Hello everyone. Rik has recently launched our new series, the Vault of Regret. So if you missed it, go read his inaugural item about space sims.

A recurring sort of gaming regret for me comes from games that I want to enjoy, but find frustratingly difficult due to my impatience and incompetence. I struggle on with these until I’m too stressed out and annoyed to continue, causing a flurry of angst and self doubt. Should I keep trying, or should I know my limits? So today I’ll be talking about the tactical shooter Operation Flashpoint, which really should have been my kind of game.

Firstly, it takes place on huge maps full of farmland, forests and villages. I love that sort of freedom of movement in gaming. You can try and approach a problem from any direction. You might want to look for a stronger position from which to attack your enemy, or take a wide detour to avoid something you don’t want to fight. Sure, open-world games are a dime a dozen nowadays, but back in 2001 having such a huge space in which to operate was rather novel in a shooter.

It’s also packed full military vehicles, all of which can be operated by the player. You can go ahead and and jump behind the controls of everything from a basic truck, to an Abrams main battle tank, to an Apache Gunship. It sounded like a playground full of the cold war hardware I used to read about in books. Some missions specifically focus on vehicle combat, but even on infantry-based missions there are often opportunities to opportunistically appropriate something you stubmle across.

Basically when I first bought the game it looked like a perfect blend of free-form action and authenticity. Sadly though I only got about 4 missions in because I was utterly, irredeemably shit at it.

Pic from mobygames. If this was me playing, I’d probably be about to die.

Every engagement with enemy soldiers turned out the same way: a blind, chaotic panic. Every time. Invariably I would dive for cover, with bullets pinging around, and crouch behind a wall thinking: now what the fuck do I do?

If I strayed out in the open, a couple of hits would leave me dead. Okay, that much I was expecting, because this is meant to be a relatively realistic game. What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the difficulty in fighting back. Even when the enemy presented a clear target, silhouetted against the sky, I could barely hit them. I don’t know if that’s the realistic weapon modelling, or me just being unable to aim properly under pressure.

If they were in cover, or a long distance away, the problem was even worse. Vague blurs of motion in between trees and houses. I could empty an entire clip in their direction without any effect. I would have no idea how advance or flush the enemy out. I suppose I should have done some proper army tactics like laying down cover fire whilst ordering some of my squad to advance.

My problem is I hate when anyone on my team dies. “oh no! 3 is down! 4 is down!” came the shout over the radio. So I’d probably just order them to take cover too. Then I would shift position a bit to try and get a better line of fire, and then get shot and die.

Then I’d start the mission again, and try attacking the enemy village from a new direction, maybe advancing along the edge of a forest for cover. Then I’d get shot and die.

Then try again moving more rapidly down the road, leaping into a farmhouse at the last minute. Then get shot and die.

War is hell, they say. I’m sure this is all very realistic. I remember emailing Rik to say that, despite it kicking my ass, I was greatly enjoying the game. This was a dreadful lie based on wishful thinking. In reality I was becoming progressively more demoralised.

Maybe I would have gotten on better with the tank, helicopter and jet missions. I don’t know, I never got that far. The game was too intense, too frustrating. A nagging voice tells me I should have pushed myself harder, that I could have found Flashpoint more rewarding if I’d put in more effort. Instead, I raqequit and ebayed the discs.

You’d think I would at least learn my lesson; that this sort of game is not for me. Sadly not. I still wanted to play solider simulators, to immerse myself in a contemporary conflict with realistically modeled weapons and a bunch of tanks to command. So a few years ago I bought Arma 2, a spiritual sequel to Flashpoint (same dev team, but they lost the rights to the name).

After the tutorial sections, all of the same problems immediately arose. I was back in exactly the same place. Pinned down behind a wall somewhere, seeing my buddies fall, while I’m unable to get a clear shot at the bad guys picking us off. Then getting frustrated, doing something rash, so I got shot and died.

To be fair I did get a lot further through the campaign this time. I think this is mostly due to the lack of restrictions on saving your game, compared to the original and its harsh once-per-level limit. The missions may also be a bit easier, at least early on. Still, but the end I was finding it a bit of a slog. Too intense, too stressful and draining. I’d find myself putting off playing it, and running to Warcraft instead. Each new mission felt daunting, and a bit of a chore, which is really the opposite of what gaming is meant to be.

Later missions introduce elements of commanding larger forces, even buying vehicles. These weren’t particularly well explained though – in fact I got the impression they were multiplayer or skirmish mode elements thrown into the campaign at the last minute. Honestly, having to co-ordinate more troops just felt like another responsibility to juggle in a game I was already finding rather taxing.

I think I made it as far as starting the very last mission, a sprawling affair of sprawling affair of capturing several villages currently held by the rebels. I couldn’t summon the effort; it was too unappealing a challenge. The game had exhausted me. I had recently installed Bioshock and that is something I know I can handle.

I shouldn’t imply that Arma2 was unbroken unhappiness. In fact there were many great moments. Thrilling shootouts amidst the streets of an abandoned town, or sweeping across the countryside in a Humvee. Or that one mission where I just said bollocks to it and started running rebels over in a BRDM (thank god they didn’t have rocket launchers). Yet I felt that reaching each victory involved an awful lot of arduous struggle, setbacks, and reloading.

Some gamers look to be challenged, to develop their skills. (Hence the apeal of the Dark Souls series). Perhaps I should be more like them. Perhaps I give up too easily. Maybe I should have practiced more. I could have sat down and read up on some actual military squad-level tactics. Or I could have watched a bunch of youtube videos (I did actually sit through a 5-minute tutorial just to try and understand how sniper rifle scopes work).

I’m inclined to think, though, that real life provides plenty of challenges, and there’s only so much that I’m looking for in gaming. I’m not saying every game should be easy mode, something you can casually roll through without making any effort. However I have to draw a line somewhere, to say this is not rewarding and not worth the effort I’m putting in.

So basically, I’m bad at soldier sims. I still get tempted with their shiny promises of Abrams tanks and Apache gunships, and ever more stunning and realistic scenery. Yet I know must resist, because it probably won’t go well for me.