The war is over.
Back in the day, Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis
(developed by Bohemia Interactive) was a nifty first-person shooter featuring huge, open maps filled with vehicles and enemies both online and off. Instead of running down corridors blasting foes as a one-man army, you'd hump through big, realistic environments assaulting villages and enemy installations with bands of A.I.-controlled brothers or human players.
Then, Digital Illusions came along and dropped the Battlefield 1942 bomb on Bohemia's parade. Battlefield 1942 did everything Flashpoint did with greater accessibility, more vehicles, and superior Conquest-style play. Rather than responding with another ground-breaking hit, Bohemia's counter-attack was an expansion, Operation Flashpoint: Resistance. Unfortunately, Resistance was futile.
And so is Bohemia's recent Xbox port of both the original and the expansion, Operation Flashpoint: Elite. Like an old fighter returning to the ring just to get knocked out of it, this game embarrasses itself, Bohemia Interactive, and Codemasters with its hilariously bad engine, awful graphics, obtuse map system and the worst collection of sounds since Creed released an album. Elite? More like special.
The first (and least painful) thing you'll do upon starting a game of Elite is create an identity. The facial editing options are lame, but you can choose between several voices, set the pitch, and lay a voice-filter over that with options like "Robot," and "Kid." This feature seems pretty groovy until you realize it's being included in lieu of voice chat.
After spending a couple minutes to produce a wacky soldier with a high-pitched robot voice, you'll be disappointed to find that he didn't transfer over to the single-player campaign, Cold War Crisis.
Instead, you're placed in the poorly rendered fatigues of four different soldiers in the same, confusing conflict. The Russians, for unknown reasons, are up to some funny business in a fictional European state, and it's up to you to stop them before they start World War III. That's right - even the storyline is antiquated.
If you play through half of Cold War Crisis, you can travel even further back in time to play the Resistance campaign as Victor Troska, and there are also a ton of freestanding single play missions. With battles over land, sea and air incorporating a nice array of vehicles and weapons, it's easy to see why Operation Flashpoint was such an important game ages ago. There's a tremendous amount of content in here.
Unfortunately, this Xbox version is so broken, only the most dedicated (read: bored) of gamers will have the patience to slog through its numerous problems to enjoy the depth. Mission transitions, for example, are far from clean. Failing a mission doesn't always result in a Game Over screen; often you'll just sit there wondering what to do next as the game won't let you proceed any further. On the other hand, you'll occasionally complete tasks only to have the game go AWOL and refuse to direct you to the next sequence.
Even worse is the crazy coordinate system. You can access a map of the battlefield with lots of esoteric numbers and letters, but without an Armed Services understanding of what "move to Bravo Delta 20-6" means, you'll be lost in the woods, because the game never explains how to read the damned thing.
The controls are mostly generic FPS style, plus a few weird issues I thought died in the 20th century. For reasons unknown, you can't move and reload at the same time. It's also strange that clicking the L-stick makes you crouch, while pressing the Y button makes you lie prone. On the other hand, pressing the L trigger makes you aim down the barrel, while pressing the R-stick aims down the scope. The controls are really crossed up.
The A.I. is equally confusing. Sometimes enemies will seem to jockey for a good shot, but mostly they just run out into the open, one after the other, and shoot at you. Your squad-mates are good about shooting enemies, but terrible at path-finding or following orders, especially when those orders involve vehicles. The programming is just kind of bunk.
The rotten core of the Operation Flashpoint experience, though, is the game engine. This sucker doesn't run, it shambles. Everything that moves does so badly. Units are bound to five or six animations, max, and when you're in a helicopter, the ground clips along like you're flying over an earthquake. The aiming is too fast, the turning is too slow, the environmental texture tiles look a lot like this, and sometimes when you get out of helicopters, they're miraculously upside down. The game is four and a half years old, so we didn't expect much, but man, we expected something better than this.
And it only gets worse. The sound effects are harsh and unpleasant and the music sounds like it belongs in a totally different, equally bad game, maybe something in outer-space. The game's single most powerful feature, though, is the unbelievable chatter produced by your squad mates.
You know when you call 411 and the computerized voice reads the phone number in a crazy, disjointed manner because all the individual numbers were recorded separately? That's what Operation Flashpoint's chatter sounds like, except it runs constantly and you can't hang up on it . Any time one of your guys spots or kills an enemy, receives a new order, gets hurt, or runs out of ammo, he'll say something like "En-em-y you-nit…Wuh-noCLOCK… oneHUNDRED ....meters." "En-em-y you-nit…Three-ohCLOCK….fifTY meters." Over and over. Again and again. It's probably the worst noise you'll ever hear your television make, short of dropping it into a wood chipper.
While you're at it, throw this game in there, too. It contains hours and hours of material, but it contains precious few hours of good material. That's probably why only a handful of players are ever online, and finding them in any of the game's gigantic environments is nearly impossible. As you might imagine, the match types don't offer any remotely new or original options.
Operation Flashpoint: Elite is simply an old, crippled vet that should have been left to its episodes of Judge Judy and servings of lime Jell-O in the gaming retirement home. In its prime, it was a solid, proud shooter that began one of the best trends in modern PC gaming. Here's hoping Codemasters lets this soldier rest in peace.