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Wot I Think: Army Of The Czech Republic

Panduring to the Bohemians




The above preamble is positively verbose compared to the campaign intro in this official Arma 2 add-on. ACR bayonet-prods you into its 8-mission centrepiece without stopping for anything as conventional/useful as a cut-scene or tranche of back-story text. Consequently, you find yourself scouring the hills and valleys of a vaguely familiar European map for two war criminals with little idea of a) where you are, or b) which war's death throes you're being asked to hasten.

Rough edges like this blemish the essentially likeable ACR in numerous places.

'Silver Lion', like many BIS-produced campaigns, provides some gripping moments, some gloriously unpredictable skirmishes, but if you can run, gun, drive and fly your way through it without encountering at least one broken event trigger, poorly communicated objective, or eyebrow-elevating premise then you're a jammier git than I.

None of the mission concepts are less plausible than the first. Those two war crims are so important, the top brass have sent you out to apprehend them with nothing but a Land Rover and three comrades for company. Between you and a successful outcome are a rash of rebel camps and a fleet of roving Hilux technicals. At some point, you're almost certain to find yourself cowering behind a bullet-riddled tree wondering why your bosses insist you push on unassisted despite the fact that you've lost all your men and are now travelling about in stolen Skoda saloon.

With a fraction more thought and effort - a few extra lines of radio dialogue - the Herculean task could have been explained and justified - mild resentment towards sadistic scenario designers transformed into righteous anger towards incompetent leadership or unreliable local allies.

More troublesome than the sometimes dubious mission concepts and poorly translated briefings are the moments when mission scripts accidentally discharge weapons into their own feet.

In one extremely moody and original outing, you're tasked with rescuing civilians from a flooded city. Cruising down streets transformed into canals by an incontinent river, all the time scanning rain-lashed rooftops for waving figures, is one of the most atmospheric things I've ever done in a BIS game, but when I found myself totally unable to persuade the last castaway into my boat, immersion (metaphorical and, sometimes, literal) rapidly turned to exasperation.

On another occasion, I lost three hours of painstaking progress after two escorted ambulances refused to trundle over a hidden script pressure-plate but did, ten confused minutes later, trigger an instant save-eradicating restart after straying out of an approved mission zone. Frailties like this simply aren't good enough, not even in an £8 add-on.

What 'Silver Lion' lacks in robustness and realism, it partially makes up for in variety. The string (oh, for a knot or tassel!) of scenarios offers a good mix of desert and European locales, and foot and vehicular action. The flight-shy may resent the fact that they're forced to undertake a Hind and an L-159 sortie (a more obliging dev would have provided ground-based alternative routes to subsequent chapters) but with cheats and an 'easy' difficulty setting a click away, there's really no excuse for defeatism.

Ask me in a year or two what I recall of ACR, and I'll almost certainly tell you about the section where you venture out at night with a torch, assault rifle and German Shepherd to capture alive a pair of fleeing fugitives. The dog follows scent trails, barking when it gets close to its quarry. A non-lethal burst of 5.56mm usually persuades an illuminated hostile the game's up. Great stuff, even if it is all over in less than 15 minutes.

I may also remember an outing that involves sneaking close enough to a forest-screened enemy base to laser-designate targets for a waiting MLRS vehicle. The verdant ghillie suit. The stop-start caterpillar impersonations. The dodged patrols tracked by unwavering crosshairs. The undodged patrols neutralised with silenced CZ 75 rounds... A pretty traditional OFP/Arma scenario concept, but pleasing nonetheless.

I've no idea how much work goes into an Arma 2 map, so I'm not sure whether to feel short-changed by ACR's examples. Both of the main venues appear to be modified forms of familiar Chernarusian and Takistani terrains. Structures have been removed or switched here and there - in the case of the 'Bystrica' map, a coastline transformed into a riverbank - but, any reasonably attentive Arma 2 vet is likely to find themselves déjà vuing on a regular basis.

In terms of weapons and vehicles, ACR's additions are, thankfully, less indebted. As well as producing the best beer in the world (“6 O'CLOCK. BEER DEBATE. CLOSE.”) and some rather glorious glassware, the Czechs are also pretty talented when it comes to designing and manufacturing bullet dispensers.

The Bren gun? Czech. Scorpion SMG? Czech. The Enforcer? Czech (Manufactured under licence by the Axon Research Corporation). Two of their latest exports - the CZ-805 assault rifle and the CZ Scorpion Evo SMG - are at the heart of most of the firefights in this add-on. Available in several different forms and blessed with range-collected audio, they're perfect for making those little red holes in Bad People that games like Arma 2 insist on.

Completing the Czech arsenal are the forerunners to the CZ-805 and Evo, the vz. 58 and original Scorpion, plus a hunting rifle, MG and a much-copied pistol. If it's Moravian and murderous, there's a good chance it's in the game.

The most useful of the new AFVs wear Czech colours but have Austrian and German origins. The Pandur II, an 8WD Stryker-like APC, and the ATF Dingo, an armoured Unimog, come with devastating remote-controlled turret weapons (a 30mm cannon and a grenade launcher, respectively) but thanks to the series' crude physics, vehicle audio, and armour simulation, are not machines you'll lose your heart to. Fingers-crossed, Arma 3 does a better job of simulating the steel beast side of things.

For similar reasons, as welcome as they are, you won't catch me lionising the Mi-24 gunship or L-159 ALCA jet. The glow of the Hind's dials during nocturnal sorties? Nice. The fact that my silicon gunner appears to be asleep most of the time? A reminder I really must return to Digital Integration's Hind now a group of clever meddlers have figured out how to get it running on modern rigs.

With its ramshackle story, non-existent characterisation, and minefield of faulty mission triggers, ACR could be regarded as a bit of a disappointment. As usual, you've got to be willing to incorporate the new content in self-made challenges - or wait until modders do the incorporating - to really get the most out of it.

I'm sure someone will eventually build a story sequence around Mission 8's superb flooding trick. This flawed but consistently entertaining adjunct needed something more than Czech-ness to bring it together, and a sodden campaign combining combat and humanitarian missions might have been just the thing.




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