Operation Flashpoint 2

A dozen soldiers are scouting ahead of a convoy of tanks through dense woodland. But this is not a pretty scene. There are no squirrels in this place: just men with guns on the way to war. Their rifle butts are square into their shoulders; they're aware that they're painfully exposed, their eyes alert, darting. You can smell the incoming ambush.

The attack is ferocious, unexpected and entirely unfair. A missile, launched from an attack chopper some miles away, slams into the side of a tank. The soldiers are knocked upward by the blast, and slam down, dead. Flashpoint is back with a bang.

The original Operation Flashpoint was defined by its murderous style. As just another cog in the US war machine, you'd take part in massed freeform infantry operations, small urban invasions, tank and helicopter sorties and the occasional tractor patrol, always aware that death could come from a sniper crouched in a bush, and getting just a whiff of the spine-crawling terror that real soldiers must experience in a battlezone.

All that - the violence, the tension and the massive scale of the battlefields - is present in the two movies that Codemasters, the original publishers of Operation Flashpoint (the developers of the game released the so-so unofficial sequel Armed Assault) have released to announce this new project. The first, the helicopter attack, is a brutal demonstration of Flashpoint 's brilliant unfairness. Those dead soldiers had no chance to react. But maybe their comrades can find a way to fight back. How much fun would it be to inflict that blow? Or mount a full counterattack?

The second option raises questions. Two soldiers are about to engage a tank at a distance. The ground in front of them is a dead-zone of previous impact craters and clods of soil launched into the air. The first soldier taps the second on the back, points forward, and says, "Let's take that piece of shit out."

The first nods and, as the camera moves right to highlight a tank rotating its barrel toward them, whips the RPG off his back and drops to one knee. The missile fires, disabling the tank. This is early, "pre-visualization" footage; essentially, this is what the developers really want the game to look, feel and play like. It's a statement of intent from a team at the beginning of a project. It seems more visceral, more violent than the Plain Jane Flashpoint we knew. That's a worry. Flashpoint 's thrills were staccato, percussive moments punctuating long periods of tension and silence.

Flashpoint 2 is also being released on Xbox 360 and PS3; using technology developed for the latest Colin McRae games. This brings up immediate fears that the game will be simplified for console gamers. When we bring this up with a Codemasters rep, he's coy. "This is early work, and right now all ideas are on the table." Codemasters would do well to remember the game's history. Three months before it came out, the original Operation Flashpoint demo was downloaded by over a million players. PC gamers loved its austerity, its tension and its battlefields. That's what we want to see in Operation Flashpoint 2.