Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis was a game which, despite its critical acclaim, made practically no impact on the mainstream when released back in 2001. Instead, this masterpiece of strategic gaming was circulated within niche circles. It was only enjoyed by those lucky few who owned a PC powerful enough to run it and who, no doubt laughing at ignorant fools like myself, felt proud to be part of something so far removed from the commercial game scene.
However, when a friend of mine bought a PC that had this blue futuristic operating system called windows XP and told me about a certain war game lent to him by his dad, my whole perception of computer games changed. It was a time when I made my first tentative steps into the world of PC strategy games and learnt the true meaning of the term 'computer game obsession'. It also marked the beginning of the end of my interest in console games.
But, contrary to what you might think, this was not love at first sight. My first go on Operation Flashpoint consisted of the single mission 'Clean Sweep' where, as part a small special forces team, you battle to cleanse a town called Montignac of its Russian occupiers.
On first impression, the game looked quite average and, as I clicked off rounds at the distant figures in grey using the silenced HK, I was far from impressed. However as I moved onto the 'Commander' single mission in which you have a full squad and an array of vehicles at your disposal, I realised there was far more to this game than initially met the eye.
What really distinguished Operation Flashpoint for me was the way it provided an open world environment on a scale quite unlike anything I had ever seen. Spread across three vast Islands, each with their own characteristic terrain with everything from dense forests, towns and mountain ranges, it gave the player a unprecedented degree of control when it came to logistics.
Objectives could sometimes be separated by miles and these distances had to be covered on foot; sometimes – on a higher difficulty - only with the aid of a map (without locater) and compass. The player could plot their approach, perhaps choosing to take advantage of some nearby forest for cover, and also equip their squads with the whatever balance of weapons they felt best suited the situation.
Overall, the Islands themselves served to symbolize the cold war in microcosm, and the virtual conflict portrayed in OF is like some war enthusiast's ultimate fantasy. Dug in on the sun-scorched Island of Maldon sit the Americans; idly playing 'I Spy',and debating whether Jeep begins with a G or J, while the Russians, based on the island of Kolgujev, amuse themselves within the cold, harsh landscape by shooting farmers and indulging in all manner of atrocities.
With both sides armed to the teeth and separated by just a few miles of water, the story kicks off when the Russians attack NATO forces on the island of Everon, sparking a full- on conflict between the two superpowers, but one which is conveniently only localized to these three Islands.
The main campaign then alternates between four main protagonists, a format which allows the player to experience the conflict from the perspective of infantryman, special forces, tank commander and pilot. The way in which the open world format accommodates these highly distinctive roles is one of the game's most impressive features.
Whether as a lone soldier, stalking your way through the undergrowth to avoid a patrolling BMPs, or as the pilot of a Cobra helicopter or A10, giving those 'ruskies' a taste of steel rain over Kolgujev, Operation Flashpoint manages to balance these contrasting roles so well that the armored, air and ground missions could almost be stand alone as games in their own right.
Of course, this does not mean that the game is completely devoid of problems. The immense scale means that the game really struggles when it comes to built up urban areas. The towns feel hollow, like the superficial back drop of some low budget Western. The squad AI also leaves a lot to be desired. Your men will frequently run into your line of fire, and have no qualms about whipping out Law launcher and blowing up a tank at point blank range.
The game can also be extremely frustrating, which is summed up best by its military maxim 'all good work is lost for the lack of a little more.' Nothing makes you want to sink your teeth into the game mouse more than having your entire squad shredded by one lone enemy soldier after having just completed some impossible mission objective.
Overall Operation Flashpoint Review
The game really does retain the feel of the combat simulator it evolved from. It gives the player a small taste of the unpredictable and chaotic nature of a real war situation. The sheer number of ways to approach each given mission means OF has an unusually high level of replay value. In fact, unlike so many of my other games which, over time, find themselves lost down the back of chests of drawers, their disks scratched beyond repair – Operation Flashpoint remains in pristine condition at the forefront of my game collection.
However, with the imminent release of Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising, it appears that the reign of the mighty Cold War Crisis might finally be at an end. Codemasters are once again on the cusp of redefining tactical first person shooters with a game which - unfortunately for XBOX and PS3 owners - is going to be vastly superior to any FPS their poor puny consoles could muster.