Conflict: Denied Ops Review
Written : Friday, March 14, 2008
By: Alan Baxter (GT: Bax x360a)
Most famous for the tactical third-person shooters Conflict: Desert Storm 1 and 2, Pivotal Games are back once again, this time attempting to rejuvenate the highly successful Conflict series with their latest title, Conflict: Denied Ops. Unfortunately for us gamerholics, it’s a shame stores worldwide did not “deny” access to the game, and save the proud Conflict series from sheer embarrassment. Pivotal Games have tried to bring innovative ideas to the overly crowded First Person Shooter genre, but fail to make any noticeable impact and improve on aspects already seen among many other shooters already available. Join me as I explain why Pivotal Games should have retired this glamorous series at its 4th installment, instead of punishing us gamers with the lacklustre 5th title, Denied Ops.
With all 4 of the previous Conflict games operating from a Third-Person viewpoint, Pivotal Games decided to take a fresh approach with their latest title by swapping the Third-Person view with an already overused First-Person perspective. This seems like a strange decision to me, due to the developing company already being highly experienced and knowledgeable with Third-Person games, and therefore surely that being the wisest choice. The First-Person shooting genre is also overcrowded with an array of titles on the Xbox 360, with the console's games library severely lacking decent Third-Person shooters; so why add to an already exasperated genre, when they could have produced another top class Third-Person hit and an innovative title for Xbox 360, and something gamers would have really appreciated and enjoyed? I don’t quite understand this decision. There’s a common saying which goes by the lines of “Change is not good”, and this definitely becomes true to life when considering the Conflict series.
The not so mean duo, Lang and Graves.
The biggest selling point Conflict has to offer is the fact Co-operative gameplay is included, working intelligently with a partner being the key to success and progressing through the game. Co-op game types are slowly becoming the most popular titles on the market, so I congratulate Pivotal Games for taking advantage of this fact and basing their game around a solid and inspiring feature. However, I do not congratulate the company for the way they have incorporated co-operative play in to Conflict: Denied Ops. Completing the campaign on your lonesome is slightly enjoyable if you’re an avid FPS fan, with some aspects of co-op play working well. You have access to two characters throughout the game, an up-close and personal Machine Gun operator called Lincoln Graves, and a crafty character named Reggie Lang, who prefers the more tactical and stealth approach via using a Sniper Rifle. At any time during the game, you are able to switch between the two characters by simply pressing the B button. This allows you to instantly employ different tactics depending on the situation you find yourself in. For example, if there are enemies from afar shooting at you, the range of your Machine Gun would not be capable to eliminate the bad guys, and therefore you could switch to Lang; picking them of one by one with your trusty Snipe.
This works well as you play through the campaign single handedly, but where’s the fun in that when you could rip the enemies to shreds with the help of a friend? If co-op is available, you will more than likely choose this option rather than completing the game solo. Unfortunately though, this clever feature is not available whilst you take down the terrorists with your trusted ally. Before each mission, you will have to both choose one of the two characters to last through that whole segment of the game, with no swapping being available. What if both of the players are highly talented with the Sniper and despise the shotgun? Not only could this feature encourage arguments, it can also hinder gameplay during missions. If you find yourself surrounded by merciless enemies whilst playing with Lang, you’re in a word, screwed, as your Sniper Rifle’s slow reloading time will hinder your chances of survival as you get pounded by bullets penetrating your body from all angles, and you rapidly see every corner of the screen become a dark shade of red, indicating death is close; not a pretty or welcomed sight! The same applies with the character Graves; if you are being shot from afar, you will not be able to take the enemy out with your short ranged Machine Gun, and therefore rely on your partner solving the situation for you with his Sniper Rifle. Only being able to switch characters whilst playing single player and not split-screen or online with a friend hinders gameplay to a high degree, with tempered discussions likely to arise over who chooses which character.
Ordering your colleague around each level is easily done and well incorporated in to the game. Point your cursor to a position and press the Left Trigger to command your number two on where to venture, whereas holding the Left Trigger down will order your colleague to follow your every move. These simplistic controls will appeal to most gamers, and allow you to concentrate on executing the bad guys instead of panicking about what button to press. Once again though, this Left Trigger control system has only been implemented for single player use, with you not being able to give your partner orders during co-operative multiplayer. The only way of communication between the pair of you is via the Headset or speaking to your friend next to you. If you are playing the game online and do not have access to a Headset, effective communication has no chance of being present and this will hinder your chances of surviving on the harder difficulty levels.
Blow the crap out of everything!
Along with Co-operative play via Xbox Live or split-screen, Conflict’s other main selling point is the inclusion of destructible environments. Everybody loves blowing stuff up, creating massive explosions and blasting one's eardrums with the scorching sound produced. Destructible environments are missing from many games currently available on the Xbox 360, which is pretty disappointing for a next generation console which strives to produce games close to reality. Shooting a chair in real life should make the object disintegrate into hundreds of tiny pieces of wood; and this is what happens in Pivotal Games’ latest title. Not only does recklessly destroying the environments look visually impressive, you can also put this enjoyable feature to effective use. If an enemy is hiding behind a table, don’t waste your time sneaking around the object to get a clear shot at your foe, just blast the table away! Not all of the games environments are destructible however, which detracts from the realism the disintegrating environments originally brought to the game. You could stand there for hours rinsing bullets in to a pillar holding up a building, only for bullet holes to be produced. If everything was truly destroyable, that pillar would have collapsed, bringing the whole building own with it; now that would be some serious fun. Unfortunately though this is not the case, so we’ll have to settle with the odd wall and object being at our peril.
The co-operative gameplay and destructible environments make up Conflict's measly two positive points, and even these have noticeable flaws which detract from the games enjoyability. Disadvantages strongly outweigh the advantages in this tile. If I were to list all the negative points, I would be here all day and take up way too much of your time; so here’s a quick overview of the most criminal aspects of the game. There’s nothing better than sitting down for a few hours and being immersed into a totally different world, forgetting about all your worries due to a compelling and intriguing storyline. Was Conflict’s storyline immersive or well thought out? Simply put, no. The campaign is extremely uninspiring and will never leave you wondering or caring about what happens next; you’ll probably be more concerned about whether your washing needs to be taken out of the drier! The only explanation of a story comes in the shape of a short cut-scene before each of the 10 missions, which barely specifies on what the game is about. After playing through the campaign, I only knew that my objectives were eliminating terrorist threats. I didn’t know why, what threats, what terrorists were involved or many other important pieces of information; and quite frankly wasn’t bothered about finding out either.
As previously mentioned, playing co-op with a friend will force you to stick with a single character for the remainder of that mission. This can hinder tactics, gameplay, and most importantly the fun factor. If you find yourself playing with somebody who insists on choosing your favourite character every time and refuses to change each mission, happy times are unlikely to be ahead; boredom being the likely destination. This is not the only disadvantage of the co-operative side of Conflict, with split-screen frame-rate issues being a major issue also. Big explosions or large amounts of enemies on the screen at the same time will often cause stuttering; similar to when you were a 3 year old kid failing to speak fluently. If you planned on buying or renting this game for some split-screen goodness with a friend, I’d think again, unless of course you have a high annoyance threshold and can cope with frustrating features such as poor frame-rates.
How many times in previous games have you destroyed or defended a certain objective? Too often you’re probably thinking. Conflict follows the same theme, giving you countless destroying and defending objectives, failing to offer variety in each mission and therefore making the game feel agonisingly repetitive. Variety is the spice of life, but Pivotal Games failed to incorporated this into the 5th installment of the series, resulting in a boring, incomplete feel to the game after the first few missions. Whether this repetitive gameplay would stop you from completing the game, only you would know; but it certainly didn’t fill me with motivation to complete the adventure.
Not only will repetitive gameplay bring you to breaking point and become tiresome, filling your enemy with bullets on the easiest difficulty level to only see them stroll happily away will feel you with rage. Surely shooting an enemy with a Sniper Rifle should kill him in less than 3 shots! The damage capacity enemies seem to be able to endure, even on the so called “easy” difficulty level, is often beyond a joke. Not only is this unbelievably unrealistic, but will often have you pulling your hair out due to needing yet another attempt to kill your somewhat invincible foe. You will not run out of ammunition however for your primary weapons throughout each mission, and this could have been included to counteract your enemies’ high pain thresholds. Once again, this feature is highly unrealistic and makes the experience feel more like a video game instead of a real life event.
Machine Gun or Sniper? The choice is yours.
Sprinting has been a feature often incorporated into newly released games, but for some unknown reason Pivotal decided to not give you this option. Not only do you lack the ability to sprint, jumping isn’t an option either. With sprinting and jumping being included in the vast majority of games released in recent times, not having these attributes in Conflict doesn’t feel natural, resulting in an awkward control system which could take a while getting used to; and by the time you're used to these new controls, you’ll likely be bored of the games lacklustre storyline and repetitive gameplay!
A special operative soldier should be able to wield and effectively use more than one weapon, having been trained to use a wide variety of lethal tools to help with any situation faced. So why does each character in Conflict only have one weapon to use? Graves having the Machine Gun, and Lang a Sniper Rifle. Only having access to two weapons throughout the game, one if you are playing co-operatively with a friend, can become repetitive in a short period of time. After each successful mission however, your weapon becomes slightly upgraded to allow improved performance in the next mission. For example, a Shotgun becomes attached to Lang’s Sniper Rifle to deal with enemies at short range, with a Grenade Launcher attachment available for Grave’s Machine Gun, resulting in more long range destruction occurring. The upgrading of weapons as you progress through the campaign is a nice feature, but still isn’t enough to compensate for a lack of original options.
If you become bored of the campaign or just fancy a change from being frustrated every 5 minutes, Multiplayer via Xbox Live is available to waste away the hours. More like minutes, as you discover there are only 3 modes to participate in, with these being the ever-present Deathmatch, Team-Deathmatch and Conquest. Nothing new here then, and certainly nothing that will inspire you to put many an hour into the game unlike other Online ventures such as Call of Duty 4. If you are looking for a large online community to join and experience countless hours of fun with, Conflict: Denied Ops is certainly not the game for you. Unlike the series’ previous boisterous online communities, the latest title having many people participating in the game in the near future is extremely unlikely. I would have preferred an improved campaign mode rather than a tagged on multiplayer, but this appears to be the common trend among games this generation.
In game graphics? If only...
An inconsistent frame-rate is a major let down with Denied Ops, coupled with the fact that although some missions in the game look very pleasing to the eye with highly detailed environments and gorgeous explosions, this is only present from far away. As you get closer to an object, the more the texture becomes blurred and less realistic. This is same with most games though, including Epic Game's title Gears of War, and therefore shouldn’t offend you too much; but is still slightly disappointing to see. The inclusion of dark environments may hinder your experience due to night vision being required on regular occasion. Whilst in the vibrant green of night vision, the graphics appear much more basic and less detailed than in the usual daylight. The rather bland night vision and dark environments might put a few people off playing the game, if the other many disadvantages hadn’t already.
Conflict: Denied Ops surprisingly consists of a half decent achievement list, with the majority being single player awards. 12 out of the 44 achievements are multiplayer based, producing an average of approximately a quarter of achievements being online, and three quarter of the achievements being unlocked from single player. This is a pretty good ratio, and one most gamers would like to see implemented in games of the same genre. Completing the game on each of the four difficulty levels will unlock an achievement, and thankfully these are stackable; meaning you’ll only have to struggle through the game once on Extreme difficulty level to unlock a nice 375 gamerpoints. There are some tricky single player achievements which could easily be missed during a play through, such as rescuing certain people or saving allies from near death situations; but nothing which would be missed using the terrific Achievement Guide located on our site. The 1000 is very achievable if you have the patience to endure a less than adequate campaign, and can find enough people to play online or boost with.
There’s no audio that stands out in Denied Ops, apart from the cheesy one liners of course. The general dialogue is reasonably well done, but could certainly be improved upon.
At a quick glance, the graphics appear pretty impressive and pleasing to the eye, with detailed environments and nice textures on show. It does when you move closer towards the textures things begin to get nasty. Frame-rate issues also occur on frequent occasions, especially whilst playing split-screen on the same console. I would have thought a powerful triple-core console could handle these graphics!
A very uninspiring campaign mode, coupled with Multiplayer that feels added just for the sake of it results in few hours of enjoyment to be had from Pivotal Games latest effort. Playing the game through with a friend in co-operative modes will help add entertainment to the game, but you’re unlikely to venture through the campaign multiple times.
Nothing at all in this game stands out from any other First-Person Shooter currently available, from the menus, to the gameplay, and of course the graphics. Everything feels a bit half hearted, and possibly the games famous franchise was relied on to push high sale figures instead of actual quality gameplay itself.
Conflict contains a solid set of achievements, but nothing which fills me with enthusiasm and has me jumping for joy. A 3:1 ratio of single to multiplayer achievements can be seen, with stackable campaign achievements which are always a plus in anyone’s book.
The announcement of a next generation Conflict game excited the masses, but will unfortunately disappoint the majority of people who are unlucky enough to purchase a copy of this game. Pivotal Games decided to take the Conflict series into a First-Person perspective for the first time, but in all honesty, they should have stuck with their roots and produced another solid Third-Person Shooter for us to revel in. The disadvantages greatly outweigh the positive points in the 5th and hopefully final instalment of the Conflict series, but could be worth a rent purely for some co-op goodness with a friend on a drunken evening. Save your $60/£40 for a highly anticipated title coming out this year, there are plenty to choose from; they are likely to be far superior than Conflict: Denied Ops.