When it’s dark at night, just before you go off to bed, if you listen hard enough, you can hear your controller buttons talking. It’s usually intelligent conversation spanning from current events such as logical reasons behind the PSN outage to non-gaming debates on how we’re running out of IP4 addresses. You know, the kind of stuff that lulls you into a peaceful slumber. That is, until you pop Operation Flashpoint: Red River into your console. After that, all you hear at night are the gruesome, high pitched screams of pain and agony. So much so, that you’d think that going through the nine circles of hell would be a walk in the park.
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All you end up doing in Red River is press the A button on the Xbox 360 a lot, and when I mean a lot, I mean every time you’re not subjected to a long diatribe from an eerily authentic commanding officer and travelling from one fire zone to another in a vehicle complete with music from Saliva and Megadeth rocking in the background. All this immersion that’s painstakingly built-up in the name of simulation is ruined by one single fact – every other moment consists of sprint and press A, rinse and repeat until you’ve completed some random objectives. The usage of the A button becomes so excessive that, in some countries, it would be classified as molestation.
What does the A button do, you ask? It allows you to heal yourself and your squad. Through most of the game, you’ll find yourself trying to keep these brain dead marines from bleeding to death. Last I checked, America’s finest would know better than to walk straight into a firefight without taking cover. When you’re not doing that, you’re busy trying to keep yourself alive with, you guessed it, the A button. This is because you can barely see your enemies who are safely camping a 100-odd metres away. You can solve this if you’re willing to play the entire campaign with the scout class and the ranged weapons at its disposal, but such a set up more or less nerfs the three other class options (rifleman, auto-rifleman and grenadier) good and proper. Squad commands, which are accessible with the tap of a shoulder button, aren’t that well executed either, with the AI taking its own sweet time to mosey from one point to the next. It’s this unholy communion of retarded squad AI and the relentless pursuit of creating a game that’s true to life that makes Red River a chore to play.
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And that’s the tragedy of it all. While the core gameplay is more broken than James Hetfield’s voice, some other parts of the game are stunningly executed. As mentioned earlier, 1st Sergeant Knox, your commanding officer, has some well-scripted lines that keep the game interesting during the boring moments, when you’re traversing on foot or in a jeep. The terrain is terrifically realised thanks to Codies’ EGO engine, which manages to create great visuals that span a wide distance. But it’s all to naught when you’re being hand-held from one point to the next across a narrow path. You rarely get to explore most of the map due to the game’s insistence on guiding you with an annoying red pointer. Go off track for too long and you’ll be greeted by a ‘game over’ screen. The same goes for the multiplayer modes; leaving your designated zone means death. Playing the campaign in co-op is slightly less annoying as you can concentrate on wasting enemies rather than dressing wounds on friendly AI, but the fact that the game has a tremendous focus on ranged combat ensures that your team is one where everyone ends up being a scout class soldier.
Apart from the co-operative campaign, there’s Fire Team Engagement, which is made up of several game types. These include Last Stand, which is fundamentally the same as Gears’ Hoard mode or Halo’s Firefight, pitting you against swarms of enemies, whom you can’t see until it’s too late. Then there’s Rolling Thunder, which is an escort mode, forcing you to protect a convoy from heavy artillery fire. Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) has you rescuing two pilots stranded in the middle of enemy territory, which is perhaps the most strategic mode of the bunch. With careful planning and teamwork, you could waltz through the map, but come unprepared and it ends very quickly. Finally, there’s Combat Sweep, which has you making timed runs as you and your crew sift through enemy compounds searching and destroying weapons caches you find along the way. It has a fine balance; it isn’t overly tactical like CSAR, nor does it feel too much like a run-and-gun mode thanks to the timed element.
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Last Stand was the most fun, especially in experienced mode that robs you of your map and compass. The fact that you can lose all your points if your entire team dies at once adds an element of risk that makes it all the more interesting. Connecting online wasn’t a problem in any game type, and lag was notably absent too. It’s abundantly clear that this is the way Red River is meant to be played given that single-player is pretty much unpalatable.
With that in mind, I figured that if I wanted to spend my time healing people, I could do so in Team Fortress 2 and actually have fun with it. Yes, there might be some semblance of a story here, somewhere amidst the ruins of unrewarding gameplay and squad mates with an IQ less than zero, but it jades you so much that all you’re bothered with is Knox’s next expletive-laden line, which provides some much needed, if highly vulgar, entertainment to a single-player campaign that, well, should’ve clearly spent more time in development. Though multiplayer is better, offering tension, teamwork and some shooting, it still doesn’t do enough to save Red River entirely, because you’ll end up playing it mostly as a scout.
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So go ahead, spare your controllers the agony of discussing whether your press on the A button was a good touch or a bad touch and play something a little more satisfying with your time. If you’re looking for your shooter fix, tactical or otherwise, there are better options around. You can do much better, and Codies definitely can too.