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One Shot: Remembering Operation Flashpoint
I’m driving a M1A1 Abrams tank. One of a handful. We’re accompanied by trucks full of soldiers. Heading towards a small village in mountainous terrain. Somewhere in Eastern Europe.
We descend on the village like locusts, our barrage of gunfire and artillery devastating the buildings and enemy. But the Russian forces counter-attack, and my tank sustains too much damage. I manage to leap out and make a run for the nearest building before it explodes.
I pull out my M16A2 rifle and start firing out a window, taking pot-shots at anyone who isn’t on my side. I suddenly see red. I’m being shot at from behind. I manage to turn and retaliate at the bold soldier, killing him instantly.
But I’m on the floor. I’ve been shot in the legs. I can’t get up. Every time I try, my character grunts in pain and I drop down again. I crawl towards the window and lean up and peek around. The village is still crawling with enemies. No good guys left. I’m alone. I grunt in pain and drop down again. I see the world from the vantage point of a dead man.
I will spend the next six hours crawling around this village, decimating the enemy with sneaky headshots from the cover of bushes, burnt out husks of buildings and occasionally from first floor windows. The entire time I will be doing it while crawling on the floor, because there isn’t a single medikit available.
Every time I fire my weapon, it arouses the suspicion of other combatants and the dreaded remaining enemy tank, a Russian BMP-1. Its turret panning around, screeching loudly like a rust-bucket. I have to be careful, only taking shots if I know I can hide from the inevitable incoming bad guys.
I headshot people when I can, crawling into bushes after each attempt. After several kills, I run out of bullets. I have to crawl over to corpses to claim more weapons. My squad-mates; the enemy, it doesn’t matter who.
I get lucky and nab a rocket launcher. Only one RPG though. I crawl to a first floor window and fire at the BMP-1. Direct hit, it leaks black smoke. But not out for the count. I hurry away from the window, crawling down stairs as the BMP-1 takes its anger out on the building, which explodes around me.
I crawl out a back door, shoot an incoming soldier, and dive into nearby foliage. My heart is hammering, as another soldier runs by. The BMP-1 is screeching in rage. I’m out of RPG rounds, but I have a handgun. I take out the soldier.
Near the end of six hours of this tactical sneaking around, I somehow manage to steal some C4 charges from another corpse, crawl towards the BMP-1 from behind, plant them and scoot away. I blow it up, killing a nearby soldier.
The level is not finished. The stats have not appeared. Somewhere in this vast countryside is another soldier. I can’t progress to the next level until I find and kill him. The island I’m on is a dozen square kilometres in size. I’ve come too far to give up. I spend another few hours scouring the countryside, eventually spotting the soldier who is just standing still like a scarecrow. Probably a glitch, the game has them. But once I take him out, the level is over. The stats come up.
Even back then, in 2002 when I played Bohemia Interactive Studio’s Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, I knew I’d played a pioneering game. An acquired taste. Reading this account, you’re not exactly imagining the likes of Call of Duty. Maybe Battlefield: Bad Company, which has the same spirit if not the rigorous attention to detail. But how many games have forced you to crawl around because your character got shot in the legs? It was such a ridiculous moment when it happened. Every time I tried to get up, the character grunted and fell down. But suddenly it felt more authentic. A challenge.
Operation Flashpoint is the kind of game where you can’t walk in an open field. You will get shot. From miles away. And you will die from one well-placed bullet. It’s that kind of game. A rarity, but thankfully with the likes of its successor the ARMA franchise, still alive and kicking.
I’m not going to explore if casual depiction of violence is causing a jaded desensitised attitude in gamers and impressionable young adults. But I will say that when violence is unexpected and unforgiving in a game, it does ram home a profound truth about its nature. Playing a game like Operation Flashpoint, you get used to evaluating situations before running into them. You get nervous when in an open field or courtyard. Your heart races whenever a shot rings out, and ultimately you value your character’s precious life which can be put to an end at any moment.
The Operation Flashpoint series is the best war game simulator I’ve played. Though rough around the edges and glitchy, amid all of the brutal violence, it dared to make you value life over death. Surviving was the accomplishment, not how many people you killed. A lesson more games should consider.