ArmA: Armed Assault Review
|Release Date:||February 16th, 2007 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||James Barlow (Malis)|
There can be few gaming experiences as personal and memorable as any extended play on the 2001 classic Operation Flashpoint. A highly realistic and unpredictable military FPS, developers Bohemia Interactive succeeded in creating one of the most absorbing and surprising shooters to ever grace the PC. A few years down the line and the name may have changed, but the uniform hasn't. Arma: Armed Assault is every inch the well-oiled military machine its predecessor was.
Arma's forefather Operation Flashpoint was an extremely detailed military FPS, one that initially focused on modern infantry in combat, but also allowed free use of vehicles such as Jeeps, attack choppers and tanks. To describe the game as merely a FPS would be to do it some great disservice, as this was a shooter without any of the modern trappings. With no health bar and no radar, this was an incredibly detailed simulation of the tense nature of real combat. Missions were structured with objectives, but once you were dropped into combat you were generally left to your own devices as you traversed the game's sprawling island.
To the relief of many, Arma doesn't stray far from this gameplay structure at all. In places it expands and improves, but is still a fantastically detailed and very hard military simulator. The story once again involves fictional locations, but remains realistic enough and exciting enough to keep the player absorbed. The game is set on the fictional island of Sahrani, which is a country with a communist north and a democratic south. US forces are in the south training, but on the day of their departure Northen Sahrani decides to invade the south. From here on in the player takes control of a lowly soldier in a squad still on the island, as they attempt to aid militia and win the war.
But in truth, story plays little importance in Arma - purely because it's your own tall tales that keep you coming back for more. Although you're confined to a mission area, this is generally a huge chunk of the island you're on. This lends to a sandbox type element to accomplishing objectives, with multiple options usually available. Combine this with independent AI that goes about achieving other personal objectives while you work on your mission, and the potential for outlandish stories is very high. It's rare to have a mission that plays the same way twice - and even if you fail it's rarely game over.
Picture the scene: its early evening, and your squad have failed to assault an enemy town. Your team is dead, and you've taken a bullet to the leg that has left you only able to crawl feebly. You could quit and restart the mission. Or, with a little determination, you could crawl through a patrolled forest, get across a civilian road, patch yourself up, steal a vehicle and drive to the nearest allied camp. It's rare to be punished for failure, other than making life in upcoming missions even harder. This is what sets Arma in a different league to other shooters - with such flexibility in design, it becomes more like a simulation than a FPS.
Like any great simulator, it's hard and fiddly to control. Basic infantry controls cover a two-page spread of the manual, and incorporates just about every key on the keyboard. It allows for an effective level of control over your virtual soldier, but also makes basic tasks like radio communication somewhat of a chore. And once you've mastered the controls, you'll have to master the flow of the game. This isn't a shooter where you can run into town guns blazing, treating your enemies with contempt. In Arma, one bullet normally equals death, or a condition very close to it. You'll learn to hug cover, keep your head down, run across open roads, flank enemies and cover squad-mates. In short, it requires a great deal of patience and understanding of basic real-life combat strategies. For those who are prepared to put the time in - it's tense and realistic. For those who get more excited by shotguns and flame-thrower wielding Nazis, rather than trading sniper shots with distant dots on the horizon, perhaps another shooter would be best.
Speaking of the horizon, it's extended considerably since Operation Flashpoint. If your PC can handle it, you can stretch the horizon to quite remarkable levels, something I haven't seen so successfully implemented since FarCry. While the graphics aren't mind-blowing by any standard, with slightly blocky character models at times, they are a considerable step-up over the Operation Flashpoint's cardboard cut-outs. With a top-end rig you can get Arma looking pretty tasty, - though if you're on a slower machine be prepared for graphics which don't scale down as nicely, and long loading times. One bug which caused me great annoyance was a nasty texture glitch that would randomly display some textures as mere colour blocks. After spending almost two hours trying to solve the issue with drivers and patches, I resolved that my rig was just one unlucky to be stricken with the flaw (which I noticed a few others on the official forum had too).
You can almost forgive the bugs in the game, because there's just so much crammed in to marvel at. Accurate ballistics, reloading, and recoil all enhance the experience, while vehicles take time and skill to master. The chopper in particular boasts realistic avionics and handling, and is a bitch to fly. Like anything difficult though, the satisfaction and pride of eventually mastering it is fantastic. Speaking of vehicles - there's over 30 in the game, ranging from boats and tanks to choppers and fighter jets, each one quite enjoyable to blast about in. In a nod towards Crysis, trees can even be felled by vehicles and explosives (and used as cover). As you can see, the attention to detail in Arma is second to none. It's clear the developers have put a lot of love into the game, and it really rubs off on the player.
Once you've completed the main campaign, there are still some one-off missions to enjoy, and the mission editor. A powerful tool, the editor lets you effortlessly make simple skirmish scenarios, while experienced users can easily create epic battles and campaigns to play. If you're still hungry for more, there's the ubiquitous online multi-player. Playing such an unforgiving game online isn't everyone's cup of tea, but there's also online co-op through missions to enjoy too. All in all, for value for money Arma is second to none.
Arma: Armed Assault is a fantastic military simulation that many who take the time to play properly will enjoy. Having said this, it's by no means for everyone, and fans of quick action with decadent visuals had best look elsewhere. If you embrace the games realistic nature, it quickly becomes tense and thrilling - and like Operation Flashpoint there's a devoted community that are already busy modding the game. Like its predecessor Operation Flashpoint, there are a few annoying bugs and glitches, but Bohemia have proven themselves reliable and dedicated when it comes to patching and fixing their game. Arma is a game that asks to be taken seriously, and if you have the time to do so, there's few better in the genre for military fans - time to enlist.
- Absorbing gameplay
- Impressive scope
- Sandbox nature
- Vast array of vehicles
- Impressive mission editor
Not so good stuff
- Some graphical bugs and glitches
- Can be frustratingly hard at times
- Slower paced gameplay not to everyone's tastes
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