It’s a mil-sim. Ok? Just so we’re all clear. It’s a mil-sim. A military simulator. i.e. not a shooter. Despite what you might think based on the claims of developers and publicists, Call of Duty 4 is not realistic and Dragon Rising can only be compared to Counter-Strike in the way that you’d compare a Turner Prize winning piece of modern art to a tightly coiled dog-turd. Sure, they may have a lot in common, but one is mass-produced and the other comes but once or twice a year.
So, it’s a mil-sim and can’t be judged on the same basis as an ‘ordinary shooter’ because it is specifically intended to be brutally difficult and unwieldy in all but the most tediously trained hands. There’s a learning curve here that’s as tough to climb as a wall of greased glass and unless you’re willing to tackle that ascent in earnest then it’s probably best if you find another game to play.
The smell of napalm in the morning; I could take it or leave it, personally
While it might seem intimidating though, it’s worth remembering the specific merits that the mil-sim genre brings; the thrill of sniping someone from a literal, rather than hyperbolic, ‘miles away’ is tough to beat. So too is the headiness caused by skimming a helicopter inches above the surface of a lake while an ally mans the main gunner positions. Games like Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising offer you a chance to win a real war, not just hack and slash through sloppily designed NPCs.
The war in question for Dragon Rising is set on the island of Skira, where a conflict has broken out between the Russian and Chinese military over the oil-fields which both countries lay claim to. The singleplayer campaign is played from the perspective of the Russians, who use their American supporters to try and seize control of the island.
Thus, the stage is set for a Call of Duty approach to storytelling, with you jumping between characters as you progress and unquestionably completing the objectives which are laid down by the army. When they say jump, you ask how high. Or, you would do if there was a jump button anyway; it turns out that being told to ‘move out, on the bounce’ is just a figure of speech and not an actual order to start bunny-hopping.
Real men don't use maps, just like pretend soldiers don't use good ones
As with most mil-sims though, the real focus shouldn’t actually be on the singleplayer (which is actually a pretty weak, bland affair). Instead, it should be divided between the impressive technology that allows you to roam anywhere on the huge island (it takes nine hours to walk tip to tip, or twenty minutes in a helicopter) and the multiplayer side of the game.
That’s where the real fun is for a game like this – in going up against the Most Dangerous Quarry and participating in strictly organised battles, even if the player limit is a disappointing 16v16 on PC. To be honest, that already doesn’t compare that favourably to the other big mil-sim of the year, ArmA II – and it gets worse on consoles where you’re limited to 4v4 multiplayer matches, plus three bots.
On all platforms you’re also apparently forced to stay within 4km of another human player too. That might sound fine, but considering the size of the map and the tactics you might want to employ it’s actually incredibly limiting and annoying. Just the mention of these restrictions will be enough to put some hardcore mil-sim fans off the game and drive them back to an alternative.
The thing is though, for those hardcore fans, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising won’t get much better either.