The ArmA Series: An Overview, and Review
It all started for me with Operation Flashpoint, Cold War Crisis. I even wrote about it before on a previous article, in fact one of the first dozen articles I wrote on this blog! This was a game, based on a military simulator which also uses the same game engine, called VBS1. Seeming that this engine is utilized by the USMC and other forces world wide to offer unit level training on the battlefield, it might be a pretty good representation of a real battle, right? Hell yeah!
Now I can't really comment on that first hand, as I have never been in a real fire fight before. However I can say that there were times playing this series of games where I was so involved in the game that I would actually duck because of incoming suppressive fire. It is quite realistic.
I put maybe two hundred to three hundred hours into Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. Not a terrible amount of time, but enough to really get a feel for the game. I never got into scripting heavily for this game series either. That has been something that has been intimidating me. That being said, what I love most about this game series is the ability to edit missions and create your own scenarios.
Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, eventually gave rise to two new games. The developers of the original game, split up and went their separate ways. One focusing on the gaming industry, the other maintaining a focus on simulation.
I was unaware of this split when I purchased Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. But Codemasters pulled a fast one on me. The aspect I loved most about the original Operation Flashpoint, was the mission editing and such, so even tho the new Operation Flashpoint game was quite different, I tried hard to learn and become interested in the editing aspect of that game. I even wrote an article on this blog showcasing some of my discoveries. However I quickly grew unhappy with the game, and let it fall by the wayside.
Unknown to me, was that there was a official sequel to Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, which was Arma. I never got the original Arma series, but Arma: Cold War Assault is actually the original Cold War Crisis rebranded under the original developers (Bohemia Interactive Studio) new series title (Arma), as Codemasters kept its copyright to the Operation Flashpoint game series.
This brings us to Arma 2. I eventually got wind that the Arma series was the sequel to the original game I loved, and I purchased Arma 2 as soon as it came out. Between the standalone version of the game, and the steam versions and expansions, I have put maybe six hundred hours into Arma 2 and its variants. Funny thing is I still haven't finished a campaign. I usually played with the editor, setting up my own complex missions and doing so without the need to dive too deep into scripting.
The beauty of the Arma series is that it is very open ended. It is a huge sandbox, similar to World of Warcraft, where you can go anywhere. Perhaps that is a bad example, because there are obviously areas in WoW where you can't realistically travel if you are a level 5. But it is a good comparison of the size involved. Chernarus, Arma 2's original main warfare setting, is 15.25km squared. That is 232.5 Square Kilometers of playable area, at any given time!
Dusk at the HQ camp, during a CTI game. Re-spawning after being killed in an intense fire fight. At least it is peaceful at the camp, but I still need to take care of my troops that I left behind.
In the last few months, I have been interested in Arma 2 servers and perpetual game play ideas. I tried a few multiplayer servers, both Co-op and PvP and I would have to say given the range of options available, that CTI or Capture The Island type missions are by far the best showcase of the Arma 2 game series. With its excellent AI and its vast, and complex command and communication structure, the Arma 2 franchise is a win-win for those who enjoy military simulations.
The most intimidating aspect of the Arma game series is likely its realism, and its command and communication structure. It is no run and gun. If you treat it like a Call of Duty or Battlefield style game, then you will die easily. The key thing about surviving this game is patience and staying out of sight of the enemy - as in the real world. Your squad eeps you alive, and you help keep your squad alive. No matter if they are AI or other human players, teamwork is often paramount.
This is where the command and communication functions come into play. Commanding is an ability which is really only utilized on the CTI (Capture The Island) type maps, and can be accessed as the commander by pressing Left-Ctrl and Spacebar together. This changes your unit list, to a section list and allows you access to many normally untapped command menus.
I have grown to love the CTI game style due to its potentially perpetual style of game play. The more I play it, the more I love it. It is the best showcase of the power of the engine that drives the game (Real Virtuality) and a good mix of Co-op, PvP, and PvE / AI Control.
Other major multiplayer styles are Wasteland, Deathmatch, Co-op / Domination, and DayZ. DayZ being the most popular these days, however it is really its own game. Wasteland is okay, but really just equates to running around, often solo for hours until eventually you are killed and you loose all your stuff. Co-op missions can be fun with a friend when you just want to kill a few AI and kind of relax a little.
Domination is basically PvE, where you have a large team of human players, each with their own roles, and you are presented with target towns full of bad guys, to go and kill. Many Realism servers utilize this game mode, and indeed it can be fun. However you are still just playing against the AI, which while it is very good, is also slightly predictable to an experienced player.
CTI with its human influence, is to me, the most realistic game mode. I am running a server ("Roadwolf's CTI Server") for it on both Arma 2 and eventually Arma 3 when the AI gets a little better...
Arma2 is still a very visually appealing game and still has a lot of potential and playability left in its future.
Arma 3 is an amazingly beautiful game, with a lot of potential. I can only imagine that this is built for the next advancement in computer and battle technology training. Having put 40 hours into the game as of this post, I can say that I am familiar enough with it to formulate an opinion.
I must say that I give props to Bohemia Interactive for releasing the game earlier then it would of be excluding the single player content. It gets the game out there and allows community content makers the chance to write their own story. The problem I have however with the current content is that it seems quite limited. Perhaps however I am just so used to the plethora of content available in Arma 2 with all its expansions, that I look at Arma 3 and am disappointed by the lack of choices for custom missions. I even tried importing content from Arma 2 into Arma 3, with varied success.
Enroute to kick some ass...
Overall the game is much nicer looking, with incredible new maps, and smoother operation of just about everything. The commands and menu systems seem to have improved, and some of the keybindings changed to make a little more sense.
The main mission map of Arma3 is Altis, a 270 square kilometer island on a 900 square kilometer map. That is huge. Quite possibly the largest single game world outside of Minecraft (which in effect can be as large as 4 times the size of earth).
The missions I have played in Arma 3, have been quite fun. Intense fire fights have had me quite on edge. Carefully peaking around corners and shooting at bushes which looked like men, just to suppress in the direction the fire was coming from. I have learned that despite the advanced armor and light armored vehicles in this game, they appear to be quite vulnerable, and in urban areas it is best to escort any vehicles with a team of foot soldiers. As when fire fights in the city streets do break out, often those vehicles are sitting ducks,waiting to be disabled by the first RPG that hits them. Often once a fire fight breaks out I will call my driver to get out and leave the gunner in the vehicle alone. Sometimes he might actually fire the weapon a few times!
This in turn brings the conversation towards the two negative aspects of the game. One of which I am not sure is really a bug, more so a realistic feature. Sure you wouldn't expect the tires on a wheeled armored vehicle to hold up to constantly running over fences and slamming into the sides of buildings, so I can understand if the vehicles tend to break down a lot due to abuse.
The problem is that I tend to try to drive nicely and keep my vehicles in good shape. This is generally possible with care, but the issue here is that sometimes, in fact more often then not, you will have AI piloting vehicles for you. The AI has absolutely no clue how to drive, or how to avoid fences, walls, buildings, trees, or even each other. So you end up having to spend about 40% of your game time in rescue mode with an Engineer or Repair truck, trying to fix the damage that the AI did just by driving your vehicles - and getting stuck halfway between your base and the operation area. Even if you take time and waypoint them along roads, they still manage to hit every fence along the way it seems.
The three HEMTT's in front of me are all driven by AI's and are all stuck, and unable to move towards their separate destinations.
The rest of your time is generally taken up by transportation and travel time. I would say only 5% to 10% of the game usually involves fire fights and intense battles. The rest is mostly logistics. This is true for CTI anyhow. Other mission types have greater exposures to action, but are perhaps less realistic.
I believe the game is still in open beta, so I guess that can be forgiven. I do hope the AI does improve with time, otherwise this might ruin the series, as the AI was always a powerful factor in the Arma games. For this reason, I do still enjoy the Arma 2 version of CTI for the time being.
There is no official version of CTI in the new Arma 3 which saddens me. The only version available, seems to be one made by 'Benny' and I guess it is only supposed to be on specific servers. That hasn't stopped me from running it on my laptop from time to time. I do hope that with the Single Player campaign, Bohemia will release a CTI game mode for Arma 3.
Still it is an amazing game series, and I do recommend trying it out if you are into realism simulations. Despite the limitations of the AI and other aspects of Arma 3, it is still a beautiful game, fun and worth having.