Review / ArmA II (PC)

As a word, realism is not exactly synonymous with fun and not often associated with the word entertaining when it comes to videogames. Often studios will compromise on realism to make the gameplay experience entertaining and playable. This is particularly true for games that revolve around war and combat. That doesn’t mean however that realism isn’t capable of producing some entertainment and that’s the case with ArmA II.

Developed by Bohemia Interactive, ArmA II is the sequel to ArmA, an IP that was long referred to as the spiritual successor to Bohemia’s Operation Flashpoint. The emphasis in the original ArmA was realism and that is still the case in ArmA II. What it is and isn’t doesn’t require any debate. You could almost call it a simulator as combat won’t be the only thing the player will be engaging it. Decision making is a huge element in the game and how the player goes about their mission will eventually decide how the conflict in a foreign country will unfold.

Welcome to Chernarus, Marine. A rebellion has rattled the stability of this former Soviet region and now a civil war between the pro-Western government of Chernarus and the people who seek to tear that government down is liable to rip the country apart. The U.S. is called in restore some order in the country and it’s up to you to literally determine who wins in this conflict, as your interaction with your fellow soldiers and the civilians of Chernarus will decide the outcome. The game does have multiple endings and it’s not just simply a matter of succeeding in the region or pulling out.

Chernarus is an impressive environment and Bohemia has paid attention to the details. If you’re in a more agricultural region of the country, prepare to encounter some farm animals. Cows and chickens are abundant. With 225 square kilometers of land, there’s little reason why it shouldn’t be crawling with detail.

The game offers a reasonable amount of freedom to play however you might want, however with such freedom comes an equal dollop of responsibility. Make no mistake, you aren’t just guided through every mission with obvious pathways. You’ll be dropped into open areas and though your objective will sometimes consist on merely moving to one spot on the map, you can approach that objective in any way possible, as long as you survive. Sure, there are various methods of engaging hostiles in a house, but the question the player has to ask is: “What is the safest?”. The opposition have already spotted you and are firing on your squad. One could go out into the open field and flank the house, but that would leave the player with little cover. The player could simply remain in wooded cover and assault the house by moving forward, but the player also has to take into consideration fellow squad members.

However, not only does the player have to worry about the objective and the people around them but also take into account their own condition. Spending too much time running towards your objective will cause fatigue and if you encountered rebels after enduring half a mile of running in all that equipment, your aim will sway as you regain breath.

Interaction plays a key role in how the player progresses. You will undoubtedly ask yourself many questions throughout the campaign. Do you call in an air strike that will take out an enemy platoon, even if it takes a village full civilians with it?  Winning the hearts and minds of civilians plays a crucial part in their cooperation towards U.S. forces. Treat them well and they will tell you vital information about the rebels. However, if you let yourself become a bit of a tyrant then they might decide to help the opposing forces. The one downside to this is that the model animations and voice acting aren’t convincing enough to build some emotional attachment with those who are crucial to the mission. Barring a few exceptions, characters seem a bit too robotic, especially considering the weight of the role-playing elements in the game.

Other factors of ArmA II include handling vehicles and controlling larger armies. Tanks, helicopters and planes are just some of the things the player will be using or commanding which will help add to the appreciation of ArmA’s open world environment. While you’re safely in an area far from the rebels, you could send in armor to clear out an area and then lead your squad in to take out anyone stragglers.

If the campaign is not your thing, there’s always the editor, which is an in-game tool that allows you to make your own scenarios. The editor allows players to create some situations that almost touch in terms of quality the campaign missions. Or if you’re just curious about what kind of mayhem you can reek, you could pit 100 units against 100 units and let battle commence!

One can’t emphasize enough that ArmA II is a realistic shooter and its role-playing elements make it a great, unique experience. Add the multiplayer and editor and ArmA II is a complete package. Granted, patience is recommended if this kind of gritty realism is something you don’t engage in too often. Other than that, Bohemia Interactive has created a game that will not only bring about an entertaining campaign but a long lasting multiplayer and the possibility of a strong community building around the player-made scenarios with the editor.

+ A strong attempt at a realistic wargame
+ Great attention to environmental detail
+ The editor allows for the creation of great scenarios

– Model animations and voice acting are weak
– Strange pacing in the campaign is apparent
– When the AI messes up, it really messes up