Red River’s primary problem is that it isn’t entirely sure what it’s trying to be, so it ends up straddled across two similar-yet-distinct genres, ultimately unable to appeal to either. It’s part standard shooter and part military simulation; an unfortunate mix because the features that define shooters are usually the exact opposite of those that define mil-sims.
Take weapon handling, as an example. In a standard FPS romp, such as Half-Life, weapons will handle predictably and the bullets will always go in the direction of the perfectly steady cross-hair. Challenge arises from defeating vast numbers of enemies, most of whom don’t present any real threat except when en masse. Mil-sims, on the other hand, are almost the exact opposite; weapons wobble and jam, bullets drop at range and ricochet wildly. The difficulty doesn’t stem from the number of enemies; it comes from understanding the realistically simulated scenarios and equipment.
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Red River attempts to reconcile the two and fails almost immediately because of it, creating a half-breed that doesn’t really satisfy anyone. Sticking with the weapons as an example, Red River offers a world of erratic ballistics, range compensation and one-hit kills, but oddly partners it with rock-steady reticules and a complete lack of kick-back. The result is that most weapons feel far less realistic than they really should; you’re always aiming at enemies down perfectly stable sights, but rarely hitting.
The incompatibility of the genre filters down through nearly all levels of the game too, sometimes ludicrously. Red River is primarily a co-operative game for up to four-players, but Codemasters enforces that idea on you - even if you insist on a singleplayer experience - by mysteriously resurrecting your fireteam when you aren’t looking. It’s something we’re accustomed to in FPS games, where having a full roster is essential to progress, but what’s it doing in a mil-sim? Ruining it, mainly.
Operation Flashpoint: Red River Trailer
Red River’s poor self-definition even manages to impede the flow of the story too. We’re used to vast empty spaces in mil-sims, as it’s true to the experience and usually requires some navigation skills and map-reading to complete. Red River, however, bolts this scale on to the structure of a very linear FPS – so you spend a lot time either bored in the back of a car, listening to stereotyped banter or with your ‘W’ key glued down.
The cutscenes and menus are interesting and engaging, at least, with plenty of humorous injections and factoids helping to buoy up what would otherwise have been dull political prattle. It’s just a shame that you spend most of the time in the game being yelled at by morons, rather than treated to these energetic and visually deep videos.
Technically, Red River doesn’t do much more to impress us either – and it’s clear from the way the Options menu points to an Xbox 360 controller setup that it wasn’t designed with the PC in mind. The button layouts themselves aren’t terrible, but niggles such as the inability to bring the mouse sensitivity under a tight rein are unforgivable. Even on a setting of zero we still span on the spot with the merest flinch.