While consoles take their war online, the humble PC market continues to produce high degrees of quality gameplay for the online gamer as well. Most of these examples as of late have been First Person Shooters, including such titles from the Battlefield series, Americas Army, Unreal Tournament 2004 and so on. Novalogic, after somewhat failing to make a widespread online presence with Black Hawk Down, have now directed their attention towards this continuously refreshed genre of online gaming and have produced a completely new series offering completely new gameplay from their previous attempts. This creation is called Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising, and what a creation it is.
Unlike Black Hawk Down, Joint Operations is practically online only, with the exception for a few offline training missions. This decision may not be welcomed by every gamer out there, particularly the ones without a good Internet connection, however on the other hand this allows the developers to focus almost completely on online aspects, which is what may separate it from Black Hawk Down when concerning popularity. For example, in the first few weeks from release, 4 new updates have already been made available, fixing and adding new features, which is exceptional support from the developers. However, from an International and more specifically Australian point of view, this also means gameplay is not guaranteed as Novaworld.com servers do not exist down here. Whilst there are a few servers already, obviously it is a little unfair to expect independent game networks to cover the bill when it comes to supplying the medium to which 90% of the game is played.
Joint Operations basically plays like you'd expect; you have 2 teams, red vs blue (which is really militia vs allies), and your prime concern is usually take out the enemy and stay alive as long as possible whilst doing this. The game offers various different modes of play and plenty of maps, sometimes you will have bases which must be defended or conquered depending on which side you're on, while other times you may be required to camp in a "hot zone", with the victory going to which ever team remained inside the zone the longest. Most modes generally allow for 150+ players to compete, while there is also a co-op mode allowing up to 32 human players to take on the computer A.I. and complete designated missions.
Once in-game, it is clear that Joint Operations was somewhat based on Black Hawk Down as there are plenty of similarities, however a lot of enhancements have been made and the general feel for the game has also been improved. Available to the player are 5 different classes; medic, gunner, sniper, engineer and rifleman, and you can also choose the nationality of your character, including US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, Australia or Indonesia, and also your uniform, which differs depending on the nationality chosen (some don't have more than one option). Depending on which class you chose, different weapons will be available, in all you have 35 modern weapons. You can choose your kit including the quantity of such items as grenades and flash bangs, however to add to the realism, weight is a factor which must be considered as excess baggage will slow you down.
The maps included with the game vary nicely and all offer unique charm. I often tend to dread a few maps when playing most online FPS games due to various reasons, however so far I must say no single map in Joint Operations has me considering disconnecting and joining another server as they are all designed very well and offer unique experiences. Most of the maps are very large, however most are also quite varied. For example, you will usually have sparse open areas, some dense urban or jungle spots, and maybe some higher outlooks. In short, it is not often you are subject to fighting in the same environment the whole time on any given map, probably the best example of this is the fact each map can change from day to night dynamically during battles, automatically creating a completely new scenario of techniques and tactics. Since it is possible to play with 149 other people, obviously the maps are designed to take a lot of action and hence, they can vary significantly from one end to the other without feeling unnatural.
To go with the great maps are 29 included forms of transport and vehicle combat, ranging from land, air and sea. Every one of these has support for multiple people, such as gun stands and other seats, however due to the solid engine you can also just jump on board anything with room without actually pressing the "attach" button and seamlessly move with it where ever it goes. On another note, the helicopters included are fantastic to control, it is easy to master practically every function; take off, hovering, landing etc, which is a relief as often in online games, aircraft such as helicopters can cause more deaths than the enemy due to inexperienced pilots, it is quite possible to feel comfortable flying a helicopter in Joint Operations only after one or two previous attempts.
As mentioned above, on some maps camping an area is the actual goal, however even with this fact in mind Joint Operations is not a "camp fest". The reason is because, since the game has a strong presence of real world tactics and strategy, camping as defined by games like UT and Quake doesn't exist here. The only reason as to why camping is usually frowned upon is because those games mentioned, and ones similar to them, are "arena" style shooters with high paced action as the prime concern. Joint Operations uses large scale maps, some 50KM squared in size to wage its wars, and whilst it too has high paced action, it is a wise tactic to expect the unexpected and presume that people are taking cover behind objects and will fire once they spot you, and not just blindly run around dodging bullets with your jump button, because that is what combat personnel must face in real life. Camping is a real world tactic and that means it also works in Joint Operations, however gamers must also remember that camping and waiting for the enemy is not usually the best option anyway, often offense is the best defense and most of the in-game goals for both sides recognise this, so what you end up having is practically everyone playing cautiously and intelligently, with balance between defending a base and attacking a base, and that makes for very fun gaming.
Anyone coming into Joint Operations expecting that single man "rambo" style efforts will succeed are going to be brought down to earth, this is a teamwork environment and without support you are not likely to progress very far. The best example of this is that the team with the most people in winnable bases will start to take control of it, so if team red has 14 people and blue has 12 in the one base, the red team will take control of the base to the multiple of 2x, since they have 2 more people, and if team blue doesn't do something about that by either eliminating team red members in the base or by bringing more people of their own in, eventually they will lose it and be forced to drop back and defend their next base which would now be vulnerable to capture. Another addition to promote teamwork is the "assists" score, which grants player's points for teamwork including piloting vehicles that other people score from.
Probably the best feature concerning Joint Operation's gameplay is its depth. For instance, when sniping, it isn't just the matter of pointing and clicking, you will have to find a location which has good concealment so you're not spotted and a good view for accurate shots, it is also wise to protect yourself with claymores incase someone comes in unexpected for the attack, but on top of this, you must also use your binoculars to judge the distance to set into your scope. This last step is very important, if your target is 500 meters away and your scope is set to 200m, your shot will not be very accurate. Another example of depth is the ability to spot and co-ordinate targets for mortar fire, which are very effective, the ability to transport smaller vehicles in large helicopters, and many more minor features. The small details in Joint Operations really do add up to create a very unique experience.
When going online obviously your connection has a lot to do with your performance and effectiveness, it is hard to play with 50 other people on 56K dialup and expect to kill anyone in your path, however with that said Joint Operation's netcode is still very impressive. We use 128K ISDN here, and while waiting for Australian servers to come online I played on US servers with decent response and no inconsistent behavior as seen in other online FPS games. Of course, Australian servers were far better, and since the arrival of a few Australian servers I've been playing with no real noticeable lag at all. It is great to see an online FPS come straight out off the shelf and achieve solid netcode, often it is something that takes the developers months to fix after release, and in some cases, never at all.
Visually Joint Operations is not really anything to write home about, most of the textures are pretty low resolution and animations aren't overly impressive, however other aspects like explosions and models offer above usual quality. One aspect about the visuals which I did like was the fact that when going prone in grassy environments, players are actually effectively camouflaged, providing real advantages for stealthy gameplay, and when coupled with the right character skin, for example the US sniper, it becomes even better, adding to the game's overall realism. One aspect which isn't so great however is the system performance, for a game that I would consider slightly below average in the visuals department, it taxes even high end systems to a reasonable extent, however this may be something addressed in future updates.
Is Joint Operations ready to take the online FPS market by storm? With the somewhat less than impressive technical issues of Battlefield Vietnam, and with Battlefield 2 far away yet, it is my judgment that quite a lot of gamers out there are still looking for their next fix when it comes to online warfare, and Joint Operations has everything in the box to offer that fix. It is much more suited towards the serious cyber solider rather than the ex-quake junky with its heavy dependency on tactics and planned strategies, and whilst it is far from perfect itself, the detail and depth offered in Joint Operations is quite exceptional to say the least. Its enjoyment is highly dependant on how many people buy it and play online, and at the moment in Australia this isn't a huge amount of people with only a couple of servers available, however I'm confident the gameplay offered here will be enough to entice plenty of gamers into creating a healthy community in time as the experience is truly very awesome. All in all, If you like your online battles in heavy doses with plenty of strategic action then Joint Operations will more than likely impress you.