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Fictional worlds bring new freedom to explore and seize the initiative.

Sometimes fiction can get a message across more intensely than nonfiction. Stephen Coonts’ Flight of the Intruder was hardly the first novel about combat, but it delivered a potent message about an individual’s ability to think independently and choose a course of action. Put more succinctly, one of the most meaningful points for me in Coonts’ work was the concept of initiative.

This issue’s column looks at two new titles featuring fictional worlds that grant users the freedom to explore and take initiative in meeting mission goals. Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising ($30, requires Microsoft Windows XP or higher, dual-core 2.4 Ghz processor, 1 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 7600-class 256 MB video card, Codemasters, flash point game. com) is a sequel to Operation Flashpoint, a combat sim featuring military equipment of the 1970s. Dragon Rising does something similar using modern U.S. Marine equipment.

Dragon Rising takes place in a fictional country called Skira, an island rich with varied terrain, including sandy coastlines and forested mountains. The problem is this package’s sparse content. The sim comes with a campaign comprising several missions and a handful of individual missions, but these are infantry focused, and typically task a player with leading a squad. Aviation plays only a peripheral role for transport or close air support.

In its standard form, piloting an aircraft in Dragon Rising would only be available in multiplayer modes. But the inclusion of a mission editor and the efforts of dedicated users have led to dozens of downloadable add-on sorties where players can control such helicopters as the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk, the Bell AH-1 Sea Cobra and several Russian helicopters. Avionics are simplified, but ballistics for both air and infantry-based weapons are more realistic than a pure action game’s. In Skira there is room for some initiative in carrying out a mission, but the most important choice in Dragon Rising relates to what players can do outside the game world to enhance its viability. Not so in Eidos’ Just Cause 2 ($50, requires Microsoft Windows Vista or 7, dual-core processor, 2 GB RAM, 10 GB hard drive space, NVIDIA GeForce 8800-class 256 MB video card, Eidos, Like Dragon Rising this is a sequel, but unlike the military sim it is an over-the-top action fest.

Panau, Just Cause 2’s mostly tropical locale, is even more diverse than Skira. Its lagoons, rain forests and canyons contrast with snowy peaks, and its villages and ruins are matched by airports and metropolises. And Panau is densely populated with civilians, while Skira is free of the potential for complications such as collateral damage. There are several objectives players must accomplish as Just Cause 2’s Rico Rodriquez, a Special Forces-like agent. Where a team in Dragon Rising might call in an airstrike, Rico can steal a fighter jet and use it to destroy an enemy base. Ridiculous, yes. But like a real-world operative, Rico can approach his goals in any order or fashion. He can aid rebel factions, sabotage government facilities, use stealth or direct action, steal equipment or buy it from the black market.

Skira and Panau’s convincing accessibility adds to the user’s sense of place and freedom. Whether it is a mountaintop in the distance or an airport across the map, if you can see it, you can get to it by foot, car or aircraft. Imaginary worlds like these show the increasing capacity of sims to put the power and responsibility of a soldier’s lot into a user’s hands. How he or she balances them is a matter of initiative.


Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here