Tough to say whether you'd call it serendipity or sour timing. Like Hereafter and Motorstorm: Apocalypse, Operation Flashpoint: Red River is a piece of entertainment that has the misfortune to come out just as the world events it hoped to leverage have shifted dramatically. Now that Osama bin Laden's permanently out of the picture, the notion of battling Al Qaeda insurgents in the desert has lost some of its ripped-from-the-headlines luster. Even when the battle shifts to involve the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
Not that there isn't plenty of tactical pleasure to be derived hanging out in the deserts of Tajikistan. Just be prepared to stage your missions slowly and with painstaking detail. Run-and-gunners are going to end up vulture fodder in the desert dust.
After a Cliff's Notes history lesson of U.S.Middle East relations as seen through a military-cowboy lens (God bless Ronald Reagan!) you're dropped into the company of Fireteam Bravo, and it's time to start clearing out enemy strongholds.
Or rather, start carefully flanking and picking them off. With its wide-open areas and lack of convenient cover, Red River is a clear exercise in strategic trial and error. When you execute a plan well, you can rack up major experience multipliers, all the better to level up and juice your weaponry for the harder missions yet to come. It's here that Red River earns its strongest stripes.
But man, is this a game that tests your patience, as well as your faith in your squad mates. You command three other Marines, using the D-pad to tell 'em where to go and what to do, but given the AI's erratic behavior, "control" may be too strong a word. If they're not dying after stupidly strolling into your crossfire, you probably are, having been picked off by ridiculously accurate sharpshooters the game generously sprinkles through every map and campaign.
And in Red River, dying's a painfully slow process of bleeding while you hope, sometimes in vain, that your team medic might make it over to heal you. These are the times when you begin to appreciate the less-than-realistic genius of the duck-and-recover healing system in games like Halo: Reach and the Gears of War series.
Red River is an early contender for most profane game of the year. Too bad F-bombs don't wreak the same kind of explosive collateral damage that grenades and rocket launchers do. Your command sergeant could have offed the entire Tajik insurgency in a couple sentences.