London, 1800 hours. Following confirmed and reconfirmed reports of an Operation Flashpoint: Red River co-op event, I've been parachuted into West London to infiltrate Samarqand, a central Asian restaurant. Here I must blend in with the locals to gain access to the code.
Clearly, they knew I was coming. Upon entry I'm immediately assaulted by the aromatic smell of meat platters and dumplings strategically placed like mines along an enemy patrol route. Using all my steely determination to resist the temptation to go back for thirds, I finally break off and leap into a booth. There I find three perspiring men clutching gamepads and staring at plasma tellies with piercing stares.
I prepare to recount my carefully constructed cover story (I'm an Uzbek toilet roll salesman) to our group's overseer and Red River's creative director, Sion Lenton - not to be confused with former world heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston. But before I can get the words out the screen swells with searing light and I'm transported to another world... Well, central Asia.
I'm standing in a barren landscape encircled by gargantuan, snow-capped mountains. From this perspective, though, they appear almost as big as my thumb. Around me are my three comrades, each dressed in full desert camo and flanked by a long line of military vehicles.
Sion informs us that our job is to escort these vehicles back to a base many miles away. This is what I came here to see - a full-on, balls out in the siesta sun session of Operation Flashpoint: Red River's co-op modes.
Mounting a transport, my comrades and I begin a meandering run through enemy-held territory. Our convoy kicks up dust plumes so high we could probably be seen coming by a visually impaired sheep herder in Turkmenistan, let alone the countless local insurgents who've trickled into Tajikistan to regroup after one too many spankings in Afghanistan. Given the quality of the Tajik meat dishes, I can hardly say I blame them.
My three comrades and I begin chattering in military speak (VOIP is available, but unnecessary due to our close proximity). Then the first whizzing lines of tracer fire thud into the dust around our convoy.
Dismounting, we desperately scan the horizon for movement, our vision hampered by heat haze and the searing desert sun. Far away in the distance, I spot them. Three riflemen. 150 metres. Northeast.
Battling nerves, I hold down my clammy controller's right bumper to bring up the context-sensitive radial squad command menu. Ignoring the plethora move and attack orders, I select the Paint Target option and mark the enemy's location for the rest of my team to see.
As one they turn and fire, short sharp bursts of precise fire cutting through the now clearly identified enemy ranks. At least, that's how I've decided to remember it. Reporting that we were all wiped out in under a minute by the dug-in AI which mercilessly cut us down as we loitered idiotically in the open would hardly sound heroic now, would it?
An hour later, dripping with the sweet sweat of victory and exhausted from several attempts to complete the mission, we've finally reached our final objective. Our journey has taken us on a deadly run through the mountains, now populated by AK-47-toting extremists, bazooka bearing maniacs and a three-legged goat that walked in front of our jeep.
This, Sion barks in a manner befitting his childhood hero and one of Red River's voice actors (Al Matthew, who played Apone in Aliens), is only one of four co-operative modes on offer. You also get the option to play the entire single-player game with other real people.
If you've never played an Operation Flashpoint game before, Red River's co-op is an experience unlike most modern day combat shooters. As with the game's predecessors the levels are epic - freeform, open-world environments packed with generously spaced mission objectives that must be travelled to either on foot or by vehicle.
Much of the combat takes place at range, with enemies often distant figures who bob in and out of cover as they attempt to pick you off. Or at best, who get near enough to bellow a shouted hello before you riddle their innards with a couple of well-placed salvos. Which kind depends on the class of soldier you choose to play as.
Scouts are masters of long range sniping, while Auto Riflemen can spray bullets all day long to suppress the enemy. Grenadiers are kings of demolition and regular Riflemen are the ones most likely to see the whites of the enemy's eyes.
An array of customisations allows you to upgrade your weapons, whether by trading in a handgun for a shotgun or adding an improved scope to your sniper rifle and so on. Battle modifications let you boost key attributes for the fight ahead, ranging from more accurate shooting to improved health.
With upgrades linked to character class level progression, you always feel as though the way you play influences how quickly you advance. The game encourages you to press on into the thick of the action rather than take a backseat and let your team mates do all the dangerous stuff.
After a brief respite we're back in the fight. This time the action takes place on the outskirts of a mud hut village, atop a steep incline overlooking a sprawling valley.
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We're playing the Last Stand co-op mode and have only moments to get into position before an enemy assault breaks on the already severely crumbling walls encircling the settlement. Driven by adrenaline, the four of us search for cover, hunting for the best vantage point from which to repel our imminent attackers.
Movement. In the far distance. The distinct bobbing of heads atop jogging bodies, approaching fast. We open up, clipped bursts of heavy machine-gun fire punctuated by the echoing pops of sniper shots.
Enemies fall but each wave is replaced by another group of soldiers, more determined than the last, undaunted as they pound past their fallen comrades. Ammunition is running low but the supplies are on the other side of the compound. Two of us break off to restock while the second duo remains behind, desperately attempting to suppress enemies with limited shots.
As the torrent of men turns into a trickle our victory whoops are caught on the mountain wind. But on the same gust comes the whop-whopping rotors of an enemy chopper, closing fast. Then I remember. Sprinting back to a nearby hut I gather up an anti-aircraft missile I passed earlier and, locking on, drop the gunship from the sky.
As we gather our thoughts and catch our breath, Sion runs through the two modes we've not yet had a chance to see: The Black Hawk Down-style Combat Search and Rescue, where the salvage of downed pilots inside enemy territory is your primary objective, and Combat Sweep, a series of waypoints through the Tajik landscape to remove any and all insurgent threats from local villages.
Red River seems slower paced than your average team-based squad shooter, yet the gameplay is noticeably quicker than in Dragon Rising. The co-op modes, despite some AI flaws that still need ironing out, have the potential to provide the perfect respite from the more frenetic shooters currently so in vogue.
With my mission complete I take my leave. As I exit the Samarqand under the cover of excited chatter from the assembled throng of beer-supping journalists and developers, I can't help but feel a pang. I hope to return to Tajikistan's war-torn mountains soon for one more crack at co-op glory. And a third helping of dumplings.