The first time we saw Operation Flashpoint: Red River in action, it was clear that the game was trying to expand the appeal of this traditionally "realistic" military shooter series. Played alone, as we did in December, the game still requires a fair amount of tactical squad micromanagement, but Codemasters encourages players to experience the ten-stage campaign, along with the separate co-op mode called "Fireteam Engagements," with a group of three friends.
During a recent press event, I did just that (with a trio of Codemasters reps in place of my best buds), playing through the eighth stage of the campaign; a convoy mission where your squad is tasked with clearing out various checkpoints across a vast field leading up to a hillside castle assault. Once I got my settings in order (no inverted look, aim assist off, crosshairs on, thank you very much), I found the real draw of Red River: just going into battle with your buddies.
Fighting alongside three human squadmates was intuitive and interesting, and as we made our way through the various checkpoints, clearing out buildings of enemies from the map, we began to bond as a unit. We learned to call flanks, hold ranks and generally support each other, both with gunfire and by pulling each other up off of the ground occasionally.
There was a story carrying on in the background (featuring an extremely foul-mouthed Sergeant named Knox), but I mostly ignored it -- drawn in by the fun we created ourselves. The "game" never got in our way, and that's intentional, says creative director Sion Lenton. Codemasters has tried to design Red River to be more accessible not necessarily by making it a more "casual" shooter, but by allowing you to play it as you like. "We're trying to give you better tools," he says. One player can play with the full UI and assistance on, and another can play with none of the helping options; and both can enjoy a solid military simulation.
Red Rising includes four player classes -- Grenadier, Scout, Rifleman and Automatic Rifleman -- with each further customized through weapon and equipment loadouts. As you play the game, you're awarded XP, and leveling up unlocks new sights, magazines and additional equipment. As is standard for the Operation Flashpoint series, realistic physics are in play, so bullets drop over distance and ricochet, and each gun handles uniquely.
There are also "progression points" earned in the campaign, and those can be spent on personal skills outside of the class system. So, you can customize a character even further towards your playstyle by creating, for instance, a Scout that can take a few extra hits, or a Rifleman that's faster than average. The customization isn't quite as deep as in Call of Duty's multiplayer, but it is more realistic -- you won't be unlocking remote-controlled cars or goofy sights.
Speaking of multiplayer, Red River will not include a competitive mode. In addition to the campaign, the game will feature the aforementioned Fireteam Engagements mode, which includes four co-op gametypes: "Last Stand" is a Horde-like mode pitting your team against waves of enemies; "Rolling Thunder" is an escort mission; "CSAR" stands for combat search-and-rescue; and "Combat Sweep" is like Rainbow Six's Terrorist Hunt mode, where you need to clear out an area of bad guys. Lenton says Codemasters prototyped eight of these gametypes, but narrowed them down to these four for the final version of the mode.
Lenton emphasizes the developers' focus on co-op, "a scenario that I think is going to really take off" across gaming as a whole (if it hasn't already). That's not to say competitive multiplayer will never return to the series. "Red River is the next step in Flashpoint, but we've already got bigger plans," he says. "We've already started looking at the next version, as well." As for this game, the team is focused on the April 26 launch, though Lenton teases that new weapons and co-op maps are likely to be offered through post-release DLC, depending on the game's success.
That success won't come easy -- Operation Flashpoint: Red River appears to be a somewhat standard entry in the competitive and saturated shooter genre. But for a group of friends down for a more tactical experience than your go-to blockbuster shooter can offer, Red River could be worth a look.