ArmA 2 has been out for some time now, but we have taken our time to get to grips with this rather complex game before publishing our review. ArmA is not a standard first person shooter game in which you will kill thousands of people with relative ease. It is a hardcore soldier simulation.
You take control of a four man team, sneaking through villages and enemy terrain with your mind on the objectives, all the while trying to avoid being seen. There is no place for Rambo style escapades in ArmA 2, if you get spotted then civilians and enemy forces will home in on your location. ArmA 2 relies on fully using a cover system, its fast paced. You check the map for locations while making sure orders are followed. One stray bullet and its all over, much like it is in real life … mistakes are punished with death.
ArmA 2 is the latest franchise release after Operation: Flashpoint and ArmA: Armed Assault. Both of these involved the same core mechanic of gameplay – a delicate balance of progression and survival, all in the approximation of a real life environment.
The game takes place in Chernarus, a fully realised world measuring a whopping 225km squared – this is such a huge environment you need to take time to actually read the figures. Yes, that was 225km total area! The Americans are doing their best to bring peace to Chernarus but they are up against multiple, hostile factions, all with their own agenda and various tactics of guerilla warfare.
The singleplayer game starts off at a modest pacing, and your squad of soldiers battle through scripted scene based missions which progress your character from simple squad leader to fully equipped army commander. You are the leader of a four man reconnaissance team who remain together throughout the campaign. You control their actions, from movement to firing and this is when you begin to realise that there is so much on offer.
All the numbers on the keyboard gain access to a menu system, which allows the player to alter such things as formation tactics, team configurations, and combat states. It is this infinite level of control over the squad and tactics that seperates ArmA 2 from the masses. Decisions are made before a move and then adjusted on the fly when they aren’t working right … because trust me when I say, the AI can be brutally difficult.
It is not often we raise the point of a complex artifical intelligence system, but ArmA 2 has attempted to deliver more. The soldiers will take cover, zig zag when running to try and avoid straightforward machine gun fire.
The main talking point for me is the AI which frequently left me bewildered by the glaring inconsistencies. Soldiers often act realistically in given situations, offering support when needed and helping with movement and progression. Sadly however, it is rather haphazard and just when it does something excellent it will undermine your belief in the system by showing a few enemy soldiers trapped in a wall, or two guys trying to drive vehicles over each other, rather than swerving to the sides. Much like Crysis in the earlier days, we have witnessed several soldiers running around like madmen, in the hopeless attempt to relive some virtualised Benny Hill TV sketch.
Negatively even after weeks of solid gaming I find that the user interface could be a little more streamlined as occasionally I would need access to something faster … on the spur of the moment, only to be bogged down by the interface. Its detailed for sure, but its also a little indulgent to its own detriment. On more than one instance I found my tactics weren’t working, only to be caught in the open while bashing number keys in a panic to work out how to improve my odds of survival.
The game also offers three tactical stances; standing, crouching and lying flat on the ground. If you are running through open terrain at full height, then you will more than likely end up in a body bag before you can say “shi….”. Crawling through long grass while hearing the sounds of bullets zipping over your head can be such a thrill you would almost assume you were there, in the flesh.
Graphically the game is intensive, and on my nvidia GTX280 powered Quad core rig it ran without a hitch at 1920×1200 with a lot of the graphics settings cranked. The soldiers are well animated and the graphics are very detailed. The environment can be rendered to a distance of 10km … the world is open, dynamic and capable of being explored.
The only downside is the computing power needed to get that 10km rendering distance on screen. My system was unable to keep it smooth and we tried it on a GTX480 and it coped better, but it was even unable to keep a 10km draw distance smooth and playable at all times. We can imagine less than 1 percent of the people playing ArmA 2 are able to get the game anywhere near close to the maximum.
Post processing effects are frame rate killers however if they are completely disabled it does ruin the overall impact of the visual extravagance. The latest patches do help performance, but you are going to need a serious gaming PC to approach the higher levels of image quality.
One thing about ArmA 2 that I really value is the chaotic nature of the combat because it has a tendency to surprise the player when you least expect it. You are given missions and tasks to achieve, but you are never forced into a tightly scripted route to complete them. The developers value the aspect that people like to use their initiative and you are rewarded sometimes for doing so. The missions can be dynamic at times, so replaying can bring its own reward.
The player is also given an editor to create single and multiplayer missions anywhere on the map. You set up game play conditions, lay down the enemies, vehicles and bases and then get it all moving. The developers have presented the editor via a really simple user interface which even hand holds for multiplayer server configurations. If you really delve into this game generation system there is a scripting language on offer which delivers immense control over missions. Having a 25+ multiplayer battle is extremely rewarding, if you have the horsepower to drive the experience that is.
ArmA 2 has been one of the surprises for me this year, I wasn’t expecting such a fun, in depth game and while it is not without flaws the rewards are high, if you put in the time and effort. Recommended.