Hands-on Preview / ArmA 2

It seems too quiet. From a distant forest, my infantrymen and I can see a small town. It’s everything a small town should be, a few homes, farms, oh look a tractor, even a few animals roam the outskirts. From here, it seems my fellow soldiers and I could take this town with ease. This is exactly why our armor and air support are given the order to be the first to invade. Our helicopters, roaring in front of us, have already fired upon the town, taking out all evident hostilities. It appears the decision to let our extra firepower into the town first was the appropriate one. This decision wasn’t some scripted event. This decision was made by you.

ArmA 2 is the sequel to the Bohemia Interactive Software developed Armed Assault, often referred to as the spiritual successor to Operation Flashpoint. Different from more popular modern first-person shooters, ArmA strives for realism which, in the past, has been praised for that very aspect. Despite its success in having incomparable realism and authenticity, the original ArmA had its share of bugs and frustrating gameplay difficulty at launch but was improved upon with time and some help from the community. With its sequel inching closer to release, the question is if ArmA 2 can correct the negative aspects of its predecessor while improving enough of the gameplay to warrant calling it a sequel.

Taking place in the fictional post-Soviet state of Chernarus, the U.S. Marines are sent into the region by the request of the Democratic government in the midst of the attempts by other factions to overthrow the government. The job of the Marines is to restore stability in the region. Don’t write the story off as something linear though as one of the main features of ArmA 2 is its ability to let players choose what they want to do. In the 225 square-kilometer world, there are multiple ways of approaching the mission and this doesn’t mean a few paths leading to the same objective. It’s an open world where the world actually feels alive.

In one mission, you have the option to save multiple hostages, some of which are located in completely different places. If you save some of them, they’ll give you valuable intel that will shape the rest of the campaign. If you let the enemy dispose of these hostages, well, you can forget about that information the hostages would have told you but the important thing is, you aren’t penalized for it. It’s one of the many choices the player will get to make in a world where freedom of choice actually means something.

In a way, you could call it a role-playing game as your interaction with the civilians of the region will influence the outcome of your missions. With its ability to allow players to use dialogue commands when interacting with NPCs, you can chose to forge alliances or completely alienate the citizens, giving them more of a reason to aid the people you’re fighting against.

The integration of the Real Virtuality 3 engine plays a major role in keeping environments fresh and the engine is a huge improvement over the previous engines. While the original ArmA was sometimes criticized for having lackluster graphics especially for a game released in 2007, that shouldn’t be the case at all with ArmA 2. The improvements in the lighting will be obvious as soon as you play it. To add to this, the level of detail to the environment as well as the models is more than just on par by today’s standards.

The attention to realism is certainly evident from the handling of your weapon to the head bob (which you can adjust if the prospect of moving your head whenever you move is too annoying). Thinking my extensive experience in the Battlefield franchise would help alleviate the amount to learn in this simulator, ArmA 2 actually proved to be a completely different videogame. Everything feels heavy which is what was expected from a realistic videogame like this one. When you run, you can hear the juggling of your equipment and most importantly, you can feel it. If you run too much, it will undoubtedly affect your gun’s stability while attempting to fire. If you’re down and injured, you have to call a medic to your position to help you get back up and running. There are many factors that go into the appropriate infiltration of an enemy position which is what makes ArmA 2 such an interesting videogame.

While playing one of the scenarios in which the first objective was to capture and hold a town, when my squad was engaged with the enemy, it was clear that the AI wasn’t programmed to do the same thing over and over again regardless of the situation. If you take cover, the AI won’t waste its time trying to demolish your protection, however if you try to peek to see where your enemy is firing at, the AI will attempt to fire at you and if you run out in the open, possibly to move from cover to cover, the AI will go after you, so it is best to prone as soon as that happens. On the first playthrough, I just led my infantry into the town and we got pinned a few times, not efficient. On another playthrough, I just ordered my armor and air support to handle the more obvious hostilities on the outskirts of the town and then my squad finished the remaining threats that were within the town itself, which was by far more satisfying.

To address to question as to whether or not this ArmA 2 could provide a stable experience for you and your system, the build we had was good and stable enough to allow the playing of the various scenarios and tutorials. Does Bohemia Interactive have plenty of time to improve it? Absolutely. In fact, at the time of this writing a new build was made available for preview but the one we acquired was good enough to mention the stronger points of this title.

ArmA 2 is looking like a strong contender in the wake of summer releases. With its strategic and realism elements, it’s going to impress plenty of people. Though it’s far from being a videogame that has the simplest controls, it’s the amount of depth and needed understanding in the single-player alone that make this game even more appealing. There are tutorials provided but the learning really doesn’t stop there as you’ll still be understanding more in the campaign. This goes without mentioning the multiplayer (including co-op) as well as the editor allowing the player to do things such as create their own missions. If you’re looking for a game that will provide plenty of gameplay time to occupy your summer (and even onward), ArmA 2 could absolutely be that game.

ArmA 2 is expected for a June 19 release on PC with the Xbox 360 version following after that.