You know something has gone properly wrong with Denied Ops during the level in which you're mowing down swathes of terrorists in Rwanda. They're black and, if you're playing as Lang, so are you - but this doesn't stop them yelling "I will kill you, whitey!" Oh, dear.
That's only a small flaw, yes, but this new Conflict is ridden with small flaws that eventually come to define the experience. Denied Ops, as you may know, dispenses with the four-man squad shooter dynamic, replacing it with an FPS in which you control two army blokes - Graves and Lang - and near-enough does away with the strategy of old.
It is, to be brutally frank, a staggeringly misjudged move. PS3 has loads of good first-person shooters but is still in need of a squad game or three. A traditional Conflict would have been a great addition to the console's catalogue. Still, it wouldn't be too much of a problem if Denied Ops was a decent FPS. But it isn't.
The odd couple
The basic plot is 'you: heroes, them: terrorists', and you play as crack soldiers Graves and Lang. Graves is (sigh) a grizzled veteran and Lang is (groan) a wisecracking rookie whose hotheadedness is kept in check by Graves' weary cynicism. Neither are very likeable, especially Lang - he's every bit the stereotypical Hollywood idea of a 'streetwise' black rebel.
He shouts, swears and doesn't play 'by the rules' - but he gets the job done, goddammit. He's probably the most clichéd games character ever. He's also obsessed with bottoms - every third word out of his mouth is 'ass'. "I'm freezing my ass off!" he booms. "I saved your white ass!" he hollers. We suspect he's in denial about something or other.
You can switch between Graves and Lang with Circle, and command the AI character with L1 and L2. Aiming at something and jabbing L1 orders your buddy to provide covering fire, while L2 tells him to either follow or stay put. The covering fire system works fine, but God help you if you forget to press L2 when you're leaving an area. Otherwise, you'll wander down the road and into a firefight, look to your mate for help... and discover he's not there.
Press Circle to switch to him, and you'll doubtless find he's just standing in the middle of the room you cleared out five minutes ago, gawping into space like a dazed goldfish. This happens all the time.
And that's it for the tactical elements. Really, you'll probably never need to use them. While you'll be in trouble if you just go charging in with Lang's high-powered guns, blasting indiscriminately (not because the AI will outflank you cleverly, mind, just because enemy soldiers can take an obscene amount of bullets to the face before dying), if you play as sniping expert Graves it's a different story.
You can simply duck into corners and behind walls, popping up to unload a couple bullets into someone's head, then taking cover again. Repeat until job done. When you do lose all your health, though, you can be healed. Here, you have two choices - switch character, find your downed companion, press X and fix him up yourself. Fine. Or stay as your near-dead bloke and hold L2 to summon your partner to your side. This rarely works, though - usually because he's half a mile away in a room you emptied of terrorists 20 minutes ago.
Now for a word on the graphics. That word is 'appalling' - there are PS2 FPS's, like Black and Urban Chaos, which look far better. From the diamond mines of the Congo to the wastelands of Siberia, Conflict offers bland, textureless environments and ugly character models.
It's not all bad
But you can drag some fun out of Denied Ops. It's never (even if you spend all your time sniping) too easy, the weapons are sort-of satisfying and there are rarely any bits where you just trundle through the level looking for someone to shoot. Oh, and there are vehicles as well (tanks and hovercrafts, for instance) although, to be honest, they're horrible to control. Really, if you're desperate for a 'wisecracking duo with big guns' game, Army Of Two is previewed on page 13. It's much better.
Every so often, when an enemy appears, Graves shouts "Hostile!" But if you spend 40 notes on this, you'll be more than hostile - you'll be bloody furious.
Overall A disastrous entry for a previously well-regarded franchise. Not even for Conflict nuts.