Yes, it was me. I was the one who gave Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising a whopping great 90%. Cast your stones now, but I’ll stand by it to my last breath. Well, perhaps I’ll consider lopping a couple of percentage points off because it didn’t fulfill its potential online, but that’s an area its follow-up, Red River, is looking to address.
Co-op was the main draw for Dragon Rising, but various issues kept it from blossoming. One of those was an inability to join your chums mid-mission, meaning also that if someone crashed out, that was it, they had to wait until the next mission before rejoining. Not good. That, at least, has now been fixed.
Anyway, before we get ahead of ourselves, a brief introduction. Red River is a modern military shooter with tactical leanings - think halfway between Call of Duty and ArmA - set in the wilds of Tajikistan. The plot involves the marines getting stuck into some terrorists or something, then the Chinese turning up and things going all wrong and such.
Each mission is surprisingly long, and is actually quite dull to play on your own. For a start, your commanding officer, Staff Sergeant Knox, just will never, ever stop talking. At the start of a mission, he’ll be there for about 5 minutes talking about how you’re going to do this and that, throwing in an uncomfortable number of hyper-macho references to bottoms and genitalia, plus also making countless borderline racist remarks about the enemy.
That’ll go on for ages, with you stuck in place trying to identify the heavy metal music in the background. After he’s shut up, you’ll be teleported out of your vehicle and will go about your business. Sometimes you’ll then be forced back into a vehicle mid-mission and have to sit through another lecture, until you finally finish up and fall asleep during one final oo-rah filled rant.
He talks far too much. On and on and on. So if you’re by yourself, it can become interminable. Thankfully, there are ways of remedying this. The first is by having one, two or even three pals playing co-operatively with you. This is by far the best and most rewarding way to play Red River. The second way, if you’re playing on the PC, is to run the game through Steam and use the browser overlay to do something else while he drones on about chopsticks.
Once he’s finally stopped talking, the gameplay is satisfying enough. Combat is generally a long-distance affair, so you’ve got to take this into account when aiming. Bullets will drop so snipers and riflemen will have to correct for this. Each member of the team has a role to play, so while the support gunner might not be getting all the kills, he can help out by spraying the enemy with suppressing fire, forcing to either stop or go to ground, providing a sniper with a much easier kill.
And, if you’re working together with humans, advanced flanking tactics and other strategic manoeuvres are much easier to pull off. While it’s perfectly possible to get your AI buddies to do all the things a human can do, it’s still fiddly enough with lines of sight being needed for most orders and the map surprisingly only allowing you to issue certain commands on it. This makes bombardment orders much more difficult and imprecise than they really ought to be.
There are still issues with the general intelligence of your AI sidekicks too, although at least now they warn you if they’re going to cross your line of fire. On more than one occasion in a two-player co-op session, the two AI characters in our four-man team ended up rooted to the spot because they had been given an order to rush a position and, despite the mission progressing onwards, didn’t have the sense to fall in once the objective had been completed. A partial failure for the player not issuing new orders, but still.
It’s worse when you order them into a vehicle and they remain seated when the destination is reached. You pile out of the car and start defending the position, then you realise 10 minutes later that they’re still happily relaxing in the jeep listening to Pantera. You shouldn’t have to order them out of the vehicle once you’ve got to the destination.
Anyway, this and other AI issues are made irrelevant if you play it ‘properly’ with a group of four human players. Still, it’s worth considering if you get fed up with AI blunders in these sorts of games.
Once you’re done with the campaign, other co-op-specific modes are available, including convoy escort scenarios, village sweeps, and a Horde mode-esque wave defence. All of these are well worth trying out, but there isn’t any competitive multiplayer this time, Codemasters going fully down the co-op road with Red River. It’s probably the right decision too.
Red River doesn’t really move the series on much, barring a tightening up of the nuts and bolts that surround the co-op experience. The AI is still a potential barrier to ‘fun’ should you not have any friends to play with you, but this is also partially down to player laziness in not keeping tabs on them, just as much as it is down to their own idiocy.
There’s a pacing problem with the campaign missions, specifically spending too long setting the scene with Sergeant Xen O’Phobe and his speeches, and there’ll always be an element of detachment when the combat is long range and hopeful than up close and “in your face” like COD. But Red River does still slip into a handy niche in the shooter genre, the one between the hardcore and the mass market casual.
If ArmA 2 is too much of a challenge (don’t be ashamed, it is for a hell of a lot of people) but COD doesn’t provide a realistic enough portrayal of modern combat, Red River (and as it’s pretty similar, Dragon Rising) should be right up your alley.
- Fills the gap between casual and hardcore military games
- Full co-op campaign, plus 4 other self-contained co-op modes
- AI doesn't walk into your gun fire this time...
- ...though it still does some dumb things
- Script too macho, borderline racist
- Not hardcore enough for some, but too hardcore for others?
The Short Version: Red River doesn't push the series on as much as it should have done, but it's still a solid military shooter that is much, much better when played with a group of friends.