ArmA III’s been in the news a lot recently, from the amazing Day Z mod to the sad news that two of the game’s designers had been arrested accused of espionage in Greece. These stories have overshadowed the main game somewhat, so it’s good to see that Bohemia Interactive have wisely decided to release the ArmA III Alpha on Steam to get the talk turning back to their latest game in the series. While the Alpha is available for sale it’s currently only a taste of the ArmA III experience, so consider this a review of the Alpha as much as a preview of the main game.
I’ll admit now though that I didn’t have a good experience with Arma II
. It wasn’t the difficulty or the fact that it’s a very military hardcore title, it was the bugs. Bohemia’s titles, from the original Operation Flashpoint
onwards, have been huge, impressive, sprawling, deep soldier simulations… rendered regularly unplayable by code so buggy it would embarrass Bethesda. Consequently my experience with ArmA II
didn’t last long – in fact I didn’t make it through the tutorial, since the gun I was meant to practice with had fallen through the floor. I tapped out of the game then and migrated to Codemasters’ attempts at Operation Flashpoint
sequels instead, which were kind of okay but nowhere near as hardcore as ArmA
. So I’m approaching ArmA III
with trepidation as much as excitement.
|Think this guy shot me? Nope – the guy in the top right corner who we hadn’t noticed killed us both
If you’re a newcomer to the ArmA
) series, it may seem at first glance to be a free-roaming open-world military FPS, but it’s not quite as you imagine it. It’s a “soldier simulation” rather than a first-person shooter, as the majority of game time involves moving carefully and slowly towards your objective rather than shooting. If you’re after instant gratification or have little time or patience ArmA
for you, and even fans of the recent Operation Flashpoint
games might be put off by the vast amount of non-action and the way Bohemia not only uses every button on the keyboard but actually doubles up in some cases – “Walk” for example is ‘W + S’.
ArmA III Alpha
has only a few things to try out right now, but obviously that’s going to grow as the game approaches release. At the moment the Alpha allows access to four single-player “Showcases” (short mini-missions that show off a few parts of the game), the Map Editor to allow the modding community to get started, and a couple of multiplayer modes. Rather excellently buying into the Alpha not only grants you access to the Beta but also nets you the full game as well, so if you were planning on nabbing ArmA III
when it releases it makes sense to grab the Alpha now to get early access and the game for a lower price. Now that’s a good deal.
I started off with the single-player Showcases. There are four of these, highlighting Infantry, Scuba-Diving, Vehicles, and Helicopter piloting. ‘Infantry’ sees you and a team taking out enemy forces around a deserted village. ‘Scuba’ has a lot of rather dull swimming, nabbing an AA rocket launcher from a truck outside a base and then taking out a helicopter. In ‘Vehicles’ you have to sneak into a base and steal an armoured car before making off with it. ‘Helicopter’ involves, surprise surprise, piloting a helicopter, probably with a lot more crashing.
Of these ‘Infantry’ is easily the most fun. You and a small squad move up through the hillsides towards a village, then some exciting mortar fire starts pinning down some allies and you have to take out the gunners, finishing with a dashing escape from the village as enemy armour moves in (supposedly, I was too busy running to see). It shows off the combat, the open-world nature of the game, a bit of rare and exciting action, and is balls-hard but doable. It’s fun, that’s the most important thing. Hunting your enemy through the undergrowth a step at the time, knowing that a single bullet or bad decision could end you... yep, fun.
The other Showcases don’t fare quite so well. ‘Scuba’ is mostly swimming and disabling underwater mines (for no apparent reason) followed by the infiltration of a base, and ‘Vehicles’ involves sneaking into a base to steal a car... and both are ruined by the sneaking part, which I don’t think has been properly implemented yet. Every time I approached the base in ‘Vehicles’ an alarm would sound and every soldier in there would rush to my position, and in ‘Scuba’ a spinning sniper would spot me from a mile away. Hopefully the enemy AI will be tightened up in the next few months.
|This is me piloting a helicopter. It'll be upside-down and on fire two seconds later
‘Helicopter’ was the most hysterical though, since the titular heli is incredibly
fiddly to fly if you’re not used to the controls. Realism over entertainment, as you should be expecting from ArmA
, is the order of the day, which roughly translated means I flipped 180 degrees, crashed and blew up within two seconds of my first flying attempt. My second attempt was massively more successful in that I got the chopper in the air and kept it there for a significant amount of time, but utterly unsuccessful in the areas of “shoot enemy vehicles”, “accomplish goals”, “land”, “work out how to slow down”, and “not crash into a tree at full speed and burst into flames”. I think I’ll put flying on the backburner until the main game, as some people just aren’t fit to be a pilot.
As fun as they are the Showcases are just meant to be a taster of the single-player story campaign that’ll be in the final game, whereas the main part of the ArmA III Alpha
is the multiplayer. There are many servers up already, plenty of players at all times of day, and several game modes across a massive area of Stratis Island. It’s really impressive how much is up and running already. I tried out three of the main modes – Team, Wasteland, and Co-op – to varying degrees of success and enjoyment.
There are several forms of Team Vs Team, including holding an outpost and Capture The Flag, but I went for straight “kill everyone”. Players are professional, issue commands, and arrange regular helicopters (luckily these pilots aren’t as inept as I am) to shuttle players around the gigantic play area. The trouble with these Versus modes is however the same problem that faces every other online multiplayer game – there are far too many players on it that are better than you. Due to the large open world of Arma III
every time I died in Versus I never saw the person who killed me, as they probably spotted me and took me out from a hill two miles away. If you think you can cope with that the mode is very Chess-like with decent teams, but slow careful movements are even more vital here.
Wasteland is an interesting one and totally insane – it’s an all-against-all with no communication over the entire island of Stratis. That’s 20 square kilometres
to traverse in the hope of seeing another player and shooting them. At least in Team I had the occasional person telling me where the action was or giving me a lift, but not in Wasteland mode. It’s well named too – the mode’s sort of Fallout
-like, a post-apocalyptic desert with a few survivors fighting for supplies and to stay alive. Day Z
without the zombies. You have to have a lot of patience and time on your hands to accomplish much in this crazy mode, but if you like exploring and being on your toes for hours it’s for you.
Co-op though I had an absolute blast playing. Around twenty players, spread out into four fireteams, all using proper military terminology but still happy to break character to suit the game. I was on for several hours combing the island for enemy camps and at all times felt like I was part of an assault force moving to liberate the island. I spent a good four hours just moving with my squad across the island carefully approaches each camp site, and loved every minute. An utterly epic assault on an airbase capped off my last playthrough, with an allied helicopter doing strafe runs as us grunts were pouring fire down from the hillsides – and the enemy AI proved surprisingly resilient, as soldiers hid from the initial barrage or flanked our position. It felt exactly as ArmA
was meant to be played and I had a load of fun. You still have to have time and patience on your side but if you do co-op alone will be worth the asking price with such an excellent community already around.
|Suggest we armed assault the f*** out of that base, sir!
A quick word on graphics before I finish up. While you will need a decent rig to see ArmA III
running at its best the scaleable engine should reach much lower systems and still look good. Which it does, massively so the more ‘Very High’ options you select. The lighting effects are superb, while Stratis is a bit of a sand-blasted desert with very little colour the amount of detail stretched over miles is incredible. Not just the plant life either, which is only slightly more impressive in the much more confined Crysis 3
, but the animal inhabitants add much needed life to the desert. Snakes, fish, butterflies, turtles, all distracted me long enough to get shot. Shame the bugs are still there though, with weird PhysX glitches and totally insane helicopter bungie-bouncing just the tip of what I experienced.
Still, that’s what Alphas are for. ArmA III is out later this year on PC only, but the ArmA III Alpha is out now to buy for $24.99/£19.99 – which gets you access to the Beta release and the full game once they’re released. There’s still a lot of bug-fixing and that fiddly gigantic single-player campaign some people tend to enjoy to do, but if you don’t mind patiently playing multiplayer across 20 km the Alpha already proves ArmA III has a lot to offer. Doubt I’ll be able to remember all the controls in time though...
Most Anticipated Feature: Seeing how much more advanced the co-op mode can get.