Arma 3 is a military simulation astonishingly huge in scope that lets players control an array of soldiers and vehicles to wage war across two massive islands. Death comes readily, from out of bushes and windows – to avoid frustration, Arma 3 requires intelligent play, resulting in an emergent conflict more detailed than that of almost any other game.
After two months of beta and three months of alpha, Arma 3 is now officially out. Finally those of you who didn’t already jump into the beta can have a chance to explore the island of Altis and engage in some super authentic wargames.
If you’re not familiar with the Arma series – wait, are you serious? Okay fine, I’ll explain.
It all began back in 2001, when Bohemia Interactive created Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. The game took a very different approach to war shooters, emphasising a realistic military action with vulnerable soldiers who could die at any moment. I spent most of it whimpering in a bush and bleeding to death, because I am terrible. Later Bohemia would split with Codemasters, launching the Arma series to continue their tradition of producing tough as balls tactical sandbox shooters.
The series spans from Operation Flashpoint (now redubbed Arma: Cold War Assault after some licensing shenanigans), Arma and Arma 2, plus the expansions Arma 2: Private Military Company, Operation Arrowhead and British Armed Forces. The whole lot were collected together in the Arma X Anniversary edition.
The Arma series is unlike any other first person shooter you’ll ever play. Each game in the series presents you with a vast island sandbox to play with. The world of Arma is huge and varied, and every bit of it can be poked and played with. I’ve spent as much time driving tractors around Arma 2 as I did shooting men, and I’m probably going to spend most of Arma 3 getting my scuba diving badge.
The same principles guide the actual soldiering business. Bohemia Interactive have a simple principle, if you can do it in war, you should be able to do it in the game. You can fly helicopters, drive tanks, or just huddle in the dirt terrified that an enemy soldier might have you in his sights. In fact the Arma games are so authentic that former-sister company Bohemia Interactive Simulations is using the foundations of the engine to build a training simulator for the US army.
Arma 3 takes the principles Bohemia Interactive has always championed, huge explorable areas and authentic military tactics, and updates it with all new modern technology. Altis, the game’s main map, is a whopping 270 square kilometres in size, and you can see for absolutely miles, as Evan’s helicopter tourattests. The game looks simply stunning, sometimes I stop fighting and just stare at the sunset. Warning: This is not good for your health.
Nowhere are these visual enhancements as obvious as in the water. Arma 3 has expanded the air and land battle to beneath the waves, offering some fabulous scuba diving opportunities. If this is beginning to sound more like a tourist resort than a warzone, don’t worry, I’m sure that sniper on the hill half a mile away will be more than happy to remind you of just how lethal this game can be.
Bohemia Interactive have always supported modding in their games. Which is why Arma 2 received a massive popularity boost after the surprise hit DayZ mod, which took Arma’s commitment to realism and sandbox gaming and turned it into a permadeath survival horror game. In order to support this and many other future mods, Arma 3 now comes with Steam Workshop support, although right now this is only being used for custom scenarios, letting anyone distribute and download missions as easily as possible. Thanks to the game’s extensive beta period, there’s quite a few workshop scenarios available already.
During one of the game’s Showcase missions – a series of singleplayer vignettes designed to teach combat techniques – a team of enemy guards was so effectively baffled by our lone wolf soldier climbing into the driving seat of a futuristic Humvee that they lowered their weapons and stood in place around a campfire. They held those positions as we ran them over one by one, eliminating troops that would otherwise end our life with a well-placed rifle shot from 300 metres away. This wasn’t an isolated case: Arma 3’s AI – both enemy and friendly – will whip back and forth from lethal to bumbling in a few seconds.
Simply climbing into a vehicle will tax those inexperienced with Arma’s idiosyncratic menu system. By default, rolling the mousewheel brings up a set of actions that can be performed in a given situation. As an infantryman in the field, they can be as simple as changing weapon or opening your backpack; flying a helicopter, you’ll need to manage auto-hover, countermeasures, and a host of other authentically complex actions across the length of a keyboard, all while controlling a whirlybird happy to careen out of the sky at the slightest tilt of the mouse. It’s earnestly realistic, and managing these mechanics while maintaining a projected course yields a certain militaristic thrill, but there’s been little attempt to cater for an audience unwilling or unable to put up with Arma 2’s UI roadblocks.
Fortunately, this third game in the series brings other improvements, and they’re significant. The basest interactions with your environment – running and shooting – feel vastly improved. Squeeze off a rifle round and your gun kicks back, firing out both authentically accurate bullets, and a muzzle noise both raspier and more deadly sounding than the guns in shooters less concerned with realism. Run for too long and your shoulders will heave, your breathing running ragged. Try and shoulder your rifle and fire and your crosshair will weave. Better instead to find cover, get low, and form a base of fire from one of three stances.
Bigger still – and significantly more beautiful – are the game’s two islands. The second of Arma 3’s vast landmasses was slated to be called Limnos, a reference to the real-world Greek holiday island of Lemnos. That plan soured after two of Bohemia Interactive’s developers were arrested during a visit to the island, but the influence remains strong: Arma 3 in its current form can feel more like a holiday destination than a game.
Both the island that was Limnos – now called Altis – and the smaller Stratis are huge, varied, and packed with secrets. Altis’ east coast is pockmarked by dry salt lakes – white, flat tumours on green and orange scrubland. Sets of wind turbines rise out of ridges in the island’s southeast, catching the gusts coming off the cerulean blue ocean. It’s the kind of landscape that makes the inclusion of a dedicated key for binoculars – B – a necessity instead of a luxury.
Bohemia is patently proud of its enormous play areas. Loading screens – surprisingly short for a game this size – tell fake tales of the islands’ backgrounds, of deserts north of villages that are ideal spots for pretend adventuring tourists, of the medieval history of a land apparently conquered by the Mediterranean’s most bellicose warlords.
Arma 3 has it under attack again. This time it’s the base for a battered NATO, fighting against CSAT, an army from the east headed up by Iran. Also present on the islands are another set of acronyms: Altis’ own armed forces, the AAF, and the resistance forces of the FIA. Altis and Stratis are bulwarks, NATO forces deployed in strategic position to stem the tide of CSAT soldiers. But play Arma 3 on launch day and you’ll feel like you’ve joined the conflict too early, before the battles have begun.
Arma 3 represents an aesthetic overhaul of the series. Unbelievable dynamic lighting, a volumetric cloud system, genuine vehicle physics, 3D weapon optics, ragdoll, noticeably improved weapon audio, and other grainy, eye-level details await scrutiny inside Arma 3’s macro elegance. The best improvement is the merciful cutting of Arma 2’s rigid, Tin-Man-without-oil combat animations, which makes infantry combat more responsive in your hands.
This game has an enormous draw distance and that’s purely because the environment itself is so large and so packed full of objects. Regardless of what setting you’re able to play the game at, it doesn’t suffer from random dips in frame rate, screen tearing or any random artifacts obscuring your screen, and best of all the game looks stunning. Everything within the environment to the design of the characters in the game has been polished to a T, and although there are minor glitches here and there of characters hanging in between walls it’s nothing to take away the experience, as you really have to be paying strict attention to notice these things.
All in all, Arma 3 does a terrific job of being distinctive and has an immersion factor that’s unmatchable by other games that fall into the genre of being a shooter. A must buy if you are into realistic simulation. (Source pcgamer.com, strategyinformer.com, gamingbolt.com)