Death becomes a close acquaintance to the reckless. While on the lowest difficulty you're given a sparse HUD that lights up enemy positions on a simple compass read-out, there's no indication of a target's distance from you. With tall grass covering the island, trepidation is crucial, especially as it's very difficult to distinguish between friends and enemies in the field. Play at a higher difficulty and the HUD disappears completely, leaving you feeling as though you've had the stabilisers taken off your FPS bike, disorientated by the lack of read-outs and safety nets we rely so heavily upon.
By default your squadron will move as one, but it's possible to split the four-man team up in order to flank enemy holding positions. While the basic radial menu for ordering your team around is quick and intuitive, actually dividing them into groups and managing them is fiddly. It's something that far better handled in, for example, Full Spectrum Warrior and makes fast, efficient execution of advanced strategies more tortuous than it should be in a game of this ilk. For that reason, it's preferable to approach the campaign via the solid co-op mode, working with up to three friends, negating the need to wrestle with in-game tactical menus altogether.
There are a number of shortcomings in regard to realism. In one early mission you're asked to defend a village from enemy attacks. Instinctively you hole up in a building, shooting out the windows before assuming a defensive stance. However, once you've opened a door, it won't close again, leaving huge gaps in your otherwise secure position. Likewise, nestle yourself into a good spot by a window, your gun pointing over the frame, and more often than not your bullets will just thud into the woodwork, despite the clear shot on the enemy presented down the rifle's scope. Finally, while it's possible to loot dead soldiers, appropriating their ammunition (a valuable commodity) and guns, the bodies inexplicably disappear after 30 seconds or so, taking their assets with them. The game has a relatively small population per mission, so this design trait is both anachronistic and irritating.
As with all of Codies' recent output, Dragon Rising's presentation is sparse yet exemplary. The studio knows how to create maximum impact at minimal expense and as such, the simple, economic motion graphics the flit across the screen, introducing the background to the conflict, or displaying campaign stats during load times pack more impact than a thousand pre-rendered cut-scenes. There's no soundtrack in the game outside of the haunting melody that backs the menu screens, but the game's front-end is so effective that it colours the whole experience, setting the tone for the missions it embeds.
Nevertheless, it's hard not to come away feeling the developer made a robust, strong military sim engine but failed to fill it with engaging missions. There are high points, such as defending an airfield from helicopter attack or escorting hostages across hills while under heavy fire, but they rarely sizzle with excitement or novelty. This isn't helped by the dev's reuse of key locations, something that ensures the relatively short campaign begins to feel samey towards its conclusion. There's also a lack of fine polish with a few noticeable bugs interrupting play every hour or so.
Even so, Operation Flashpoint offers a sobering counterpoint to the riotous action of the typical contemporary console FPS and as such is very welcome. As with Race Driver: GRID, with which it shares elements of its engine, some will find the concessions to reality go too far while others will say they don't go nearly far enough. There is, however, just enough range between its difficulties to appease both ends of the spectrum: those who want an unflinching recreation of island-based warfare, and those who want a manageable, mostly enjoyable military videogame. But its mild shortcomings ensure that, until Codemasters can fill its framework with a little more imagination and purpose, neither group will come away fanatical about the effort.