn't be in the army, but I am. The UH60 Helicopter carrying my squad has just touched down, and I have set foot on the low-resolution landscape of Everon for the first time. We march quickly atop a tree-covered ridgeline, and in the valley below lies the village of Morton.
Half a mile away an enemy rifle crackles, and the soldier beside me crumples to the ground. Whilst my squad returns fire I throw myself onto the earth, panicking, trying to locate the chunky cluster of polygons that resembles the enemy force. As my squad advances the Lieutenant screams at me to return to formation, but I lie still, gibbering as gunfire hisses overhead.
It's 2009. I am twenty-two years old. I can grow a respectable beard provided I concentrate hard enough. I open my eyes to the dawn, and the island of Skira is revealed before me in all its grassy glory. The mission begins with minimal preamble, and I lead my three-man squad forward, our task to eliminate a series of enemy spotter teams.
As the countryside undulates beneath our feet, a Chinese machine-gun nest opens fire ahead of us. Immediately I hit the dirt as bullets thud into the ground around me, kicking soil and grass into my eyes. Beside me, one of my squad-mates screams, and blood splashes on the side of my face. Breathless, yet fully aware of our dire situation, I stand and take aim, raising my gun slightly to allow for the gravitational effect on projectiles. My rifle roars once, and the machine-gunner collapses.
Turning around and watching the columns of thick smoke tower from the hilltop is one of the most astounding virtual moments I've ever experienced.
It's 2001. I somehow survive my first encounter with the Russian army, and I gradually learn the basics of staying alive. The ongoing campaign ebbs and flows. A major assault on the city of Montignac goes horrendously wrong, and my entire squad is lost. I only escape by driving a tractor madly through enemy lines. As the war progresses I become an officer, take part in a tank assault, participate in covert night raids, learn to fly a helicopter, and steal vital plans from the enemy general's house.
It's 2009. I'm trudging across the samey landscape of Skira, eliminating yet more spotter teams. I've used the same three weapons for the past four missions, and can't remember the last time I saw a vehicle. I don't even know why I'm fighting this war - the entire plot was sketchily summarised in an opening cutscene before being discarded like a snotty tissue.
Then my platoon mistakenly steps into range of enemy artillery. The ground explodes a few metres ahead, and the squad before me is entirely obliterated, chunks of flesh bouncing sickeningly down the hillside. Desperately I retreat downhill as shells burst all around. Somehow I come out with only a light arm wound. Turning around and watching the columns of thick smoke tower from the hilltop is one of the most astounding virtual moments I've ever experienced.
Put simply, Dragon Rising is not finished.
It's 2001. The war is over, but the game is not. I captured the rogue General Aleksei Guba, now I must travel around Everon to gather my comrades-in-arms for a reflective pint at a pub in Morton. It's little moments like these that made Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis the undeniable classic that it is.
It's 2009. I'm thoroughly bored of clearing out enemy spotter teams. The war is entirely one sided; we're crushing the largest army in the world like an aluminium can at the bottom of the ocean. I've not driven a tank or flown a helicopter. I've barely even stroked the steering wheel of a jeep. The only thing that keeps me playing is the admittedly exhilarating combat. I desperately cling to the hope that the game will improve.
Then, after eleven criminally short missions, it's all over. There's no twist in the anorexic husk that is the storyline of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. I feel utterly cheated. The enormity of Skira lies almost completely unused, as do the alleged seventy in-game weapons and a plethora of vehicles that are only available in the mission editor.
Put simply, Dragon Rising is not finished, and were it not for the sterling effort of the modding community, who have already created a significant number of custom missions that are superior to any of the dross that Codemasters retched into this half-baked excuse for a sequel, it would no longer be on my hard drive. Shame, because the core mechanics of Dragon Rising were very promising indeed.
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