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Arma II: First Impressions

I’m going to be taking a fairly serious amount of time to do a review of this, but I wanted to lob some preliminary impressions up here in the meantime. Blimey, BIS really have got that warzone feel nailed down. This is one of the most atmospheric games I’ve ever played, despite exhibiting a veritable alphabet of atmosphere-breaking elements. The most obvious of these being UNKNOWN. MAN. FAR.

Arma II is ludicrously ambitious. It wants to encompass modern warfare in a single game, and not in a Call Of Duty cinema-splurge way, but in a crawling-around-forests in the middle of the night to win the war way. Fortunately it doesn’t get over-excited at the start, and gives you fairly digestible infantry exercises to go through. Your early missions are about small engagements and covert ops, in which you must learn to operate with your team. One aspect of this is the enemy spotting, delivered in a manner similar to how actual military types bark out their commands and observations. It’s a little unnerving. ENEMY! MAN!

Once I become a more proficient Arma II player I am certain my ability to spot the distant wiggling pixels of my enemies will improve dramatically. For now, however, I’m somewhat put off by the automatic enemy-spotting systems, which cause not only my AI team-chums, but even my own character to yell, in separate-word enunciation, exactly what he’s seen. There’s a man ahead, my character has seen it, I’ve dived to the ground: and I still have not see the problematic man with my own, real eyes. Chances are he’ll kill me without me seeing him too, but at least I know he’s there.

Of course this kind of scaffolding is essential to staying alive. Arma II puts you and your special ops team into a ludicrously enormous warzone, and it’s filled with unhappy chappies AK’s, and worse. Staying alive requires you to pay attention, because battles don’t tend to play out the same way twice. It should go without saying that this isn’t like other FPS games, and as I hit the first urban centre with my team and watched a tank get to work on enemy armour ahead of me, that was made very clear indeed.

Yes, there are serious concessions to realism, precision and accuracy, but there are also more than enough videogame supports to keep this comfortable within the realm of simulatory entertainment. So far, at least, I’m enjoying myself. Partly this is down to BIS’s warzone being so astonishingly rich and believable. The environments are brilliantly rendered, and the open mess of the world rivals that of the real. Not only that, but the various open world events you’ll encounter, from planes screaming overhead to full-blown tank battles taking place across huge valleys, endow it with a kind super-versimilitude that no other game can rightly lay claim to. I almost want to recommend Arma II purely on the basis of you have to see this, just you that you know what games are capable of.

There are rough edges poking through the achievements – an American soldier suddenly speaking to you in what is clearly the voice of a Czech videogames developer, for example – and early frustrations, such as docile AI and my team getting themselves killed, thus ending the mission. But I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface: hours into the main campaign, I know that I’ve sampled little more than a teaser of what lies ahead, whether that be ludicrous bugs, or a multilayered, multiplayer open-world campaign with strategic RTS elements and a comprehensive mission editor.

I love BIS for even attempting to make this, even though it means I need a bigger PC. Tune in for a more comprehensive analysis next week, hopefully followed by co-op campaign conversations.

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Jim Rossignol

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