As you watch a glimmering stream of urine splash over a bowl of cornflakes during the introductory sequence for Operation Flashpoint: Red River, it's hard not to wonder how a series once so famous for being hyper-serious and po-faced ended up reaching such a bizarre juncture.
Clearly taking a leaf out of Bad Company's book, Red River kicks you in the teeth with comedy shouting Generals and jazzy infographics from the moment you boot up the campaign. But there's one key difference: whereas DICE's series sees you chasing after lost gold and sci-fi seismic weapons, Red River has you flying into Tajikistan to forcibly deal with rebel insurgents.
It's not the first game to mirror real-world Eastern conflict, but unless you've become utterly desensitised to hoo-rah nonsense, it's difficult not to find the game's opening sequence uncomfortable - with both Osama Bin Laden and 9/11 getting name-checked in the first five minutes. It's a brave decision to make, and immediately raises the gravity of the game to a realm where few would dare to tread - and for good reason.
For the first time in the series' history, it seems Codemasters has aimed to accurately recreate an aspect of war that most are happy to omit - the behaviour of the US Marines. Squeezing you into the boots of Sergeant William Kirby, you're tasked with the control of Fireteam Bravo, under the watchful command of Staff Sgt. Damien Knox - an obnoxious git who you'll spend a good part of the game sitting next to in a jeep while he aurally assaults you with a tsunami of expletives.
And boy does Red River feature a lot of swearing - we're fairly certain it's the most consistently offensive game we've ever played, and we've completed 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand - a game that features a dedicated swearing button.
We'd commend Codies for the accolade, but it's unrelentingly unpleasant - especially when paired with the casual homophobia and racism that the game churns out on a regular basis. As we've never actually been Marines, we're unable to comment on just how realistic the banter in Red River is - but regardless of accuracy, it's the kind of authenticity the gaming world could do without, glorifying the idiocy it bathes in with a steady flow of splat-tastic headshots.
While Modern Warfare managed to balance out its gung-ho fun with the brutal reality of a nuclear explosion, Red River makes no effort to stroke its chin and ponder the reality of war - egging you on to kill more "chopsticks" with all the irony of a Jedward music video. Beneath this off-puttingly abrasive exterior, however, you'll discover a squad-based shooter with an impressive sense of scale and scope - which doesn't take long to become very entertaining when played with friends.
Choosing to let a little of the series' realism slide in favour of a more action-driven experience, you can now level up one of four classes within the game - unlocking a variety of perks and upgrades along the way. This adds a pleasantly mild RPG twang to proceedings, and you'll find that you become remarkably attached to the small handful of exceptionally satisfying guns you'll use throughout the game - the quality of which entirely makes up for an overall lack of quantity.
While you'll likely end up specialising in one class throughout the Campaign to max out the benefits of the perks and gear you've unlocked, your AI buddies - or real friends if you're lucky - can always offer a bit of support to help work around any shortcomings your class might have.
Following on from the disastrous AI seen in Dragon Rising, it's a relief to see that the computer-controlled squad in Red River appears to be more competent - effectively carrying out orders given using the game's fairly comprehensive command wheel, brought up with a tap of RB.
Cry me a river
While competent, it's easy to find yourself frustrated with the robotic simplicity of your squad - especially in the later stages of the game, where they seem to get quickly chewed up by the ruthless PLA Special Forces. And even though it can be useful, giving orders to your squad can begin to feel like an exercise in hand-holding after a while, as it did in Dragon Rising. Tell them to hold a building, and they will until notified otherwise - meaning that you often find yourself suddenly realising that you've left them guarding that mud hut you passed through ten minutes ago.
It's when you're bleeding out on the floor that you'll need your AI squad the most - and it can be very disheartening to watch them die one by one just because they don't have the necessary intelligence to secure the area before running in to patch you up.
Unless you're playing with human buddies to watch your back, you can expect to find yourself bleeding to death regularly throughout the game's 12-hour campaign. Realistic damage means you can't afford to take more than a couple of hits before you find yourself in serious trouble, and headshots will kill you instantly.
The same can thankfully be said for your opponents, but while one bullet anywhere on the body will usually see an enemy fall to the ground, you'll need to aim for the head to ensure they aren't able to get back on their feet with some help from their allies.
The emphasis on realism rather than set-pieces is what makes Operation Flashpoint: Red River interesting - when air support is offered, it's usually done so with a very tight window of opportunity. When the enemy forces overwhelm, you throw down smoke and pull the frontline back. Visibility at night is poor even with night vision, seeing you haphazardly shooting at shadows in the mist.
Red River certainly has its moments - especially when it's played with friends - but the clumsy attempt to gain acceptance from the trash-talking masses leaves it inadvertently feeling like an advertisement for pacifism. Attempting to cover up its simulation nuances with a lick of juvenile paint, it's one of Knox's one-liners that best sums it up: "Us using harsh language just ain't gonna cut it."
Decent co-op shooter with a filthy mouth
- Solid, satisfying guns
- Great fun played in co-op
- Lush lighting and huge vistas
- Deeply unpleasant tone
- Wonky AI disappoints