Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Multiplayer Preview: War Is Hell. And Mostly Colorless.

Sion Lenton, Executive Producer on Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, says the game isn't competing with Modern Warfare 2. It's just trying to get out the message that war is scary.

There are several ways games can communicate the horrors of war. Watching your squad die or witnessing a nuclear explosion, for example, could make quite an impact. But the method Dragon Rising uses to instill the fear a soldier might feel on the battlefield in players is realism. That is, no heads-up display, no health bar and no way to know where the enemies are until after they start shooting at you.

What Is It?
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is a sequel to 2001 Xbox/PC game Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. Both games are tactical shooter/war simulators where players take the role of a single soldier that commands a small squad. The idea is that you're playing as a cog in the greater wheel of the military, rather than John Rambo.

What We Saw
I played two multiplayer maps on an Xbox 360 build of the game – one set at night and one set during daytime.

How Far Along Is It?
The game comes out October 6.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Multiplayer Preview: War Is Hell. And Mostly Colorless.

What Needs Improvement?
Could Use Some Color: The game takes place on a fictitious island that's two parts Alaska and one part volcano (according to Lenton). I've never been to Alaska, but I'm pretty sure they've got colors up there besides green, orange and gray – and I know the areas around active volcanoes are usually verdant and pretty (if not totally charred by a recent eruption). The terrain in the two levels I played reminded me of this fugly gray sweater my grandma knitted for me. I'm told that there is a lighting bug that may have contributed to the dull visuals – however, I'm not sure if that alone accounts for the lack of color.

Would You Like Fries With That? I don't think ordering an airstrike in a video game has ever been this complicated. In on the daytime mission, I had to call for one as part of completing an objective. This required me to navigate three sub-menus in addition to my normal weapons menu to access the binoculars to point at the thing I wanted struck. Realistic or not, it's tedious. Also, it creates a fatal situation for indecisiveness: imagine being shot while trying to decide between a tight ballistic strike or a carpet artillery strike.

What Should Stay The Same?
The Concept Of Difficulty: There are "difficulty" settings in the game, but they don't do anything to the enemy AI, the layout of the level or the number of health items in the level. Instead, you start losing common video game comforts like the heads-up display, or the compass as you ramp up the difficulty setting. So if knowing is half the battle, you've basically half-lost while playing on Expert. Pretty nifty concept.

Variety In Many Things, If Not Setting: Dragon Rising offers a number of weapons as well as various ways to use them that keep combat interesting. However there's also the added dynamic of having to control your squad and that really keeps you on your toes. For example, all units in your squad have basic field kits that will stop bleeding if they're injured. But they can't actually repair damage to limbs or restore their health gauge. For that, you need a medic – and in the one partial-AI match I played, I had to decide where and when to send the AI medic. This was practically a strategy game in and of itself.

Final Thoughts
There's enough room in video game land for all kinds of war shooter games. I like that Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is trying to stand out from the rest by changing the way you approach war and I'm comfortable not comparing it to Modern Warfare 2. However, I worry that gamers will find themselves comparing the two games anyway — and not favorably.