Release Date: June 15, 2004
Buy 'JOINT OPERATIONS': PC
Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising is the latest entry in the team-and-class-based shooter genre and is brought to us by Novalogic, the fine folks behind Black Hawk Down. Joint Ops is set in modern times in Indonesia and pits the Joint Operations team, made up of the Americans, British, Russians, Germans, French and Indonesian regulars against the Rebel Team, made up of separationist Indonesian troops.
The scale of this game is unlike any other multiplayer FPS game out there, with the exception of the pay-for-play Planeside. Joint Ops allows up to 150 people to play on the same map, and surprisingly, the game handles all those connections quite well. I was skeptical at first, figuring you could only get 150 simultaneous, lag-free connections in a pristine lab environment. In actual game play, I couldn’t tell by lag alone if I was playing on a 50 or 150 player server.
As you’d expect from a game set in a jungle, JO has plenty of swamps, rice paddies and dense vegetation. Maps are varied, with settings ranging from small towns, hill assaults and island warfare Unlike Battlefield, Joint Ops has an aggressive day-night cycle, which is a nice change. There are over 30 maps, and if anything, it actually seems like too many. Depending on how the server was set to rotate maps, you can go a long time before you see the same map again, which makes it tough to get a “favorite” map. The maps do require excellent team-play to accomplish the goals.
Overall, the maps showcase the excellent graphics engine, which is based off the Black Hawk Down engine. The water looks fantastic, especially with a setting sun upon it. The explosions, while not overly spectacular, do the job well, along with the rest of the particle effects. The helicopter rotors leave a prop wash on the water, and you’ll see the bullets ripple the water when someone misses you. It’s also quite possible to use the vegetation as cover; since your name isn’t visible to the enemy, I was able to move into some excellent sniping positions. The explosions hit the subwoofer well, and the weapon sounds seemed accurate to my ears.
There are four game modes: Co-op, where your team plays against the AI to accomplish an objective; Advance and Secure, where you must advance on enemy bases and fight to control them while defending your own bases; Team Deathmatch, where you are just killing players on the enemy team; and Team King of the Hill, where both teams struggle to control a central zone for the longest time. I preferred the Advance and Secure and the King of the Hill ones the best, as they emphasized good team-play. One thing I really enjoyed is that if you use a vehicle to ferry passengers to the combat zone, you’ll earn points for your team, which does a great job at encouraging people to actually wait for their teammates before driving off.
There are also five classes in the game: Rifleman, where you use assault rifles; Gunner, who uses a machine gun; Engineers, “we make things go BOOM” and have mortars and Stingers; Snipers, self-explanatory; and Medics, who have the unique ability to heal the wounded and revive the dead, saving them from respawning. The game can be a sniper's paradise at times, due to the long range and accuracy of their guns and how effectively they can use ground cover. If you don’t like the weapons you are carrying, just hit the armory and grab some new gear. There are over 30 weapons in the game, so there’s no lack of variety.
Joint Operations is a very easy game to get the hang of, but difficult to master – a balance I find perfectly acceptable. Do your online buddies a favor and read the manual thoroughly, as well as completing the excellent in-game training missions. The manual does an excellent job of explaining the controls and game-play mechanisms, but the real learning is going to happen with the tutorials. There are about 12 lessons, and they walk you through the basics – walking, aiming and shooting – as well more advanced topics, like taking over a base and flying the choppers, and using the Stinger missiles. The choppers are very easy to fly - so easy, in fact that you can get up and flying the first time without crashing. They auto-hover - a handy feature - and you control your altitude via the “Q” and “E” keys, with the “W” and “S” keys controlling your forward/backward movement. Again, you’ll want to go through the training several missions several times to fully get the hang of them so you don’t fly your teammates into a hill. If you’ve avoided flying helicopters because of how difficult the Desert Combat ones are, you can put that fear to rest. Driving the vehicles is a tad more difficult, especially on maps with a lot of narrow bridges. While the ground vehicles have three gear settings (low, medium and high), getting them lined up on a small bridge while bouncing along usually meant I was going for a swim. It will take you quite some time to adjust to the feel and pace of the game, especially if you are used to the run-and-gun feel of the Battlefield series. You may spend considerable time just getting to the battle, so a good team will make great use of the vehicles, which may make some pick-up games rough. Also, unlike the Battlefield series, one person cannot individually affect the outcome of the battle; it will take a coordinated assault to be successful. In other words, if your server is full of morons, it’s unlikely any of you are having a good time.
The HUD is a tremendous aid in helping you get organized. In the lower right hand corner of your screen is the mini-map, which draws a line to the next waypoint you need to reach as well as alerting you to the direction of enemy fire. If someone is calling for aid or a pickup, his position will flash on the mini-map as well. There are also larger maps that give an overview of the entire battlefield, and a separate commander’s screen where the leader can paint the next waypoint and let you form into smaller squads to coordinate the assault. The chat window is in an easy to read position, and there are a ton of audio and radio messages you can use as well, alleviating the need to always keep an eye out for text cues.
The spawning system is a tad different than what you may be used to. There are two places you can spawn: your headquarters and a forward post. Only one person can spawn at a time at the forward post, so there may be a queue to respawn there. The headquarters is always instant spawn but is usually on the backline, so you’ll have to return to the combat area. This is where having a few medics up front can really save some time.
The game is remarkably stable and lag free. As mentioned earlier, I couldn’t tell from lag alone if I was on a low or high population sever. The game never crashed once, nor could I detect any oddities that I could directly attribute to the game. It’s important to note that I received my copy after the first patch, and there have been two since then, so if my experiences differ from any other published review, it’ll be important to determine if they are pre-, or post-patch.
There are some nits to pick, though. Being an online game, your mileage is going to vary depending on the maturity of the other people on the server, since one nutcase can really ruin the game for everyone. That’s not directly the fault of Novalogic, though, since you can’t do much about human behavior. It does show off that there isn’t a single-player component to the game, a piece I missed greatly. In Battlefield, I could load up a map with the bots to learn the lay of the land, and you can’t do that here. It would have made this a great game, instead of just a good game, if that feature were present. Let's face it, sometimes you don’t have an internet connection, don’t want to deal with finding a good game, or just want to get in a little practice. The box does state that in big letters on the front, “Large scale multiplayer action,” so the lack of any single player action doesn’t cost the game in the score, but it doesn’t earn it any bonus points either.
The lack of a single-player game aside, Joint Operations is well worth your time if you are a fan of the genre. If you were a little put off by Battlefield Vietnam, you may find Joint Operations more to your liking, as I found myself frequently thinking that this game captured the feel of the Vietnamese conflict better than BFV. Battlefield Vietnam was a letdown for me, and this game definitely captured my interest. For a team-and-class-based shooter, you can’t do any better than this right now, from both a graphics and game play standpoint. You are going to want to have a decent rig to run the game, so if you’ve been putting off any hardware upgrades, you might want to start thinking about them.
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