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Conflict: Denied Ops

I sometimes wonder how it feels to be a video game developer. Look at a company like Valve or Blizzard. Every game they release is a hit and it’s clear that the people working on those games love what they do. They know that they are a part of something awesome, something that’s sure to be appreciated. They also know that there is an incredible expectation to be successful and like few others, they seem to always rise to the occasion. Then look at a company like Pivotal Games, best known for making the Conflict series of games. The six or so games that they’ve developed have been only marginal, receiving mostly average reviews from critics. People “in the know” such as myself only expect their games to be average, going in with low expectations, and still we find ourselves disappointed. It makes me wonder how it feels to put your time and energy into something, to go to work every day, and produce something that people just don’t care about. What gets these people out of bed besides a paycheck that they apparently don’t have to put too much effort into earning?

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I’ll save the examination into the personal lives of the developers at Pivotal Games and I’ll instead focus on their latest effort, Conflict: Denied Ops. The fifth game in this series, Denied Ops takes a different path than the one set out by its predecessors. Instead of fighting in a real-world conflict with a squad of members with different skills, Denied Ops pits you and a single teammate against a fictitious terrorist organization. With the press of a button, you can control either member of the team. One of these guys is a young, arrogant machine gunner and the other is a battle-hardened sniper. The two take typical swipes at each other, with the old sniper thinking his young partner is too brash and the young guy thinking the old guy has lost his edge. By the end of the game, they quite expectedly respect each other thanks to a plot that never surprises or keeps your interest.

The completely disposable plot would be fine, or at least tolerable, if the gameplay were decent. Not surprisingly, it isn’t. The game opens up with a level in South America that’s supposed to familiarize you with the controls and the unique capabilities of your men. The only thing that it familiarized me with was the atrocious AI, boring level design, and awkward controls. The AI is just plain terrible for both the enemies and your AI-controlled partner. Computer controlled foes never ever change their tactics and spend entirely too much time standing in the open where you can easily shoot them. Not to be outdone, your AI-controlled partner will frequently get lost in buildings thanks to awful pathfinding, so you’ll spend the better part of your already miserable experience turning around and making sure that he’s still behind you. While you can move your teammate around to better positions, I found that keeping him put right next where I could see him was always better than sending him off on his own where he’d inevitably get himself killed.

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Levels are straight A to B affairs. You’ll never have to spend any time actually thinking about where to go thanks to very linear game design. There’s always only one door or one hole in the wall to go through. And it doesn’t help that all of the levels are marred by ugly repetitive textures and few objects to interact with. While the outdoor levels are more interesting than the indoor ones, you’re still corralled through canyons and not given any real opportunities to attack your targets by anything other than the linear path you have to follow demands. It also doesn’t help matters much that the controls to the game never feel quite right – switching your character should be regulated to the D-Pad, not the circle button, for instance. Feeling uncomfortable with the controls makes the game feel even less enjoyable.

If the game has one thing going for it, I’ll say that I didn’t mind the music all that much. It wasn’t great, just typical orchestrated combat scores that are featured in nearly every war game, but for the most part it was tolerable. Maybe it felt better than it was because it wasn’t as grating as the rest of the game. The weapon sound effects are very weak and unsatisfying by comparison. The machine gun fires with the same “oomph” that you’d expect if you were firing a pellet gun. There’s no power to the shots.

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There’s nothing more to say about this, really. It really makes me wonder, when I slide a game like this into my PS3 if the developers really actually have their hearts on making games. There’s no obvious sign here that they do. I went in with limited expectations and still found myself disappointed with the experience. It was honestly hard just to convince myself to play it so that I could write this review. Don’t play this game. Don’t even look at it in the store. It’s just not worth your time.

3 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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