Operation Flashpoint: The sequel

Bohemia's battle plans aren't simple. They're positively complicated. It's working on two Flashpoint sequels, for a start.

The first pressing on the boundaries of the original, critically-acclaimed Operation Flashpoint. The second game pressing on boundaries full stop.

Operation Flashpoint was a tactical shooter like no other. Set during a hypothetical Soviet invasion of the West, its vast scale made you feel like a small cog caught in the wheel of a very large war.

The lulls between engagements felt genuinely melancholic and the action was a rare blend of excitement and fear. We've longed for a sequel ever since. And now Bohemia's Armed Assault is due in the autumn.

Think of it as Flashpoint 1.5. It includes all the missions from the original, plus expansion pack Resistance, plus the technological advances from the Xbox version and Bohemia's VBS1 military sim.

It features a new campaign, a new boot-camp and their next-generation graphics engine.

Technologically, the game has improved hugely. While most complain about games hampered by Xbox codevelopment, Bohemia has discovered that optimising its code for Mr Gates' ageing console has caused it to craft a game that hits PC hardware like a depleted uranium shell.

An obvious bonus is the increased draw distance. Flashpoint played across realistically huge single-world maps; so the further you can see, the better it is. 2km of viewable terrain is Bohemia's current aim, though it's simply planning to push it as far as the system will go.

Sitting at the top of a hill, able to see the military ants of the opposition inch around a village while you plan your approach, is an example of how the new technology rejuvenates Flashpoint.

Similarly, old limitations have been removed. Flashpoint was famous for its horrific collision detection inside buildings; but no more.

Forests were originally created as a single map object, meaning they were strictly limited in terms of how you could interact. Now, they're made out of individual trees, which can be knocked down when you get in a suitably armoured vehicle.

The improved engine means that Bohemia can also increase the density of the foliage, resulting in some surprisingly thick forests.

They can also be integrated with buildings, so that you can have a cottage in the middle of the woods. Inland lakes are another welcome addition to the world, and hills now cast shadows.

The new campaign, on an equally new island, has been created to showcase the improved features of the engine. It's much larger and more detailed than Eberon and previous worlds.

Codenamed Sara, it's going to feature dense woodlands and as big an urban environment as the game can take. Also, there's a whole new story to play through.

While the game island is fictional, made of jig-sawed satellite images of Eastern Europe, it has a politically resonant background. The island's despotic North has been threatening the democratic South, which is under US protection.

The US, believing the threat has passed, have started to pull out ... at which point an attack occurs.

While the defensive nature of the campaign distinguishes it from the norm, the most intriguing part is its unusual structure: the game is 'told' in flashback form after the war, as you are interrogated by your fellow officers.

What happened? That's for us to discover as we play, with our actions helping decide whether this will be a court-martial or a commendation.

Armed Assault - especially as a mid-price release, which Bohemia is considering - is a genuinely welcome addition to the gaming calendar. Given the game that Bohemia has planned for 2006, however, it feels like merely a teaser for what's to come.

The game that we can't call Flashpoint 2 is something of a monster. "Originally, we didn't want to do another old game at all," explains Bohemia's Managing Director Marek Spanel. "Just a new game, no sequels, that was our intention...

"We don't want to make a game that's a clone. We have a vision for a game we want to do, that is different... but we realised it would take us 10 years to get there. And we'd like to do that, but just can't."

So rather than do it in one giant leap, it's heading there in smaller steps.

Bohemia's new, as yet untitled, game is the next step on from Flashpoint, toward creating this far-future dream - marching what was a straight soldier-sim into new, more obviously crossgenre terrain.

"We don't necessarily have to stay with the same gameplay," explains Marek, "That's what Armed Assault is for: a new engine, but the old gameplay. [The new game] could be a sequel as well, but we had a different style of gameplay in mind."

And what's that? "Most of us are more roleplaying game fans," Marek grins. "We love first-person shooters... but we like roleplaying games much more."

An RPG? Previously, the only RPG that had anything to do with Flashpoint fired rocket-propelled grenades. "For a sequel, it'll be a surprise, but hopefully a good surprise," says Marek.

"Our take on a roleplaying game is very different, unlike other games. But still, 'roleplaying game' is the only term we can use to describe it."

It's talking about creating a game that reflects your actions. You are a soldier, in a war zone. There are no separate missions, or 'Level Complete' screens.

The world continues around you - generating situations and objectives determined by your actions (and those of the AI) in previous encounters. The nearest game to what they're describing, according to Marek, is Morrowind - an open world where you're free to go and do as you please.