Have you noticed how you'll quite often see really great looking women going out with the ugliest and dumpiest of men? For example: Michelle Yeoh (from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) going out with Jean Todt (manager of the Ferrari Formula One team). I still can't quite see the sense in that one. Nor anyone at all going out with Johnny Vegas (and his wife is a total fox). It defies all known logic. Is it the money? Is it the car? Is it (God forbid) the sense of humour? I don't know. It's one of life's little mysteries. This all occurred to me when I was playing Operation Flashpoint: Elite, because (and there's no possible way of putting this delicately) it's uglier than Jean Todt and Johnny Vegas's love child, yet I can't quite take my hands off it.
If you've been a gaming devotee for the last five years or so, you should already know that the original version of Operation Flashpoint was one of the PC's most highly acclaimed titles of 2001. So then, you may be wondering why it's taken the best part of half a decade to bring it to the Xbox. It's a fair question, because it's hard to see that many changes to the game from the PC version. The most obvious improvement is to the voiceover track, which was awful in the original. Unfortunately, things haven't improved that much: quite a few of the voiceovers are still rather flat, and don't have a great sense of timing. Graphically, Bohemia Interactive have made a few tweaks, improving the poly-count of the soldier models, refining a few textures, adding motion blur effects and the like, but if anything, it somehow manages to look worse than the PC version. It's no exaggeration to say that it's retina-piercingly ugly. If the rather bland landscape textures weren't bad enough, it's hard to contain a snigger when you lie prone pointing inwards to the bottom of a valley and you can see the wispy grass textures hanging in mid-air, completely detached from the slope. Blur effects are overused in cutscenes and you're often left pulling at your eyelids in bemusement, thinking that you can't possibly have drunk that much, things become so unfocussed...
'Typical levels encompass several square kilometres of fully rendered terrain...'
There is also a more serious drawback to the limitations of implementing such a sprawling graphics engine on the relatively underpowered Xbox. Typical levels encompass several square kilometres of fully rendered terrain, including towns, fields, forests and even the odd rampaging Massey-Ferguson tractor. In order to cram all this detail into the Xbox's measly 64MB of memory, plus maintain an acceptable frame rate, a few sacrifices have been made. The player's first-person point of view has been narrowed down to around 90 degrees, which feels very claustrophobic for a game where you're so dependent upon your peripheral vision. This is exacerbated when using the iron sights of your weapon, as this narrows your view even further, leaving you very vulnerable to being flanked by enemies.
The PC version of Operation Flashpoint was infamously unforgiving with its AI, not hesitating to punish a player for even the most momentary of lapses in concentration. Things are somewhat different on the Xbox, with the two difficulty levels of the original version being split into four: Recruit, Regular, Veteran and Mercenary. Unless you've extensively played the PC version, I recommend that you play on Regular difficulty, which has had the AI sufficiently dumbed down to compensate for the lower screen resolution and narrower field of view. Veteran difficulty level is equivalent to the PC version's Cadet difficulty level, which (despite the name) was fiendishly hard, whilst Mercenary difficulty equates to the PC's Veteran skill level, where you need to rely on your orienteering ability with a map and compass (or sticking close to your squad mates) to know where to go next.
If you're now thinking "oh no, not another dodgy port", I'm now going to explain why I don't give a damn about the sub-standard graphics and why, even over four years on from the original release, this game's still as good as it gets in the soldier sim genre. You see, Operation Flashpoint was never about good looks. Neither was it ever about running through corridors, chewing lead and chucking grenades. Flashpoint isn't your common or garden FPS. No, Flashpoint's about leaning over, putting your hand into a pile of goo and finding that it was your best friend's face (to quote The Simpsons).
It's about camaraderie, the horror and brutality of war and the duty of putting your body in harm's way for your friends. Make no mistake: this is no Medal of Honor or Call of Duty game. Try and shoot on the move and you'll just waste precious ammo. Shoot without using the iron sights and the only thing you'll hit beyond twenty metres is the ground. Stay still for too long, and the first indication you'll have that you've been spotted is the grenade exploding next to your corpse. Flashpoint is the most unforgiving of mistresses, but also the most rewarding, once you get used to her capricious whims.