Reviewed: May 14, 2007
Released: May 4, 2007
ArmA: Combat Operations is the latest game from Bohemia interactive who brought us the military simulator Operation Flashpoint in 2001. Since itís initial release, Operation Flashpoint has been privy to a number of expansions as well as an almost bottomless supply of fan-based content.
Operation Flashpoint has also received numerous awards for being such a fantastic military simulation and doing what no other military shooter game had done before. This was to give the player literally hundreds of square kilometers on which to wage war and open up a limitless number of tactical possibilities, and while this scale may intimidate some more casual shooter fans, nothing to me is more satisfying than a well coordinated, Storminí Norman, blood stained fatigue assault.
The series has also been known for its remarkable attention to detail. This can be attributed in part to the staff of Bohemia interactive being veterans of the Czech army. Every vehicle, weapon, gauge and dial the player sees in the game is modeled after itís real-world counterpart to the most minute detail, making handling each piece of equipment a truly unique experience.
ArmA follows very much in the same footsteps but taking the player out of the cold war conflict, and bringing them into a modern battlefield set on the fictitious Atlantic island of Sahrani which is divided between north and south, and it is the players job to lead a successful campaign against the northern forces and turn back their invasion.
Letís get one thing straight right off the bat; ArmA is a far cry from your traditional First Person Shooter. While the game is most certainly played from a first person perspective, the game is more akin to a military simulation, in that it is extremely accurate in its rendition of military hardware and strategy, has something of a learning curve, and puts more focus on planning and execution rather than flat-out action.
Its difficult to compare ArmA to anything but itís predecessor, Operation Flashpoint, seeing how it was the first game to truly attempt something of this size and scope. In ArmA, just as in Flashpoint, the player is rewarded more so by their ability to accurately plan out and coordinate assaults and success relies more on decisive action than on a quick trigger finger. Bottom line, in ArmA, cannon fodder will be the name if you donít have a plan and going gung-ho into combat is a sure fire way to find your unknown soldier pushing up daisies in short order.
Because it is a military simulation, it is expected that ArmA will have something of a learning curve. You can expect yourself to be spending a fair amount of time learning how to pilot helicopters, accurately fire your weapons and command units on the battlefield. But, ArmA doesnít have so much of a learning curve as it does a learning cliff, giving you some quick, less than hostile learning scenarios and afterwards giving you a quick boot out of the nest into the chaos of battle. This wouldnít be so bad if it werenít for a few prevalent factors that make the game incredibly frustrating for all but the most patient of sim fans.
The first matter is the incredibly complex control scheme, and while ArmA certainly is a simulation and merits the usage of many keys, this still becomes a problem when the same key used for one function while on foot, is used for something completely different while in a vehicle. The problem only escalates when you realize how frustrating some of the vehicles are to drive, including the helicopters, which are all but impossible to pilot without the aid of a joystick.
As if the controls werenít enough, the difficulty of the missions in ArmA is simply unforgiving. Bear in mind that that the game is a simulation and tries to be as accurate as possible, what this translates to is stuff like one shot kills, bullet physics, friendly fire, and engagements at 1000 plus meters. This may not seem too terribly daunting to the hardened sim fan, but for any fan of casual shooters, this is more than enough to make them throw in the towel. Some of these factors can be alleviated somewhat with the adjustable difficultly settings, but even when put on the easiest end of the spectrum, ArmA is still a brutally frustrating game even to those who are familiar with more contemporary shooters.
All of this gets worse with the inclusion of some pretty horrific AI. Considering how much youíll rely on your AI teammates to watch your back, it wont be long before theyíre either all dead, or you get fed up with them shooting in the wrong direction and go lone wolf. Some of these issues were definitely present in Operation Flashpoint, but back in 2001 this was slightly more excusable. But Iím afraid its time for a bit of an overhaul.
This isnít to say that there arenít plenty of redeeming features to be found in ArmA. The game does put out some interesting set pieces for some truly spectacular battles, such as when the northern forces first invade the south and you are charged with holding the line against an onslaught of enemies. Also the feeling of military authenticity is really hard to shake off as every part of the game tends to immerse you in it, this really gives a good feeling of satisfaction when a well thought out plan goes smoothly, offering a few awesome moments. Like when you finally get the hang of commanding a tank crew and order the gunner to open fire on a nearby T-72 and watch it erupt into flames. These are the kind of water cooler moments that make the game more enjoyable, its just a shame that it is without a more casual setting to allow more players to experience it without feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
ArmA still looks very much like Operation Flashpoint did back in 2001. That being said, there hasnít been too much improvement. The only drastic improvement is in the resolutions the game is capable of rendering, which are far greater than itís 2001 counterpart. However the models and animations, which were none too impressive by 2001 standards, have not been drastically altered in any way, leaving them mediocre at best by todayís standards.
The one impressive feature about ArmAís graphics is the draw distance. Because the player is put on such a large battlefield they must be able to see whatever is off in the distance and ArmA handles this quite well. I will say however that the maximum draw distance will tax even higher end systems to their limit, and taking the draw distance down too far makes the game virtually unplayable. But otherwise, the graphics ArmA is capable of rendering are fairly impressive.
The sound is a definite high point in ArmA and actually works with the game in a way other games are incapable simply because of the games scale. In most games where gunshots and explosions heard in the distance are simply background noise, in ArmA if you hear gunshots or tank treads, you know thatís where the fighting is and approximately how far it is, just like on a real battlefield.
The one peculiar point in the sound department is the voice, because while every soldier has a unique voice and pitch, lending them a kind of uniqueness, everything they say is cookie-cutter speech, like each word was recorded individually and then played back as needed. This is understandable considering how many voices there are and the number of very specific orders they bark out, but it all sounds pretty fake and takes away from the otherwise authentic feel the game tries to provide.
ArmA has a seemingly infinite game life taking into account not only the lengthy single player campaign which could be played through multiple times thanks to optional missions and secondary objectives. There is also a beefy multiplayer component, which allows humans to take the place of your otherwise dim-witted AI teammates and be pitted either against each other or cooperatively against the computer, allowing for some pretty heavy team-based action.
Apart from the campaign there are also stand-alone missions and an armory, which allows the player to test drive all of the vehicles and weapons in the game to get a knack for how they work. All of this pre-included content stacked on top of the inclusion of a mission builder for user-generated content makes the possibilities in ArmA almost limitless and the game hard not to recommend for any fan of the Flashpoint series or military simulators in general.
ArmA is a game that generally builds upon the idea of its predecessors of making a truly expansive, persistent battlefield. This element of the game is only strengthened by the fact that it is the only game to really pull the concept off well. This really does a good job of pulling the player into what feels like an authentic, military environment and charges the player with the planning and execution of a successful campaign.
Some of the features may feel like a throwback to the original Operation Flashpoint, and many of the mechanics may overwhelm more casual shooter players, the sheer amount of extra content and military accuracy make ArmA: Combat Operations difficult to not recommend to a military enthusiast or fan of the Flashpoint series.