Set A1M1's To Stun!
In any of these large scale open terrain simulators there is a sense that no matter what is done, the project is over-ambitious from the start, and that there is far too much possibility for bugs to creep into the design. While Dragon Rising lacks the far too ambitious for its own good civilian interaction that Bohemia's latest title offers, there's still plenty of room for problems to creep in.
You've no doubt heard elsewhere the bugs are prevalent in the game. The truth is, it's not as bad as you may have heard, at least on the XBox 360 version I sampled. There are a few minor issues that creep in such as a scripted event featuring comm chatter on the radio that seems to play once, repeat part of it, then play again normally. It's a noticeable glitch, but nothing that harms gameplay. There's the infamous AI issues which Codemasters is already working to resolve as we speak, where your squad mates have a habit of walking right into fire...though I didn't find them so infuriatingly bad as I've seen in some other games. The biggest AI hangup for me was the enemy AI which would seem to rotate between every PLA gunner being a gifted sharpshooter, able to pick me off with a head-shot from 200m away on the other side of a mountain, and other times being entirely blind and deaf, unable to notice that I'd backed a Jeep up 2 feet from his feet, or another, an anti-tank gunner that was my objective target who didn't notice I was standing in front of him with a rifle aimed at his head.
Neither of those are as frustrating as the mannequin bug. All too often, shooting an enemy will “kill him”, yet his model remains in the position it was last in. This battlefield littered with standing statues of enemies whom you have to squint to see to begin with, makes it very difficult to identify the real threats, and often leads to wasted precious ammo. This leads to my other large complaint about the game. While the controls have clearly been designed with the console in mind, there's one PC element that wasn't eliminated and doesn't jump the gap to console very easily. Console games are most often played on a television sitting an appropriate distance from the player, while PC games are played with the player inches from the monitor. As a result, console games traditionally feature somewhat large enemies in a relativity close proximity to the player, or a long range scoping mechanism if enemies must be at a distance. Dragon Rising due to the need for realism has enemies extremely far away with minimal scoping. The end result is small dots for enemies that are otherwise impossible to see if sitting any distance from the screen. The overall layout of gunplay lends itself much better to a PC monitor environment than a TV screen. The end result is a PC game with console controls, or a console game with enemies that are too small. Alternatively, you can simply use the VGA, DVI, or HDMI cables for an XBox 360, or HDMI for PS3 and connect it to a nice PC monitor. It's not so much a flaw with the game, there was simply no other way to present it, but it's definitely an issue worth noting.
Vehicle handling is a mixed bag. Jeeps, as expected given Codemaster's racing simulator legacy, handle very realistically including skids if trying to turn at high speed. It's not exactly DiRT 2, but it handles frustratingly realistically. Unfortunately, Codemasters has no such legacy with aviation simulators, and it shows. Helicopters are painful at best to attempt to fly.
It wouldn't be right to end a review without complaining about checkpoints. This doesn't detract from the game overall, since the game is largely designed to be played on the hardest difficulties without checkpoints at all, but it's worth a mention. Overall there is a great amount of skill in where the checkpoints have been placed for normal difficulty level. And there's a strong reward for making it to a checkpoint: Your team is restored in health, and fallen squad mates are reanimated from the dead (No doubt enlistment numbers would increase if it worked that way in reality: “Objective complete, you may now reanimate the KIA members of your squad!”) This provides great incentive to push forward and provides the feeling of gaining ground to those of us who will die...again and again. Unfortunately, not all checkpoints are equal. If you don't follow a perfectly straight line between waypoints you'll often end up not triggering a checkpoint. Death means restarting up to a half hour's gameplay ago, only to move forward for eight minutes and hit the checkpoint you should have hit the first time. By far my worst checkpoint of the game was the one in the second mission. I took out the enemy AA site, and upon falling back, I triggered a checkpoint. A checkpoint that occurred about thirty seconds from a howitzer shell exploding on my head, and a rain of bullets from an occupied village on the neighboring hill. Every time I died here (almost instantly) I had to restart in the same conditions. I eventually had to “cheat” the system, but fleeing the site and relying on a little luck to escape the shell, allowing my squad to be killed by it, heading as fast as I could through the fields to the waypoint in the next village (dodging pursuers all the while), calling in an artillery strike (wasting my precious fire support) to take out the village, picking off the survivors myself, and advancing to a checkpoint so my squad would re spawn. Sure, on the most difficult mode there would be no checkpoint to have worried about, and I'd have ended up starting again from the beginning....but I didn't choose the hardest mode.
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