Bohemia Rhapsody? RPS Debates ArmA II

By RPS on May 27th, 2009 at 9:28 am.

Alec and Jim have both had the pleasure of some time with Arma II recently, and so we sat down to discuss our impressions of the formidable-looking soldier game. We even allow ourselves to get a bit giddy before the cynicism sets in. Could Bohemia’s soldier game really be as incredible as it seems? Four-player co-op in a sandbox world appears impressive enough, but with everything else that’s going on… well, what could it mean?

Alec: Arma II, then: a bit like being beaten up by a very large man, but enjoying the challenge of it.

Jim: I think the large man will try to trick you too, it’s a big brain game, as well as pure tech muscle.

Alec: So, Arma II then: Einstein on a roidrage. It’s the maxi-game – almost the nexus of everything PC. That it escalates from being a guy with a gun, to a guy with a helicopter, to a guy that orders around an entire army and who can build bases, is extraordinary.

Jim: It does seem a bit like GAMING SCIENCE, they’re experimenting with what can go into the mixture of a game: and, yes, there’s even a touch of RTS in there for the ending open-world stages. The problem for me is that I skipped ArmA entirely, thanks to the complaining, and have no reference for it. OpFlash I played a bit, dabbled in some editing, and did some general running about in mods and missions. But I don’t really know what ArmA did, other than it was buggy.

Alec: From what I gather, ArmA 1 was mostly about earning some cash and getting the tech from the xbox port of Flashpoint into the hands of fans. This is the real sequel, the once-mythical Game 2.

Jim: Yeah it does seem to be operating like that, there’s clear ambition that they needed to fund: open world, complex AI, loads of vehicles, vast editing options, co-op campaign, dynamic faction stuff. It’s full of random details, like only one of your American combat team being able to speak the local language, and have to translate for the others. It’s that kind of design that only tends to come from Eastern devs now: where getting loads of stuff in is more important than getting it right.

Alec: I pick up a vague Stalker vibe from it, only without the sci-fi element and, as far as I can tell, without that custard-thick atmosphere. That attracts me to it – yet I’m held back by fear of constant insta-death and crawling around on my belly for four straight hours.

Jim: Well, yes. It’s got both the scary “oh this is going to be hardcore and I’ll have to sink hours in to get anywhere,” and a thrilling element of “what we really want games to be doing” to it, as Stalker had. It’s got a huge scope for exploration, freedom etc. I can imagine just wandering off into the woods rather than hitting the campaign missions.

Alec: One of the things I was shown at the briefing the other day was using the editor to fill a forest with boars, then just going off hunting – a quicky version of those ‘orrible hunting sims large Texan men love so.

Jim: I think what excites me about it is the idea that we could have a drop-in drop-out game of war going on, and that we could, as you say, have edited fifty cows into the landscape. Just because you can – and we should stress that the editor is largely point and click. If you want to populate a town it’s drag and drop. None of that scripty trickiness from previous games. This is the most accessible this kind of game editor has ever been.

Alec: It’s almost D&D – someone creating a scenario for their friends to play. Only WAR, not elves.

Jim: Yes. It’s got that double pronged attack on PC gaming sensibilities: a complex open-ended game with a story, and the back end controls to work around that and make it your own.

Alec: Do you think we /can/ sensibly play it, though? There is still its clear slant towards a particular type of hardcore?

Jim: Of course, it’s all tempered by the fact that we don’t really expect it to work out of the box, so to speak. (No boxes for me, thinternet.) From what I’ve seen, which was a brief hands-on session, it’s still about ten times as tricky as the next hardest FPS to get the hang of. It’s hugely configurable – and the FPSness is good, you can hop over low walls, lean, and do all the other stuff you should be able to do in an FPS.

Alec: It still seemed a little buggy, but in more of a Stalker way of minor annoyance than the “oh God, you’ve got to be kidding” way of ArmA 1’s initial release.

Jim: There’s going to be a steep curve. I was ordering around troops and instantly getting lost in the command menus.

Alec: At the briefing, they had signs showing three separate sets of keyboard controls – each of which involved most of the keyboard. The tutorials didn’t seem anywhere near elaborate enough to convey all of this, but it seemed as though the singleplayer campaign was going to cheerfully reiterate the core stuff as you played the first few hours

Jim: I mean, having seen OpFlash2 (preview next week, foreknowledge fans!) and Arma2, it’s now clear that they’re not really in the same space at all. OpFlash is an open world FPS with loads of realism going on, Arma2 is the ambitious all-things mega-game that will terrify most gamers into blanking it from their mind. Or possibly never even learning of its existence. I mean this is the kind of game that 90% of games journalists won’t bother to tackle.

Alec: Yeah, ArmA 2 is off down a path no other dares tread. And it has to, because of that incredibly passionate community. There were community guys at the London briefing quoting the exact maximum altitude of various aircrafts.

Jim: So do you think the midcore gamers – the average Quintin that reads RPS – will be down with Arma 2?

Alec: I think it’ll pick up a slowburn of new fans as Stalker did, but I’m not convinced it’s going to instantly wow men like us in their legions. Part of me thinks they should have ditched the Arma name, as there’s a bit of an unfortunate legacy to it, even if its current state is much more robust.

Jim: Agreed, it should be called “Indistinct Ex-Soviet State Megawar”.

Alec: Oddly, they’ve expunged all tract of “Armed Assault” from it now – it’s just Strange Made-Up Word Two.

Jim: Heading off on that game-world angle – that does interest me – the creation of essentially an entire working country. They’re talking about people driving to work, going about tasks, etc. It’s hugely detailed, too. Entire towns and villages. And there’s this big backstory going on, alongside all the faction stuff. I think you can even ask NPCs for intel, and if they’ve seen enemy units they can describe them?

Alec: Yes, and their reaction to you based on how you’d behaved to them and theirs. Like a ramped up, more meaningful Oblivion.

Alec: What about you – do you think this is a game you would naturally gravitate to if you’d not been shown it in a professional capacity?

Jim: No, I don’t think I’d have looked at it if I hadn’t been asked to look at it, even with close chums being enthusiasts.

Alec: And it’s worth observing that much of this is stuff they’ve talked about rather than that I’ve experienced. There are many promises that will require first-hand proof before this can be hailed The New God.

Jim: Yeah, exactly – how far does it really go? And how much will be broken? There’s almost no doubt something vital will break as soon as you start playing. I’ve seen the soldier stuff in operation, and destroyed a village with a helicopter, but will all the open world, living war campaign stuff work? Until we get a few hours alone with it in a dark room, it’s all just hot air. There’s a sense of excitement among my personal circle of gamers – both journalists and gamers alike. People are planning to play this together, and that feels like a big deal. If co-op doesn’t work, or we get some kind of Demigod technical farce, it’ll be disastrous. And the Bohemia games have always lived on their multiplayer. It’s been the big story of OpFlash onwards: the huge military ops in scenarios constructed by players, played out with trained precision across entire weekends. And that’s only going to get bigger and madder in this game.

Alec: Yes, that’s crucial: the entire campaign can be played co-op, and I think that’s how I’d like to approach it.

Jim: I’m no stranger to large multiplayer – I’ve run 100-man Eve fleets – but it’s still daunting to approach a game that will be rapidly populated by the hardcore.

Alec: A – hopefully – forgiving learning curve, and the joy of learning and messing up together will be key.

Jim: I hear tales of pre-op prep drills, and latecomers being forced to be insurgents because they missed the practice runs.

Alec: I wonder how comfortable BIS are with that? Does it hold their game back from the general public?

Jim: Well BIS are the genuine “livin’ the dream” developers. They’re doing this for the love, as much as for the profit – which is true of most studios, but this is an extreme case. Half of them even live on site at the studio. If they were producing religion they’d be a cult.

Jim: Anyway, even if multiplayer mega-sessions are too formidable to bother with, what might really sell it for me is the capacity to be ludicrous in the editor. The defining moment of OpFlash was the tractor race, which we set up to give each of us tractors to race across the island, while Ste Curran from Edge hunted us in a helicopter. Good times. The first thing I did in Arma2 was steal a tractor, racing towards my doom while my AI squadmates ran along behind.

Alec: Cow hunt could be a great mode – everyone as bovines, one guy with a machine gun.

Jim: Haha! Can the cows escape into the woods? Assuming the animals are still playable, that was unconfirmed last I heard.

Alec: It was in there when I saw the game. I was merrily steering a cow through a warzone.

Jim: Awesome.


Arma 2 set for release on June 19th. Expect patches.

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115 Comments »

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  1. dishwasherlove says:

    Looks great! I hope its a little more solid than ArmA1…. and less buggy on launch.

  2. Senethro says:

    Prediction 1: The first mod after release will be a zombie cow mod.

  3. Frosty840 says:

    Want.

  4. Premium User Badge

    MonkeyMonster says:

    Is that a belt fed sniper rifle? :D Sign me up lads!

  5. psyk says:

    looks like a light machine gun with ACOG scope.

    Missed the first due to pc being unbelievably rubbish but now the new one is built I cant wait for this to be released getting a bit to excited to be honest.

  6. Lack_26 says:

    Released a day after my exams finish, score.

  7. Heliocentric says:

    Tractor hunting, but now reversed, 1 tractor hunting cows.

  8. panik says:

    my nipples are beginning to tingle

  9. Dozer says:

    I think I need a new PC!

  10. Meatbollah says:

    The name ArmA is actually a latin word:
    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/arma#Latin

  11. Petethegoat says:

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned downhill boat racing yet.

    Honestly, if you have a copy of Flashpoint or ArmA, just find the highest mountain you can and stick two boats at the top, and then race someone to the bottom, or into the sea.

    Only ever tried it with two people though, which is a shame, but it’s good fun nevertheless.

  12. Bhazor says:

    Wait so we’re called mid-core now?
    I play Dwarf Fortress *AND* I think it has become too easy since allowing you to dig/build on multiple levels. I am the hardest!

  13. Shadowcat says:

    Tractor-hunting cows!

    I hope the drag-and-drop A.I. can facilitate this :)

  14. Heliocentric says:

    To be truly the hardest of the hardcore, you would play Dwarf Fortress using only punchcards and no computer.

  15. Jim Rossignol says:

    Perhaps “omnicore” is a better word: gamers who have a wide range of tastes, but obsess in certain areas. That seems to be the RPS way.

  16. Redkid says:

    So what prevents this omnicore crowd from obsessing in a certain area called Arma 2? :)

    That’s what I do.

  17. Psychopomp says:

    “a quicky version of those ‘orrible hunting sims large Texan men love so.”

    Now, now. I am Texan and have NEVER seen someone play a hunting sim…

    Probably due to the fact that, I could walk into motherfucking *Wal-Mart* and walk out with an assault rifle in hand, in less than an hour. No need for hunting sims, there.

    Edit:I have beaten DMC4 on Hell and Hell. *That’s* hardcore.

  18. Feet says:

    Oooh I like that definition. I am omnicore!

  19. Ralph says:

    Cant wait for this, It’s the most anticipated game of this year for me as I absolutely loved operation flashpoint it was truly revolutionary when it come out and I had never played a shooter that was as open as that before.

    I echo the feelings that I really hope they will iron out as many bugs as possible and give it a nice bit of polish but it already looks a lot more complete and accessible than arma1. I hope they have done a lot of work on AI and got rid of the ridiculous eyesight and impeccable aim with their ak’s at joke distances flashpoints ai was even better than arma..
    Looking forward to goofing around in the editor with my mates and go on hunting trips, mountain bike rides down mountains etc etc ! cant wait!!

  20. Bhazor says:

    Yes this definition appeases me.

  21. Gap Gen says:

    Meatbollah: It’s also the first word of the Aeneid.

    Many, many awesome memories of co-op ArmA. Like having a team-mate stuck on top of a fortress because we blew up the ladder, or listening to a blackhawk pilot narrate his doomed flight to the carrier as his fuel leaked out, or being chased up a mountain by a UAZ, or hatching a cunning plot to cut off an armoured division by blowing up a bridge, only for someone to ask “are those BMPs swimming towards us?”.

  22. Xercies says:

    I am absolutely looking fforward to this game, loved Operation Flashpoint 1 and its editor but I was always hampered by my rubbish scripting skills. Now i will be buying Arma 2 on its editor alone. Though I probably need a new system…

  23. Calistas says:

    I want to love it, and would love it if I knew enough local gamers to team up and do the thing coop… but I don’t… so know I’ll be disappointed :(

  24. Zaij says:

    I hate it when you guys use BIS because it just makes me tear up and remember good old Black Isle Studios.

  25. Gap Gen says:

    Some RPS mega co-op would be good. I’ve heard that Tactical Gamer has had ArmA games of around 40 people running.

  26. Bluester says:

    @PetetheGoat

    Our clan had an OFP coop mission that started at the top of a mountain with a selection of boats and motorcycles. Not much in gaming is funnier than the sight of 20 soldiers flying overturned down a mountainside in tin river boats.

    Really looking forward to this.

  27. Heliocentric says:

    I’ll join the first mod who using the dynamic life to make an RPG server. It could be the stalker MMO the stalker developers would never make.

    Helicopters clipping airborne anomalies and dropping out of the sky, getting attacked by swarms of dogs. :D

  28. Subjective Effect says:

    Wait, I’m confused. Why are people talking about Arma1? Isn’t this by the same guys who did Op Flashpoint due to engine/IP hand changing mix up mess ups?

  29. The Hammer says:

    @Subjective Effect:

    Bohemia Interactive, who are making this one, made Operation Flashpoint, and then, upon leaving Codemasters, made Armed Assault. This is their next game. Operation Flashpoint 2 is made by Codemasters (I think it’s an internal team, but they didn’t work on OF1).

    EDIT: Er, because Codemasters retained the rights to the Operation Flashpoint IP.

  30. Clippit says:

    I’m not so interested in playing an angry shooty man, as I’ve done enough of that in other games, but the idea of having politically incorrect (but possibly more realistic) or absurd scenarios in a Very Serious Game appeals greatly.

  31. Subject 706 says:

    PLEASE let this one live up to its promises!

  32. DMJ says:

    Suddenly my cynicism vanishes in the tide of Operation Flashpoint memories that this brings forth, that oddly enough the first ArmA didn’t.

    I will always remember the mission where you start out on sentry duty, looking out to sea at sunset. Waiting. Just waiting. Just like every sentry since the dawn of time.

    It was when I found that the constellations match the night sky, and that the North Star was in the right place and that if I wanted to I could navigate by the stars alone, that I realised that this was a game crafted by true obsessives.

  33. Lack_26 says:

    Committing war-crimes in a realistic environment, here I come.

  34. jackflash says:

    Want.

  35. Arca says:

    I think you guys might be onto something with Cow Hunt…

    Or maybe have it so that there’s one (insane/rabid/etc.) cow chasing villagers, and each trampled villager becomes a cow, until there are no villagers left. Last villager standing wins!

  36. Nighthood says:

    @Heliocentric: A STALKER mmo would be AMAZING. There is only one problem: No quicksaves.

  37. Slippery Jim says:

    There’s some talk of the German version being buggy, but it’s only one article. BIS are onto it and it should be mostly fixed by the 505 release date… we hope.

  38. panik says:

    ‘night cow hunt’….night vision horror and ghostly moo’s

  39. Turin Turambar says:

    “it’s just Strange Made-Up Word Two.”

    Uhh.. Arma means weapon in spanish. And in latin it means warfare or something like that.

    Made up your ass. :P

  40. Quercus says:

    I think this quote is the most telling:
    “I mean, having seen OpFlash2 (preview next week, foreknowledge fans!) and Arma2, it’s now clear that they’re not really in the same space at all. OpFlash is an open world FPS with loads of realism going on, Arma2 is the ambitious all-things mega-game that will terrify most gamers into blanking it from their mind. ”

    I played OFP and ArmA and to be honest, despite their great sandbox potential neither sat that comfortably with me and both were buggy. I suspect that even with the advances of ArmA 2, the same basic game engine will feel the same and therefore I am inclined to think that OFP2 will actually be the better (most polished) game as far as most people are concerned, even if it doesn’t allow the same freedom that ArmA2 does.

    We need more direct comparisons and information on both games because that will help determine which of them we should favour.
    Over to you, RPS.

  41. subedii says:

    Part of the problem is that OpFlashpoint and ArmA weren’t about the core singleplayer experience, they were about the multiplayer, and in particular what the community was able to craft with the amazing tools made available to them.

    If Op Flashpoint 2 is going to cater to that crowd, then they need to have a mind to that kind of online functionality as well. Time will tell I guess.

  42. AndrewC says:

    Is there a ‘moo’ button? This possibly of animal control has me dead excited.

  43. Turin Turambar says:

    I have to say that both of you are a bit wrong in your impressions about these games, as a Ofp and Arma (and future Arma 2) player. At least IMO, Ofp and Arma never were that hardcore. They aren’t Paradox games or Battlefront or HPS games. They aren’t totally mainstream games like Halo or HL2 but of course they can be played by the same people who liked Stalker.

    While it’s not a normal, linear fps, it’s still mostly a FPS, you move with WASD, aim with the mouse, r for reload, space to change weapons, zxc to change stance and that’s it, it’s not Falcon 4.0. 95% of time you don’t use more keys than in Crysis, for example. It’s slower and more tactical than a normal fps, of course, but usually it’s very easy to play: the essence is “walk to the current objective, and kill the enemies that you find meanwhile. Kill more enemies in the objetive.” Of course thing are really more complex, but the basics are still there.

    And what are you saying about multiplayer? pre-op prep drills? Hell, that has to be in private games done by clans playing SERIOUSLY, not in a normal public server. Normal gameplay in multiplayer is a bit more organized than BF or CoD yeah, but it is still a “join a server, kill people and conquest a few objtives, and out”.

    Also, i think the “rpg elements” and “living world” you are speaking of, in the campaign, are not that big really in the game, i am saying it because it may confuse to new players. The game is not a Oblivion like game but with guns. I think that when you play more the game it will be revealed that it is not really a living breathing with logic world, it only it appears at first.

  44. Evan says:

    You can make fun of me for this, but you know what would be sweet? I remember a LAN events (back when those were cool) some of the prizes were lay in keyboard/keys for certain games. MOHAA and Age of Empires for example. If they had one of those with all the diff controls prelabled would make the beggining alot easier. Especially for all those command controls. The numbered menu thing in OpFlash and ArmA was dysfuntional. Oh, can you plant C4 on a cow and run it into a tank or maybe large group of civilians?? If so the possibilities are endless.

  45. teo says:

    June 19th? Shit! I can’t wait
    This game seems to be way more than I ever imagined it being

  46. Turin Turambar says:

    Also, i will say that i disagree with the people who mentioned that the core of the game is multiplayer. At least for me, Ofp was an almost exclusive single player game, and i enjoyed a lot. Innovative, long and varied campaign, extra single player missions and later some mods with their own single player content.
    ArmA, perhaps because it had a more mediocre campaign and because i had a better internet connection, i played it more extensively in multiplayer, but this time ArmA 2 seems to present a strong single player game.

    I never created anything in the editor, for some people it will be the heart of the game, for me it’s a nice extra. I say it because some people (like me) may not be interested in a DIY game.

    But of course, i will agree with Jim and Alec, and everybody else i suppose, is that it will be important how polished (or buggy) is the game at release. /Cross fingers

  47. Turin Turambar says:

    Also: yeah, i am ominicore. Wide taste in games, but hardcore for tactical mil-sim games, from Jagged Alliance to ArmA.

  48. subedii says:

    @ Turin: To each their own, definitely. But with regards to the longevity that the games have had, I believe that’s mainly down to the multiplayer community that spawned around them.

  49. Turin Turambar says:

    @Subedii: For the typical hardcore fan, yeah, but that is the case in every shooter or RTS, the hardcore fans are regular players in multi. That’s the case from Company of Heroes to Call of Duty, not something exclusive to Bohemia games.

    But the typical hardcore fan is a small subset in the population that plays(ed) the game, again the case of CoH, CoD, or ArmA. Most people are single player gamers. Hell, didn’t Epic said that 50% of UT2004 buyers only played alone?

  50. panik says:

    i hope there are some ‘special op’ missions