Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising

Everyone gets everything he wants. Will Porter wanted a mission, and for his sins, Codemasters gave him one

Operation Flashpoint is PC royalty. It free-roamed before it was fashionable, it was brutally realistic where others preferred you to run around with popguns and its legacy was drilled into stone through a quite remarkable online community.

And now what remains the world's greatest ever war simulator is back - and that old desire for authenticity, freedom and frightening levels of detail hasn't diminished one jot. As a matter of fact, it's more gloriously intimidating than ever before...

"The game is called Op Flash 2: Dragon Rising, which gives you an idea of who you're fighting against," says Codemasters' Andrew Wafer by way of introduction. "Dragons?" I ask.

"Yes, that's right," nods the man charged with reigniting the Op Flash brand alongside the largest design team Codemasters have ever assembled; a team sitting a few yards away in a converted cowshed deep in the Warwickshire countryside, cradling replica assault rifles as they program. "We really thought the fans would like fighting elves and dwarves with machine guns."

But the average Op Flash fan... Well, they'll be approaching this project with a fair degree of caution - even if the inclusion of fantasy creatures might not be something they're losing a lot of sleep over. After a parting of the ways between Op Flash developers Bohemia Interactive and Codies, the former have gone on to produce the good (although unfinished) Armed Assault and are busy working on a still untitled, separate Op Flash follow-up.

Codies, meanwhile - well, they've been sitting larger and larger numbers of people in a room with 'Operation Flashpoint 2' emblazoned on the walls for four entire years. And now they're in the full swing of creating something that even the hardest of cynics would have to concede is pretty bloody remarkable.

"The thing about the first Flashpoint was that it was really about this bigger conflict," says Wafer, himself a coder back in the day with Op Flash. "It was set in the '80s and the idea was that you're the US Army fighting the Russian army. Two global superpowers. With Op Flash 2, I thought it was very important that we make sure that it wasn't just about a bunch of guys dropping into a Middle Eastern country and fighting people who are armed with weaponry that can't even penetrate the armour of an American tank. We needed a large-scale conflict, and one in which there was real danger and in which both sides are technically matched."

And so the chaps at the helm of the opposing force are the Chinese - proud owners of the biggest and most secretive army in the world. Not a great deal is known about their capabilities, but when prodded, the men from Codemasters nod and whisper that they have their sources. "We didn't just want to say, 'Ah, y'know - the Chinese kick off! And there's this big world war!'" explains Wafer. "So we've got a whole team of guys who are just there for research - making sure that everything in the game is authentic. They study battle tactics, global scenarios and politics."

Four years of study have resulted in an archive of research that would put the Encyclopaedia Britannica to shame (honestly - it's a real shelf-breaker), as well as yielding a genuine, real-world political flashpoint just waiting to have its fuse lit and the UN stand at a safe distance. It's an island located just off the east coast of Russia called Sakhalin, and it'll essentially form the basis of the game's 220 square kilometres of heavy-armament-ridden free-roaming battles.

"On this island, around five or ten years ago, it was discovered that there was a massive amount of oil and natural gas. Some people think there's more here than there is in the whole of the Middle East," explains Wafer, as he calls up Sakhalin's entry on Wikipedia. "So there's a lot of international interest - BP were kicked out by the Russians a couple of years ago, and there are several other companies working there. At the beginning of the game there's a US-backed company operating on this Russian soil, and there's a small contingent of marines there to protect their interests."

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