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Review By Shawn Sanders.

Not many military games provide that hard-boiled level of immersion that so many of us imaginary First Sergeants and Second Lieutenants are really hungry for. Rainbow Six and Hidden and Dangerous spring to mind, but those games are ancient history (at least until their eagerly awaited sequels make it out of basic training). We want something new, something revolutionary. But mainly, we want something fun and realistic.

Well, it's got a name - Operation Flashpoint. Codemasters and developer Bohemia Interactive bring you a game that truly makes you feel like you're in the middle of a real war, even if that war isn't as smooth, pretty or glitch-free as we would like. However, the most appealing part is that you're just an average soldier possessing no special abilities or extra health. And you have no better sense of the enemies' whereabouts than they do of yours. It's wartime, folks, and believe it or not it can be a lot of fun.

The story is a prosaic one. It's the Cold War. The enemy is naturally the Red Army and your job is to follow orders (or give them in the later stages). These always entail holding or pushing the enemy back in some form or another. To preserve the nice, unfolding story I won't get into specifics. Just know that "freedom was attacked and freedom must be defended" by any means available to you.

Op Flash. plays much like your garden variety FPS game, but there are many differences, starting with a choice of first or third person perspectives. First person is great for sniping and conducting surveillance, whereas the third person is ideal for piloting and driving the game's multitude of vehicles. Having the option for either view is a great addition and is something we would like to see implemented in more shooters. And that includes a crosshair for third-person mode...*cough* Tribes 2 *cough*!

After you've viewed the mission briefing, checked your weapon loadout and have taken a gander at the detailed overhead map displaying your position in relation to your objectives, it's time to shoot some people - namely, evil Russian people. Thankfully the mission structure is decent.

Early on, you follow a computer-controlled commander. If this guy is killed, another CPU member of your squad will take his place. The commander or "Officer" will dish out order after order. Somehow he's able to spot enemies with uncanny regularity, seeing how I can barely find them until I'm practically exchanging breath mints with the little bastards. When the Officer spots an enemy, he will quickly command one of the team members, referred to by a number (I was number 8) to dispatch said enemy at, say, 4 o'clock.

This is supposed to help you locate the enemy's position, but in the beginning, it can be very confusing. I only noticed the little clock appear when I was being given an order, and then shortly thereafter it was gone. This will also leave you wondering where the heck this so-called "enemy soldier" is hiding. And that usually results in many bullets finding your big dumb head. So there is a bit of a learning curve.

But before long I was poised and ready for any command my fearless leader had for me. And that's the key to this game - patience and concentration. If you stay aware of your team's position and keep a sharp eye out for the enemy all while staying relatively unseen, you'll do fine...

...until it's time to reload your weapon.

Rearming yourself isn't the problem, since weapons and ammo can be looted from the dead carcasses of friend and foe or picked up from one of the weapon caches littered throughout the game. But one of Op Flash's annoying control bits is the need for your character to come to a dead stop while reloading his weapon. Talk about dangerous! I've felt the sting of hot lead more times than any digital soldier should. Why I can't run or move at all while reloading is a frustrating mystery.

Speaking of running, you want funny? Switch to third person and get a kick out of your character's hysterical butt-waggle. Maybe your character was a Solid Gold dancer before he enlisted, because I'd hate to think that butts move that way naturally. Other lame animations include getting in and out of vehicles. Well, actually there are no animations for these actions. You just pop in and out like magic. Scotty, beam aboard that attack helicopter.

Occasionally, your character will get stuck trying to get in or out of the car or trying to get off a ladder or some other object. These glitches never last for long, but they are noteworthy and have led to my untimely demise a few times since they usually occur when you're out in the open.

Speaking of which, the environments are impressive. The areas are vast with realistic topographies and believable landscapes (forests, towns, military outposts, etc.). It's quite cool.

Like any good soldier, you're armed to the teeth. You'll get AKs, heavy machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades, M16's and much more. Tired of hoofing it everywhere? Just locate one of the game's whopping 38 (!) vehicles and you're set. There are jeeps, tanks, helicopters, planes, armored transports and more to help you dish out your own brand of pain - or to provide some timely transportation.

This really opens up the gameplay and leads to an incredible sense of immersion. You're definitely not stuck on rails here, folks.

Some of the graphics are amazing, most notably the weapons, vehicles (the A64 Attack Chopper is gorgeously detailed) and, from a distance, the backgrounds. But those same backgrounds are brutal on the eye and very flat when you're up close. Character textures suffer from the same dilemma. I'm running the game on a 1.2 GB T-Bird w/ a GeForce 3 card and the environments still suffer from huge pixels and anisotropic filtering (color and shape blending) issues. Again, that's only when you're up close.

The AI is pretty good, but not stellar. It's certainly much better than what we found in Delta Force: Land Warrior. Enemies seek cover, try to flank you and even call for backup, which often comes by way of tanks and helicopter support. Retreat! Nothing beats intensity like running into a camp slaughtering all opposition only to find their reinforcements have arrived. Now you're outgunned and outnumbered.

The result can be thrilling. I was retreating from a battle with a squad of enemy tanks and infantry close on my backside. I found a barn that housed a civilian jeep. Naturally, I jumped in and darted out of there. The jeep was unarmed, but was also much faster than the infantry or the tanks, so I made it back to base just in time to catch a lashing from a senior officer for my failed mission. Guess cowardice isn't a good quality.

A burly mission editor and a number of multiplayer options (LAN, Internet and Direct Server) complete this already brimming bowl of military goodness. Indeed, the multiplayer has the potential for greatness...but that's only if you have more than 20 players. The areas are much too vast for anything under that. So bring a few extra bags of Doritos because LAN parties should be massive if you expect any real enjoyment.

Operation Flashpoint is a cool game, lightly peppered with some annoyances and a few glitches. The areas are large and detailed and the overall immersion and realism is second to none. Those looking for something a little faster paced might decide to skip out on this battle, but the patient shooter fan and hardcore military sim enthusiast will be very pleased with what Op Flash has to offer.