Arma II, the second in the series and the spiritual successor to Operation Flashpoint, is a hardcore realistic FPS. You know those flight sims that take a 500 page owners manual and 90 minutes of button switches before you take off? This is that for the first person shooter crowd. Operation Arrowhead is the first stand-alone expansion, while British Armed Forces is a smaller DLC.
There are separate buttons to crouch, go prone, and stand back up. One or two hits, and you’re dead. Most weapons only have iron sights. Ballistics are calculated. Most firefights are with targets only a few pixels high. In other words, if Call of Duty is your pinnacle of FPS gaming, this will probably annoy the crap out of you.
It’s slow, it’s tactical, but if you let yourself be absorbed into the world, it’s incredible. Every vehicle is drivable, from planes and helicopters to bikes and cars. Advancing down a hill under fire with a squad of soldiers is quite a rush, knowing that a random bullet could take you out. Cover becomes your best friend.
At least, that’s the potential. There are moments in Arma II and in these expansions where you get a sense of this immense and realistic gaming world. I really, really wanted to love this game. But sadly, it fights you every step of the way.
First is the interface. Nothing is intuitive. Everything takes one or two extra, nonsensical steps to do. Want to get out of your chopper? Just press a button, right? Wrong, scroll your mouse wheel, decide if you want to eject, or just get out. Press the fire button. Sure, you can customize your controls, but with so many tasks and commands, you almost have no choice but to go back to the crappy interface just to find what you’re looking for.
Then there’s the controls. Everything feels clunky. The world pushes against you. Say you’re climbing a narrow staircase in a tower to get at a guy who’s sniping your men. You get your guy, so you want to turn around. Nope. No can do. Seems like your gun is too wide for you to turn around in the passage way. Now, I appreciate the realism, if you were standing in that staircase, you wouldn’t be able to turn around if your gun was out in front of you. But for your entire life you’ve developed the ability to, you know, lower the object so you can fit. To have to consciously select to holster your weapon is a pointless level of complexity that just takes you out of the world.
One of the core selling points of this game is the ability to command a squad of soldiers. But doing so is, like the rest of the game, needlessly over complicated and unintuitive.
It’s so cumbersome, so difficult to figure out, that you go through most missions just hoping they follow you and shoot at the bad guys. When Ghost Recon got this same idea perfect nine years ago (never to be repeated), it’s frustrating to see so little of that robust simplicity nearly a decade later.
Arma II had staggeringly stupid AI. Arma II: OA improves on this a little, but only slightly. Few things snap you out of the game world better than the tank you’re commanding repeatedly rear-ending a friendly APC just because it’s in the way and can’t figure out where to go.
The graphics are, on the whole, quite beautiful, if your system can handle them. The pallette is a little monochromatic, or at least “subdued.” The game takes place in the fictional mountainous central-Asian country of Takistan, so a lot of that is by design. I wasn’t expecting lush jungles or anything, but after a while I was hoping for something other than yellows and browns. The detail in the models and buildings, though, is top notch.
The sound is, on a whole, good. The voice acting runs the gamut from decent to “oh come on”, but it’s not distracting. The effects, ricochets, gunfire, and so on are likely quite realistic, but when you’re used to the bombastic effects of other FPS games, they seem rather tame. The guitar based music is borderline anachronistic, and on the whole completely unnecessary.
The possibilities in multiplayer are tremendous. Think of vast open worlds with dozens of towns to capture or complete objectives. Sadly, mostly it’s a ghost town. There are very few populated servers. Even those with people playing, when you’re on a map that could take you hours of real time to walk across, 17-20 people isn’t going to cut it as far as action goes. Worse, you’ll often spawn miles from any battle. Then they’re may be no clear way to get there, if you can find it at all.
Lastly, make sure the version you install is the latest version. If it isn’t, update BEFORE you start playing. Amazingly your save games will not transfer to the new version, and unless I missed it, I didn’t see this written anywhere in the patch notes. This should be the first damn thing written in patch notes. Forget that, we don’t have the technology to make save games work across patches?
I’ll end with this, if you’re willing to put the effort in, and the realism aspect sounds like it will appeal to you, the $30 price of Arma II: OA is an easy entry into the series. If you like it, the original Arma II has some fantastic missions and set pieces. Then if you can’t get enough, the BAF add-on is cheap. For a select group of people, Arma II and its additionals is brilliant, but for most it’s a test in patience.
If the inevitable Arma III fixes these gripes, though, I’ll be first in line.