Rising to the challenge.
In a Joint Operation dubbed "Typhoon Rising," U.S., British and Russian forces united to stamp out a growing rebel alliance besieging Indonesia. They needed a few good men, so when the call came I was front and center. As a highly seasoned foot-soldier and battle-hardened gastronome with an affinity for Indonesian cuisine, how could I possibly stand by watching all my favorite eateries come crashing to the ground in a hail of mortar blasts?
Our first insertion was far from uneventful. After requesting transport, I boarded a Humvee along with "James Brown-G4NG$TA," "Big-Pimpin" and "Keow-Baby." The distance to the closest hot spot was too great, so Pimpin loaded the Hummer onto a LCAC vehicular transport piloted by "The Dorito Monk." Onboard we found two fully-loaded APCs, a jeep and a 5.5 ton truck filled with eight other soldiers. We quickly crossed a massive lake to our destination point, and thanks to several smoke grenades strategically dropped from friendly helicopters and a little cover fire from entrenched snipers, we disembarked and easily overran the opposition to set up our first base of operation behind enemy lines.
This is gonna be a great war.
And while the term "great war" may a bit of an oxymoron, Novalogic's massive first-person shooter Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising is indeed a great game. Though the experience is hampered a bit by a few small but substantial issues (specifically, some nasty bugs and no single-player), this is about as good as online military warfare gets.
Joint Ops is technically the first new franchise from Novalogic in ages, but these guys have learned a thing or two about online fragging from years of tweaking their Novaworld servers for their Comanche and Delta Force games. You play as either the Joint Ops or as part of the rebellion in typical online modes like Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill alongside the real star of the show, the Battlefield-esque Advance and Secure.
The goal here is to secure key points on the map; the larger the attacking force, the more quickly the area is converted to your side. But while you're advancing and securing enemy territory, the enemy is doing the same, leading to a bullet-riddled, high-octane tug-of-war. Again, it's straight out of Battlefield, but Joint Ops does more than a few things differently.
Take the five character classes: engineer, medic, rifleman, sniper and gunner. Each has specific weapons and functions on the battlefield, creating a nice variety of play styles. Snipers, for example, will play a slow, methodical game to take out key opposition and paint targets for air strikes and mortar fire. Engineers man mortars, explosives and essential surface-to-air artillery to take down airborne threats. Medics travel light, zipping around the battlefield answering the call placed by their wounded buddies, while gunners and riflemen get down and dirty using all kinds of guns to take down enemy soldiers and vehicles.
Regardless of your class, the gameplay is very intuitive thanks to the clearly delineated icons and easily accessible world maps. Finding friends and enemies is no hassle at all and you can even customize your GUI to create more or less viewing space.
But where Joint Ops really one-ups the Battlefield games is in its enormous scope. The maps can be huge, some as big as 50 square kilometers. That might seem like a lot of empty space to fill, but consider the fact that the game actually supports matches featuring up to 150 players simultaneously. That's 75 on 75. Suddenly, all that wide open space just got a lot smaller, particularly as bullets, vehicles and infantry are swarming all around you. Sweet.
Joint Ops also expands on Battlefield with its potential for team-play afforded by the Commander system. You'll find the option to form many smaller squads within your army, and at the click of a button, a request for squad members is sent out to all recruits. If you choose to join you will see new icons placed on the world map that represent your squad members. A squad commander can set waypoints for his squad mates including detailed descriptions at each point. Though it's essentially a fragfest, if you want to get fancy and try to organize an elite task force, Joint Ops allows it.
Teaming up is a good idea in Joint Ops when it comes to travel, which is where the game's 29 vehicles come into play. You won't find any fighter planes, but there are plenty of boats, trucks, jeeps, helicopters and a big-ass Chinook twin-blade copter large enough to airlift several vehicles and foot soldiers. The vehicles are essential and extremely well-implemented thanks to intuitive control; simple WASD wins the day here. You'll be airlifting soldiers in and out firefights in just a few short practice runs.
The weapons are equally pleasing. You'll get your mitts on various side arms, heavy machine guns, assault rifles (with grenade launcher attachments), several sniper scope rifles, grenades (flash, smoke and frag), shotguns, mortars, claymores, explosive satchels, LAW rockets, Stinger missiles – the list goes on and tops a whopping 40 in all.
This leads to the interesting Encumbrance system, which penalizes those who pile on the heavy weapons by slowing them down. This gives the payload process a more strategic flair than you find in most online firefights.
Joint Ops looks great, especially when you consider the sheer scale. Though clipping errors and the occasional framerate chug can mar the experience on lower end machines, mid to high range rigs yield detailed textures and lush landscapes. The heat distortion in particular is very cool. Perhaps the most impressive feature is the day/night cycle, which can actually play out over the course of one game. Watching the world plunge into darkness, slowing the pace and requiring the use of night vision goggles, is a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, your joy can be short-lived as Joint Ops is pretty buggy. Expect to be annoyed as you suffer through players and vehicles warping around the game world, weapons disappearing without a trace, occasional crashing to the desktop, problems establishing and keeping a connection and the aforementioned clipping errors. A patch has been released that addresses some of these issues, but I'd expect plenty more before it's all cleaned up.
Joint Ops also suffers from the lack of any significant single-player component. From the outset you are given a long list of training missions, but they are all just that: training ops to teach you the basics of how to play the game. While Joint Ops is obviously designed for online play, it would have greatly benefited from some sort of offline arena in which to hone your skills.
And practice would definitely come in handy because it is exceedingly easy to get shot from just about anywhere, especially in the larger games. Wandering into a hot spot or trying to play Rambo will get you killed almost immediately because you can only take a shot or two before going down. It can be frustrating. Realism is great, but a better balance between real-world damage and actual gaming fun would have been nice.
Yet despite its various shortcomings, Joint Ops: Typhoon Rising is currently the best of its kind with great graphics, a wealth of weapons and vehicles and solid play mechanics. Fans of online military fragging need look no further.