Okay, let's first make this known: as far as the Conflict series goes, Denied Ops is not something that has much in common with the rest of the series. Tactics have been replaced with run-and-gun gameplay, the third person has been chocked in favour of the first-person, and the once-four-man team is now two. It's not very enjoyable either.
Conflict opens with a fairly generic plot about a rebellion occurring in Venezuela, where the United States decides to lend a hand by sending in a pair of covert operatives, the smack-talking heavy-gunner Lang and the jaded sniper Graves. You'll be taking them through missions across the globe for a story that isn't very involving, but then, for a game like this it doesn't need to be.
The game plays out like a cheesy buddy movie. These two characters, though they dislike each other's company, must work together to get the job done. This involves running and gunning your way through a myriad of locations and foes, and while there's some scripted stuff like having one hack computers while the other character provides cover, in general it's really about the shooting of many things.
The fact that there are two characters means, of course, that you won't be working alone. Controlling Lang or Graves means that the AI (or a buddy) is controlling the other character, which can potentially mean a lot of strategic opportunities. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. Let's first talk about the AI, since it's really the defining subject in terms of single-player enjoyment of the title. If I were to pick a term to describe it, I would label it inconsistent.
You can order your buddy around pretty simply: order him to stay, to go to a location, to attack, or simply to follow you. It's pretty easy to tell him what to do, and the AI will follow your orders to the letter. Unfortunately, how they follow can differ. Sometimes when you tell your partner to go to a location, he'll talk a roundabout route to get there, perhaps to do some sightseeing and bullet-shooting along the way. Then, unsurprisingly, he'll die. And while this normally isn't an issue (you merely have to walk over to him and revive him), wading through a large group of combatants solo is not something I enjoy doing.
This won't always be a problem, though, which is why I call the AI inconsistent. Sometimes your partner works very well with you, sometimes not. Sometimes he'll watch your back and keep out of your way. Other times he'll have an overcoming urge to dive in front of your gun. Sometimes this can be incredibly frustrating, other times it gives me an excuse to turn off the game and go do something more enjoyable.
It's not that the game isn't fun, it's just that...well, that's actually the problem. The gameplay itself feels mindless. And not oh-boy-slice-dice-schwing-kill-them-all mindless, more like oh-boy-another-enemy-pow-pow-dead-yawn mindless. In other words, the bad kind of mindless. Feel free to switch off your brains when you play. The fact that the game feels stuck between an unrealistic arcade shooter and a realistic, gritty wartime shooter adds to this problem. Lang's machine gun, for example, can sometimes take over half a clip to take down an enemy. Grave's sniper gun can take down a bad guy in one hit, but this requires a precise head shot, because the enemies can inexplicably absorb quite a number of sniper bullets to the chest. This does not mesh well with the serious, black-ops style of the storyline.
The game also makes a bunch of promises about being able to do tactical combat; you can send your man forward to flank while you take enemies out from a distance, perhaps have Lang run forward to draw the enemy's fire while you sneak around, stuff like this. This doesn't quite work well, much like the rest of the game. I mean, yes, many of these scenarios are possible, if your ally's AI doesn't go on the fritz. But most of the time it's just easier to charge in and shoot everything, Rambo-style. You can also order Lang into a room and wait outside while he shoots everything. Perhaps you can make yourself a sandwich.
Technically speaking, Conflict: Denied Ops is not going to break any systems. The graphics are decent, if not revolutionary, and maybe just a little too brown. I have a bit of a problem with the audio, however. While the acting talent isn't bad, the script is. Between the eye-rollingly-cliched dialogue straight from a buddy cop movie to the incredible stereotyping in the character of Lang, the dialogue is really quite a pain to listen to. I'm not a fan of the music either, some weird music that sounds right from a decades-old buddy cop movie.
Conflict: Denied Ops is not a thinking man's title. It's a game where you can just play and run and shoot things and grunt. Also, you can do this with a friend in co-op, which is always good fun, especially the grunting part. It feels like an old, retro shooter, which may in fact be your thing, but if it's not, you're out of luck.