If the truth really is in the middle, then Operation Flashpoint 2 is the best shooter ever made. It comes extremely close to violating everything we are supposed to know about console shooters and PC shooters. The fact that it is still fundamentally a console game appears to be less of a case of its inseparable nature than a conscious decision on the part of the developer: a few small tweaks, some more levels, and better graphics, and OpFlash 2 would have been one of the best, and most realistic, shooters on the PC this year.
The game begins with some stylish exposition that relates the familiar tale: something has gone terribly wrong somewhere (the Chinese have taken an oil-rich Russian island in the Pacific), and it has fallen to you to pick up a gun and right wrongs. “You” in this case are a member of the Marine force sent to the island to retake it from the Chinese, and your identity shifts almost mission-to-mission (there are ten in the campaign), from grunt lieutenant to special ops and back again. Your tasks are diverse – prisoner rescue, search and destroy, infiltration, flat-out assault – but the gist of the game is you, with a gun, marching over a richly detailed island with your squad killing people and blowing stuff up.
"OpFlash 2 actually tries realism and gets the basics right."
Here the easy thing to say is that the game is watered-down trash for babies too weak for Armed Assault, which is the game this one is drawing endless comparisons to everywhere. However, it isn't nearly that simple. OpFlash 2 actually tries realism and gets the basics right. There is such a thing as bullet drop and windage; enemies will flank you, retreat, hide, fire back accurately; the HUD is minimal; recoil is serious business; iron sights are mandatory for any kind of accuracy, etc. It isn't as radical as ARMA, as the vehicles are simple to control, your weapon doesn't float freely about the screen, and the damage system is more forgiving, especially on lower difficulty levels. Yet, OpFlash 2 deserves credit for taking realism seriously and not falling into he Halo-Call of Duty console mold. In a way, it is a real sequel to Operation Flashpoint, which was a game that was ported to the Xbox and was virtually unchanged on that system relative to its PC cousin. Both that port and its sequel share the same pleasant obstinacy to not bow to the restraints that are supposed to exist on their platforms.
"OpFlash 2 does have serious issues…"
OpFlash 2 does have serious issues, though. The biggest is its campaign which is too short and has almost no vehicle sections. This is bizarre considering how fun vehicles are in free play mode (travel across the entire island unhindered by enemies) and online in multiplayer.
The campaign, despite its short length, does have its moments. A mission involving a dicey extraction down an open valley teeming with patrols and buzzed constantly by helicopters is suitably tense and not at all “game” in the way that stealth sections in normal FPS games are. When you're caught by a patrol and cut to ribbons by a passing Hind you're frowning but not enraged at how cheap their discovery was. You're glumly reloading, secretly glad that you get to crawl on your belly through a dark pine grove again.
Speaking of those pine groves, and those hills and oceans and meadows, all of them look the same, thanks to the obnoxious one-color-fits-all bloom-heavy graphics engine. Recreating the eerie nature of war is fine in a game that isn't supposed to claim scrupulous realism, but when you feel like you're walking through a black and white (gray and washed-out gray) film, it should be in a game less serious than OpFlash 2 is. The game did run extremely smoothly, though. Maybe the scrimping on colors is the secret of its efficiency.
In the end OpFlash 2 is way better than it has any right to be, being an heir to the spotty legacy of the console FPS as well as the hyper-real PC mil-sim. It strikes a balance that is pleasing if not revolutionary, and the shortness of its campaign is disappointing because more of this successful hybridization would have been welcome. Hopefully future games seeking to strike the same balance will look to OpFlash 2, and we'll have more of this kind of thing to play.