Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis put to the test - The game founded the genre of military simulation
Tagesschau, May 2, 1985: »On the island of Everon, which belongs to the neutral state of Malden, Soviet Russian troops were sighted today. The Moscow government denies any involvement in the matter. In NATO circles it is suspected that these are defectors of the Soviet army who are planning a coup against Gorbachev. "
On Everon, where farmers normally work their fields, Soviet tanks suddenly roll in, attack helicopters circling, speedboats patrol the coast. NATO operates a secret base on the neighboring island and sends units from there to explore. As David Armstrong you are part of these troops. No sooner have you set foot on the fictional island than blue beans are flying around your ears - fired by an as yet unknown enemy. Only very slowly does it crystallize in the tactical action game Operation Flashpoint who exactly the enemy is: an arch-communist general who wants to overthrow Gorbachev. Your task: Liberate the island nation of Malden from General Guba and his army in order to prevent a military coup.
Soldier, pilot, officer
As a small infantryman, at the beginning of the campaign it is enough to obey the orders of your officers. Armstrong later commands his own force, promoted to lieutenant. In order to advance the story and offer more variety, the game puts you in the shoes of other protagonists. For example, as Commander Robert Hammer, you steer tanks into battles, fly as Pete Nicholls combat helicopter or infiltrate enemy camps in the dark as John Gastovski, sabotage expert. The red thread through the game, however, remains the soldier Armstrong, who is increasingly becoming the darling of his superiors and acting as a middleman between NATO and the guerrilla units.
Multiple paths, one goal
To complete Operation Flashpoint's campaign you will definitely need to play 40 missions. However, that does not mean that there are only 40. In some bets, your performance decides which of two alternatives the game continues with. The decisive factor is how you have mastered a company: with great success (all comrades are still alive, all mission objectives have been met) or only moderately (colleagues have fallen, not all assignments have been completed). The alternative missions are stored in an extra pool, so to speak, away from the main story of the campaign.
Before you take action, a written summary of your assignment appears. After that it's up to you how you get there. Do you take out all opponents, even if you're only supposed to sabotage one fuel store? Are you running to the next waypoint or driving a stolen vehicle? In the final evaluation screens, it is noted how many hits you have landed, which comrades are dead and whether the objectives were achieved.
Gun in hand
As an infantryman, you usually move on foot. You choose whether you prefer to look over your hero's shoulder or direct him from a first-person perspective. Your equipment will depend on the task assigned to you.
If you play a simple soldier, in addition to some grenades, you only have an M16 assault rifle with three magazines. Sometimes you can also go into battle with the larger variant, the M60 machine gun. Use a soundproofed rifle from the Heckler & Koch brand, residual light amplifier and binoculars for night and fog activities.
However, you are not bound by the specifications. Ammunition depots and troop transports invite you to swap all of your equipment. Guns and ammunition can also be exchanged for dead comrades or enemies. But be careful, you can only transport one weapon of the same type at a time: M60 and Panzerfaust work, M16 and Ak 47 not. Sniper rifles, another machine gun and grenade launchers complete the portable combat equipment. Use the space bar to select the shooting mode that suits the situation. With the M16 these are, for example, single shot, burst fire and grenade launcher.
In the cockpit
Usually a troop transport drives you to the next combat area. Sometimes you sit on the loading area, sometimes you control the vehicle yourself. Tanks, helicopters and confiscated Skodas will also guide you across the islands.
All mobile and flyable pedestals can be steered from two perspectives: cockpit and outside view. If you are in command of a tank, you can also use the combat view. Select the enemies using the crosshairs. Then a simple command to the loader is enough. Your driver reacts to directions given via the control buttons as well as to orders such as "Head for the next waypoint" or "Stay in formation". The latter makes the orderly procedure of several steel colossi extremely easy, but also carries the risk of being hit faster: Tanks traveling next to each other offer an easier target than loosely formed ones. In the combat helicopter you act as a pilot while your shooter operates the on-board weapons.
Really nice at a distance
A high vantage point is sufficient to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the graphic. From there you have a far-reaching view of the sea, fields and gently wooded hills, between which small villages crouch. All this looks extremely real from a great distance due to the coloring in brown and green tones. However, as soon as you look at your immediate surroundings, the shortcomings become apparent: The ground textures are rough and ugly; Trees and bushes look as if they were put together from pieces of painted cardboard. But if you find yourself in the middle of a battle, these unsightly details are quickly forgotten. Tanks rattling side by side across a field, cutting aisles through forests and raking with other metal giants are a spectacular sight that has rarely been seen before.
100 million square meters
Operation Flashpoint is set on three huge fictional islands. The island on which you are currently fighting for law and justice is located in the memory of your computer as a basic framework for every single mission (similar to Gothic).
Only NPCs and textures are reloaded imperceptibly. Theoretically, you could walk the entire hundred square kilometers (around a hundred times the area of Heligoland) if the bad guys would leave you unmolested. In addition to a compass and watch, you also have a detailed map at hand so that you don't get lost. But often you don't need them at all, as the area becomes more and more familiar to you. Especially on Everon, where the main part of the campaign takes place, you will come across landscapes and places that you have already visited before. For example, in a mission, you roll into an ambush with tanks on a stretch of coast. In a later mission you will approach the same place from a hill, only on foot, at night and with explosives in your luggage. Again later you rumble again in the tank over the now freely passable, but visibly demolished coastal strip.
A question of tactics
As soon as you have been promoted to lieutenant as David Armstrong, you will lead units into battle yourself. So what the AI did before is now your job.
You then order your shooters to position themselves behind trees, to target the bazooka carrier, approaching steel giants or the wounded to seek medical attention from the paramedic. The strategy view provides a good overview. You can see yourself and your husbands from above. A zoom function makes work much easier. So that you don't get shot while planning the course of action, the time can be extremely slowed. With the acceleration option, however, you shorten long transport sequences. However, you should not activate the function if you are behind the wheel yourself. Otherwise your vehicle will be hanging on a tree faster than you can say "total loss".
The extended version of the article can be found in GameStar 7/2001 or online in the magazine archive as a pdf.