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Operation Flashpoint 3

Can Codies right the last game's wrongs?

Publishers tend to dance a fine line between fiction and reality when they're handing out the sort of pre-release screenshots you see here.

Occasionally the shots will be dumped from a computer at a resolution well above the 720p HD that most 360 games run at. More commonly, post-production is used to pretty up the game engine shots, with lighting and particle effects added.

If there's a line to be danced though, Codemasters has something of a history of launching over it like an Olympic long jumper with a firecracker stuffed in his Y-fronts. There is absolutely no way Operation Flashpoint 3 - subtitled Red River - will look like these 'target renders'. Absolutely no way. Not unless Codemasters discovers an extra brace of processors hidden somewhere inside the bowels of the 360 between now and release.

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Quite frankly, though, we'd settle for shonkier graphics if we had a guarantee there would be far fewer bugs in the system this time around. Dragon Rising was infested with the things - a product of unchecked ambition that, as we heard on the gaming grapevine, had to be crudely scaled back in the few weeks before release.

With Operation Flashpoint 3: Red River, Codies has decided to keep a lid on its design and the result should hopefully be a far more focused and robust videogame. At the very least, having got the fundamentals down in the previous game, much of the technical side of Red River's development should just be refinement. And more refinement.

RED DEAD
One example of an area where the team is managing its ambition is in the competitive multiplayer. There isn't any. Instead Codies is concentrating solely on co-operative play, because apparently it was the co-operative element of Dragon Rising that players most responded to.

It makes a lot of sense - you'd need a tow cable and a pickup truck to tear most players away from the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield for competitive gun thrills, and the team has decided to try and build a world-beating squad-based co-op mode instead, both in the full campaign and challenge modes. There's even an entire chunk of the large open world sectioned off specifically for four-player co-op fire-team exercises.

Of course just fixing stuff that barely functioned in the first game isn't enough to justify a sequel, so the team is planning to make Red River a far more authentic experience. That doesn't mean more anal, or more difficult, just more convincing.

Gone are the factory-fresh weapons and vehicles, replaced by kit held together with duct tape and bootlaces. There'll be far more individualism to the troops themselves as well - where your AI buddies in Dragon Rising were interchangeable mannequins, here they'll apparently be distinct personalities, so you won't be able to charge in Rambo-style and single-handedly gun down the entire Chinese army in time for lunch even if you want to.

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Having said that, it's not going to be as cream cracker dry as Dragon Rising was either. Your orders won't be dispassionately radioed in any more - you're more likely to have them relayed by your squad leader in language thankfully decipherable to people who haven't spent 15 years sleeping in a barracks.

FLASH FLOOD
The new location offers a bit more scope for variety as well. The action has been transplanted to Tajikistan, which is unfortunately nestled between Afghanistan and China - sort of like being wedged in between a retching drunkard and a piss-soaked tramp on the last bus home.

Insurgents from Afghanistan have been sneaking over the border, whipping up discontent amongst the locals, and the People's Liberation Army is putting the squeeze on from the other side, which leads to two very different combat styles. The PLA firefights are more likely to be open ground, reminiscent of Dragon Rising's battlefields.

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