Arma 2 Multiplayer: The Ruined Midsummer

By Quintin Smith on January 4th, 2010 at 9:13 pm.


As an ambitious, macho, overwhelming soldier sim, you might think Armed Assault 2‘s multiplayer is perhaps ambitious, macho or overwhelming. Well, you’d be WRONG! Drop and give me 20! Less than 20 is fine if you can’t quite manage that! Oh, you just ate? Never mind then. I’d feel dreadful if you got indigestion. Basically, playing Armed Assault 2′s official missions co-op might be a bit of an undertaking, but a mass of community missions offer an experience that’s a little less Falklands War and more Tropic Thunder. If you’re sitting on the fence as to whether Arma2 is for you, the following might just manhandle you off it.

This is a description of the evening I had with my friend, Egg, which can only be described as casual-Arma2-fun-for-casual-friends-who-like-a-good-time-that’s-alright. After setting up voice comms and installing the new 1.5 patch (featuring such delicate fine-tuning as “Helicopters now destroyed if on the ground and upside-down”), Egg and I began picking community missions at random. Let the record show that while we plan to become competent Arma2 soldiers and tackle the official missions professionally, we’re not there yet. We can’t orienteer, know nothing about small unit tactics, and can’t fathom the game’s awkward ordering system. Currently, all we have going for us is chutzpah and fearlessness.

The first mission of the night informed us that Russians had “ruined our midsummer”, and instructed us to get revenge by capturing some explosives and then using them to destroy something on our map that was just labelled as “guns” (it also advised that if we could find a computer we could do the lottery on the way). As the mission began we were given control of a picnic of Eastern European hicks.

Raiding the box of equipment near our spawn, I came up with a hunting rifle while Egg got a shotgun. He then spent a minute trying to figure out how to order our four AI hick buddies to arm themselves from the box while I watched a bugged rabbit a few feet away vibrate wildly up and down the length of a blade of grass. Egg eventually concluded the AI wouldn’t touch the box for some reason, and so the six of us went jogging off to war with two guns.

Something worth adoring about Arma2 is how there’s a sense of gravity and heroism that’s built into the engine itself. No matter how ludicrous or ramshackle the mission, you can’t shake that slow pace, those sweeping landscapes, or the simple nature of the game as an immersive sim with no respawns, meaning something as dull as trekking through woodland or waiting for a team-mate to finish scouting ahead can be curiously riveting.

After a few minutes of hot compass action Egg, and I reached the edge of the Russian encampment where the explosives were being stored, the two of us sprinting as close as we dared before flinging ourselves to the ground in an approximation of military stealth. In horror I glanced back to see our oblivious AIs sauntering up behind us, stood bolt upright like hikers. I had to tell Egg to tell them to get down while watching the encampment through my scope, praying I’d be able to take out anyone who spotted us. Cue seven or eight very, very long seconds as our AIs tucked themselves into the undergrowth, yet no Russians materialised. I could see a mobile radar truck, an APC and two tents, but no signs of life.

This is Arma2′s party piece; the burning unease and adrenaline that comes from simply not knowing what’s going on or what’s going to happen. A kind of idiocy blues.

Egg began snaking closer to the clearing to bring his shotgun into range.

“I see one,” I heard Egg say through our comms. What? I couldn’t see anyone. My view of the base was still a bit obscured by the treeline. Egg snaked closer.

“Alright,” I said. “You make a break for some cover inside the base, I’ll cover you with the rifle.” This ended up being my first learning experience of the evening. I’m not totally sure why I told Egg I’d cover him when I couldn’t see a goddamn thing. I think it was just the lure of speaking such a correct and manly bundle of words. Egg made a break for it, and I watched his little woolly-hatted form go heaving across the grass to come to a stop right in my blind spot. The gunshots began immediately.

“TAKE HIM DOWN,” cried Egg.

“Take who down? I can’t… hang on…” I mumbled, then held down the D key to send my avatar crawling sideways to try and bring the action into sight. The gunshots didn’t stop. There was the strong sound of Egg’s shotgun, but also a much scarier repeating thudding coming from further away. Swssh, swssh, went the grass as I wormed my worried bulk over it inch by inch.

“OVER BY THE TREES,” Egg screamed. I still couldn’t see a soul. This was no good. Then there was a slightly different banging sound, followed by a fierce burst of grey smoke roughly where Egg must have been. A rocket?

“Okay!” I told Egg, elated. “I’m starting to see things! I can see smoke! Hang on.” Then Egg got shot, which was a shame.

Our second mission of the night was a similar award-winning success. After decoding a briefing screen written entirely in French we found ourselves in a transport plane roaring through a stormy night. Sat opposite each other in the menacing metal cabin, we each hovered nervous fingers over the parachute button until Egg realised the plane was headed for a landing strip in the distance, and even lowering its altitude accordingly. We relaxed, at which point the plane blew up, killing us both. Shot out of the sky by anti-air weaponry? Optimism. The AI had just botched the landing and driven the nose of the plane into the tarmac. NEXT.

The third and final mission was, however, the kind of thing I’d recommend people buy Arma2 for. A daylight raid to blow up a couple of targets on a small island, Egg and I quickly got bogged down in a firefight on the outskirts of a tiny village as the island’s defense force zeroed in on us. The AI’s use of suppressive fire has been fixed in 1.5, resulting in the harrowing experience of hearing near-constant gunfire, yet having to rely on discreet whistling noises or small puffs of dirt to know if any of it’s actually aimed at you.

We were doing okay for a while, which was thrilling. Camped in heavy cover on the western outskirts of the village, we brought down enough advancing soldiers with long-range fire to trigger a retreat. Minutes later came Egg’s frenzied transmission that we had “shitloads” of enemy soldiers who’d crept up to the north side of the village while we’d been busying ourselves with self-satisfied pot shots. Abruptly, the calm pace of the game was broken. I’d had no idea there were enemy troops behind us, and now they could be around any corner.

The absolute most dangerous thing in Arma2 is an unknown variable. Helicopters, tanks, whole squads of enemy soldiers can all be dealt with if you know they’re coming and where from. Unlike other shooters, where situations generally arrange themselves into “tough” or “easy” and must be dealt with regardless, in Arma2 situations are either “bad” or “good” and there is often /no winning/ the bad situations. As a result Arma2 plays like a tug of war with death, where every time you lose spatial awareness or control of your surroundings death gives a good, firm yank on the rope. Considering this is a game where a single bullet can kill anybody, it’s bizarre how slowly you feel the noose tightening around your neck.

Back in our game we fell back to try and evict these new visitors from the village, which was an amazing and horrible time. The one thing worse than rounding a corner and unexpectedly seeing three enemy soldiers forty feet away is rounding a corner /expecting/ to see soldiers and not seeing any. As we crept through the village, guns readied, I learned that better than any game I’ve played all year Arma2 can fill a silence. It packs that silence with dread and tension and zips it up again like a chicken kiev.

In another minute it all kicked off. Needless to say our blind assault of a now-fortified village didn’t go very well, and I ended up the sole survivor of our team, sprinting away from the town as what sounded like a half-dozen enemy troops fired at me in a miserable reversal of roles. Yeah, we’d failed again, but we’d at least tasted success.

What I want you to take away from this is that Arma2 doesn’t have to be the ponderous boot-camp learning experience that its majestic, tough campaign might imply, and you don’t have to know what you’re doing for it to be fascinating. The basic controls can be learned in minutes, allowing you to learn the rest of the game with a friend or three as you murder and muddle your way through some multiplayer. Incompetence might bar the way to heroism in other games, but not here, and from what Jim’s said it only gets better. I’ll be posting some revised, more experienced impressions of the multiplayer in a couple of weeks. For now, I think I’ll have a shot at flying a helicopter. Dismissed!

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28 Comments »

  1. Turin Turambar says:

    Funny thing, it wasn’t until December that i began playing Arma 2 heavily in Multiplayer. Now with ACE2, 1.05 patch, and a good sever like the [KH], i am having a good time playing with 30 players in coop missions.

  2. Nilocy says:

    Yeah, these moments I’ve seen way to often when playing with friends. It probably stems from the DF saying that “Losing is fun” and without that its quite hard for some people to understand what Arma 2 is really about. Situtations where it is a suicide mission and you will end up dying or running away and dying even faster.

    I recall this time when me and a friend were assaulting a village in the night with a Cobra helicopter, there was friendly humans and AI’s on the ground surround a village that held an ammo dump. To us, me and my friend at least, this seemed a fairly easy win. We were hoving around spotting enemy troops cowering for their lifes for our buddies on the ground. All was good until suddenly my gunner said “Yeah, I think theres a tank in this town.” And smug me thought, “Hah! what can a tank do to us?!” Two seconds later there was a flash from the tank, another 3 seconds our tail rotor stopped. In those 5 seconds the entire operation died with our tail-blades, the humans were over run without us spotting for them…

    Ahhh I love Arma 2.

  3. Scott says:

    This game sounds right up my alley, I intend to play the hell out of it the second I get a good enough computer.

  4. Gap Gen says:

    We just had an amusing romp down a valley with tanks and AH4s, which is a good way of avoiding being shot by small arms fire. Plus, tanks are *loud*. Watching an A10 basically nuke a base is also awesome, especially if you’re the one that lased the target in the first place.

    Squad tactics can be fun with a big enough group that a death or two isn’t a massive disaster too, though.

  5. Web Cole says:

    I think RPS’s New Years Resolution should be more Quinns. Go on, please? :D

    • Glove says:

      Web Cole: I agree! He’s the kind of good that makes you wish you could forget what you’ve just read so you can read it again.

  6. Petethegoat says:

    Liked it so much when it first came out, I bought another copy to play the campaign coop with. Then the campaign was broken and difficult.

    I bought another two copies for Christmas. Make of that what you will.

  7. Count Valar says:

    Very funny and wellwritten article, thanks :-)

    PS. arma2 is indeed awesome.

  8. Tommo says:

    Arma2 campaign is disappointing, but the game has so much more user made content that makes it worth the purchase.
    Theres user made campaigns, single missions, whole islands, tanks, planes, soldiers… the list goes on.
    Again im going to say Im very disappointed in the Arma2 campaign, BUT even I can make missions in minutes in the editor. The last one i made was were i had to laser designate targets, for A10′s, that were postioned in a city that was also full of infantry positioned randomly and patrolling. Danger close bombing runs with laser guided bombs.
    Mulitplyer is what ever you want it to be. You can have fun by having boat races or be serious and try realistic missions.
    I was involved in a coop mission the other night with 40 people, yes thats 40 on 1 side. It had numerous objectives, there was a command structure, everyone was on voice comms.
    Arma2 is a long time game, that can require some effort to grasp.

  9. Turin Turambar says:

    There are some frutrating mission when you play Arma 1 or Arma 2.
    But sometimes…

    Sometimes it’s not the game, but the mission, it was just bad.
    Others, the mission was good, but is is designed for 15 players, it’s too much for 3 friends.
    And other times, people doesn’t remember you can both choose the difficulty / AI skill in the client, in every enemy groups in specific and in general in all the mission (the latter two options by the mission maker).

    • Gap Gen says:

      Three friends is actually OK depending on the mission. 4 people is two tanks without commanders, or two Apache gunships. It’s also a respectable infiltration squad for stealth ops.

      As for mods, missions with the revive script make it much easier to continue from where you are. Other than that, it’s up to you as to what you think would be fun.

  10. Alexander Norris says:

    I bought it on the strength of the Hivemind’s opinion, then promptly did nothing with it because I have absolutely no clue what mods or maps I should be getting or indeed, what servers are decent ones.

    • Dominic White says:

      Just look at the above article. It wasn’t a good mission – it was a poorly written insano Hillbillies Vs Soldiers mission that was probably thrown together in 20 minutes. And it still turned out fun, because that’s what ArmA2 is all about.

      The more ridiculous and potentially broken the scenario, the better. Get to gether with a bunch of people, and have one of you create a mission for you all to play. Want to raise the stakes? Give the mission-maker only an hour to produce it. Chances are that it’ll still be fun.

      It may be a realistic military sim, but you’ll have way more fun with it if you leave the serious military attitude at the door and just act like a dork.

  11. TentSalesman says:

    Great writeup – that’s exactly why I love Arma II’s multiplayer to bits!

    Any chance of some links to the missions you guys played? They sound like a blast.

  12. Wisq says:

    … (featuring such delicate fine-tuning as “Helicopters now destroyed if on the ground and upside-down”) …

    For now, I think I’ll have a shot at flying a helicopter.

    Somehow, I expect these two statements to create some amusing conflict between them.

    • Dominic White says:

      A lot of the ArmA2 patch notes sound funnier than they actually are. The whole upside-down helicopters thing was just added because it was possible (in very rare circumstances) for an unpiloted chopper to be tipped upside down without destroying it (a piloted chopper will explode if it so much as grazes anything solid, normally), and it would still let people onboard and THEN immediately explode.

      Now it just automatically switches to the Wrecked status when it’s upside-down and won’t let anyone aboard.

  13. Big X says:

    Yeah, can RPS have Quintin for keeps? Pleeeeease?

  14. godwin says:

    I’m wondering if the “receiving bug” has been fixed, or is it still some randomly-occurring thing where no one has a clue of its cause? That absolutely killed the demo for me. And it’s a pity, because having played the hell out of Arma, I was really looking forward to the second game. It’s just such a unique gaming experience, especially online co-op, with operations rarely going down the same way twice. I guess I’m still waiting it out, probably for the expansion and a twin-pack to be released. Having said that though, people who want to check out this game should certainly be prepared to have to deal with and fix problems, the shortcomings combined with breadth of possibilities really force the player/gamer to understand the workings of the game and take ownership in creating or providing an experience – you can’t expect the same things out of it as you do with other, more typical games.

  15. Homunculus says:

    That first, randomly chosen mission is very reminiscent of an Operation Flashpoint community mission involving dunken idiots waking up and deciding to take on the mght of the Red Army. Coincidentally, one that I played with Egg, Boff and other Staters (Boff nicked a Hind and rained destruction like a livid god. I died ignominously in a bush, lost)

  16. Dethgar says:

    So, from what I understand a lot of the fun in this game has to do with the suspense of nothing happening. I am still on the fence as to whether or not I should buy this game. On one hand I’m tired of games lacking tactical elements that can be won via running with a red smoke grenade. On the other, I don’t want to spend a large amount of time and money to just maybe, possibly, have a chance at doing something cool. Certainly middle ground would be ideal, but is there even such a thing? Will there ever be?

    • Dominic White says:

      It’s infinitely variable. Want high-tension stealth missions where death is just a loud noise away? You got it. Pseudo-RTS missions where you orchestrate massive meatgrinders between waves of expendable infantry and horribly efficient tanks? That’s in there, too. Massive chopper battles? Done. Small, violent urban gunfights? Got that too.

      Just think of it as a sandbox full of soldiers, tanks, helicopters and guns. If you can think of something, it’s probably capable to throw it together in a few minutes in the editor.

  17. Shadowcat says:

    The beauty of a good tactical shooter (or any game in which you are incredibly vulnerable, really) is the amazing rush you get when you succeed (hopefully, eventually), following the incredible tension that is generated simply by playing the game.

    I remember a solo night-time jungle excursion in Vietcong (played in a pitch-black room, with headphones on) that had me right on the edge of my seat for what must have been the better part of two hours, straining my eyes and ears for any sign of the enemy, and probably holding my breath for unhealthy amounts of time. Every clearing in the trees would cause massive anxiety as I tried to find some cover to proceed under, knowing that a single bullet could send me back to the beginning.

    Making it to that extraction point on my first attempt was definitely a highlight of that game. (The tension was a little like playing Thief for the first time.)

  18. General Guba says:

    Has the new patch made the basic movement/shooting controls anything like, or does it still feel like your drugged up and moving through treacle? If they sorted that out, I would get it but I doubt they have so I’ll stick with Flashpoint (the original one); it may not look as pretty but it’s much more fun to play.

    • Tommo says:

      The new patch introduced mouse smoothing options, I think thats the treacle you were swimming in.
      Ive seen no new complaints on the board about that.
      Recieving bug seems to be gone too, i had it a few times, not seen it for months now.

      The beauty of Arma2 is evident when you do spend several hours playing a coop mission tactically, carefully only for it to go wrong. Which just like real war, if something is going to go wrong , IT WILL GO WRONG BADLY!
      Sometimes you dont win playing some of these missions, unlike just about every other game where you always win.

    • Stromko says:

      Personally I couldn’t stand the awful effects like motion blur and blurry periphereal vision. Motion blur might be realistic but it’s also just plain sickening. Blurry periphereal is immersion-breaking– if you’re looking at a part of the screen, that should be where your character’s eyes are pointing, so it shouldn’t be blurry. Sure I could just turn off post-processing, but then the whole thing looks like it was made in 2002.

      Eventually I found out that if I played in 3rd person mode, there was no blurring. I managed to make it a good way through the campaign and actually enjoyed myself, right up until that bit where you have to investigate and track down those baddies. I suspect it was actually an impossible mission and I just had to wait it out and fail, because after losing track of them I’d always reload and retry with the benefit of hindsight and still, nothing. The radio would continue to claim the enemy had passed through X village, when I’d been waiting there for an hour and saw nothing.

  19. autogunner says:

    I made a nightime mission that was far too ambitious, but would ahve worked if it was feasible for two blokes to take on an islands worht of insurgents, still it was pretty fun – instead of blowing up a tank depot while testing I was attacked so stole one. The sabotage bits worked ok, crawling through dense forest to destroy a radar guarded by a few blokes was very cool.

    also when you died you respawned as a bird…

    • autogunner says:

      I should point out I have no idea why you respawned as a seagul, but it was pretty cool, as it still had comms, so could go forward scouting for the other guy

  20. Tommo says:

    Spawning as a bird is the default way of saying “You have used your 1 life, be more careful next time!”.
    You need to use respawn or revive scripts, then no birdie. http://www.armaholic.com good place to find these things.