Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
System requirements: Windows XP or Vista; Dual-core Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHz/Core 2.0 GHz/AMD Athlon 3200+ or faster CPU; 1 GB RAM; NVIDIA GeForce 7800/ATI Radeon 1800 with Shader Model 3 and 256 MB VRAM or faster video card
Release date: Available now
Being a game reviewer has certain advantages, one of which is that when I miss a game the first time, I often get a crack at playing it when the sequel comes out. So it is with developer Bohemia Interactive’s ARMA II. When the original ARMA was released, I heard about its attention to tactical detail and its authenticity (as well as its buggy condition). When I read that ARMA II is considered by its developers to be a “military simulation game” instead of just a first-person shooter, I eagerly installed it to see just what the developer had to offer.
When Bohemia refers to the game as a simulator instead of a shooter, they really mean it. ARMA II is set in the fictional Eastern European country of Chernarus, where a civil war has broken out between the pro-western democratic government and the pro-Russian Chernarus Movement of the Red Star. Other factions, such as the NAPA nationalist guerillas and the Russian army, are also getting involved. As the situation deteriorates, the government calls for help, and the US sends in the Marines to end the fighting. However, instead of a broad, sweeping campaign against fully armed combat troops, you find yourself facing an insurgency that has been bankrolled by foreign powers and has placed civilians in the middle. As a member of Team Razor, it’s your job to complete missions involving everything from making contact with potentially friendly insurgents to fighting T-72 tanks in small villages. Bohemia has fully rendered most of the country from actual satellite imagery of various real places in Eastern Europe. At certain points in the campaign, your “mission” is to simply patrol this vast countryside, fight any insurgents you come across, try to help civilians, and render any aid you can to friendly forces.
The inevitable fighting that takes place is not of the frag-fest variety you might be familiar with from Call of Duty 4. ARMA II’s creators have modeled the real physics of various munitions, including parabolic trajectories and reduced kinetic energy over distance, but these details are only the tip of the iceberg. Most firearms and explosives are capable of incapacitating a person, meaning that rendering first aid is an important in-game activity. However, first aid is not provided by throwing medkits at the wounded soldier. Instead, you must kneel over him and perform CPR or bandage his wounds, possibly exposing yourself to enemy fire. These aspects of gameplay, along with many others, make the hardcore modes of COD4 and other FPS games look easy and forgiving by comparison. And all of this only touches upon infantry actions, to say nothing of how the many vehicles are handled.
While the single-player campaign is engaging, multiplayer is entertaining as well. My hat is off to Bohemia for the sheer number of MP possibilities included in ARMA II. You can work through the main campaign with a few friends, or jump online and fight almost any style of battle imaginable with the various weapons, vehicles and buildings, and do so with any objectives you want. I was also impressed with the AI of both your enemies and your teammates. Friendly troops pay close attention to orders and are very keen on keeping you in the fight, while your enemies refuse to play fairly, taking full advantage of terrain, cover and concealment to ensure you have a hard time seeing them, much less getting an accurate shot at them.
However, ARMA II also comes with a list of problems. Despite having been patched multiple times, the game still has some scripting issues, requiring the occasional rollback to a previous save because a mission either won’t update or updates incorrectly. I also found that the AI has trouble driving vehicles. In one instance a helicopter that had come in to extract my team decided to take off before we had all gotten in, even though we were not under enemy fire. ARMA II also has a very steep learning curve, which isn’t surprising, given its claims of being a simulator rather than a conventional FPS. This makes it a bit much for casual gamers to play. While this is not a bad thing, as the intended audience is hardcore gamers, I would still highly recommend that all players read the entire manual and complete all of the training missions more than once before playing. The sheer number of commands and the unforgiving ballistics of weapons make it important to configure your keyboard and mouse properly before your first firefight. Even then, you should still be prepared to die a few times before everything clicks into place.
I feel that my time with ARMA II was well spent. Priced at $49.95, casual gamers will probably want to give this game a miss because of its complexity. But hardcore players who are looking for something more involved than a typical FPS should pick up the demo and give it a try.