The ARMA series has earned a reputation of being a hardcore, intense and highly challenging experience. There’s not many games that have attempted to simulate an authentic tactical military combat experience as much as the ARMA series has. Since it’s first incarnation “Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis” released in 2001 (re-released as “ARMA: Cold War Assault” in 2011) the ARMA series simulates a realistic portrayal of modern warfare, as opposed to the “Hollywood” interpretation of warfare seen in the Battlefield and Call of Duty games. Now with the release of ARMA 3, developers Bohemia Interactive hopes to bring their renowned and highly-popular game series to a whole new level. With various new features and improvements from ARMA 2 and it’s expansion packs, Bohemia hopes to make this game the most comprehensive and refined ARMA game yet.
ARMA 3 place on the Aegean islands of Altis and Stratis, where a massive military invasion has occurred led by the frighteningly powerful faction the Canton-Protocol Strategic Alliance Treaty. Their goals are unclear at this time but as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s armed forces, it’s up to you to stop whatever their plans are.
As of right now there’s no campaign included, so there’s not much insight into the storyline and the characters you’ll meet. However Bohemia Interactive has promised free DLC which adds the campaign to the game, which should help understand the context of this conflict. There are showcases made by the developers which provide good introductions to playing as infantry, using vehicles, working with the user interface and knowing what battles are like. At this point the user-created content is what makes up the bulk of the content which contains very well made missions involving sneaking, using vehicles, massive battles and even remastered missions from previous ARMA games. The ARMA community has always looked for ways to improve the game content of this series and it seems that Bohemia have let the community take the reigns and create their own ARMA 3 experience.
The sheer scope of the battlefield is unbelievable, with Stratis and Altis covering a combined 290km2 land-stretch, dwarfing any other map from any other video game. Gunfights are intense and exciting, with you and the rest of the squad bellowing commands and acknowledgements whilst bullets and rockets are whizzing past your head. It’s a thrill and a fright meeting the enemy for the first time and scrambling to aim down the iornsights and make the first kill. The AI is brutal and will show you no mercy while in battle. Enemies will take cover, use suppressing fire, attempt to out-flank you and just make your time fighting them an absolute misery. There is an uneasy feeling knowing that even one strike from the enemy can be fatal and a shot from afar can prove just as deadly as a point-blank shot, hence you can’t just charge in guns blazing “Call of Duty style”. The ARMA series has always been about pacing yourself and making every shot count. ARMA rewards patience, timing and a tactical mindset, thus utilising brains and brawn whilst in battle will shape you into the toughest, most hardcore war vet on the field.
As far as visuals go, ARMA 3 looks absolutely marvelous. The Real Virtuality 4 Engine presents the world of ARMA 3 with gloriously high fidelity. The detail level of the islands, character models, vehicles and the special effects are striking. ARMA 3’s engine includes Direct X 11 which allows advanced special effects and rendering techniques bringing some real visual wonder to ARMA 3. It actually makes your heart sink knowing that the beautifully rendered islands of Altis and Stratis are being used as battlefields. The use of PhysX helps simulate realistic vehicle behaviour and ragdoll physics. Character animation has greatly improved with characters looking and behaving more naturally as they move from one motion to another.
The sound production is also high quality, with varied, deafening sounds of gunfire, explosions and the thunderous sound of large armoured vehicles resonating throughout the battlefield. Great care has been taken to ensure that sound has been simulated accurately when it comes to distance, interiors and other changes to the environment. The voice acting is top-notch with actors emoting like they’re in a real gun battle. The robotic voice chatter from the earlier ARMA games have now been replaced with more emotional voices which help make the battle feel less like a simulation and more like a desperate fight for survival. The music sets the mood for a dramatic, thrilling experience before and during a gunfight, with tracks ranging from subtle to dynamic. There’s even a great-sounding revamped version of the main theme of ARMA: Cold War Assault which may strike a nostalgic nerve for some. The high production value of ARMA 3 truly makes the environments and the battles in the game a wonderful presentation of visuals and sound.
ARMA 3 is a huge step forward for the ARMA series. The visuals have improved, the gameplay is intense and exciting and the gigantic scale of this game is nothing like you’ve ever seen. With all these great improvement it’s perhaps the most refined ARMA game yet. However this game is marred by many problems which prevent it from reaching it’s full potential and may even deter players who are new to the series.
The problem is this series has always had a niche market, so gamers outside it’s target audience may have difficulty becoming used to a different kind of gameplay. The ARMA series has been about hardcore realism, thus it may not be for everyone, especially to those who are more accustomed to the run-and-gun arcade gameplay of Call of Duty.
ARMA 3’s multiplayer brings the realistic and intense battles of ARMA online. There are co-op scenarios which you can play together with friends or you can play with up to 255 (maybe even more) other players and experience all-out warfare. Unfortunately it does require patience to find a good server and get into a fight. The battle map is far too large and in some games it may take a very long time to find members of the same team or take part in a firefight, especially when spawn points are miles apart from each other. Games with large amount of players tend to lag too much and tank the frame-rate even if you’ve tone down the graphics settings. Thankfully there’s some fantastic user-created content which improves the multiplayer experience greatly, including the famed “Wastleland” mod which pits players against each other in an enormous sandbox where they fight each other for food, weapons and the need to survive. So overall your time with multiplayer and even single player may be spent mostly on user-content rather than what the developers have provided which is where much of the replay value for this game comes from, at least for now.
The UI used to interact with other soldiers is far too cumbersome and slow to use. It’s not a very helpful UI to use while telling soldiers where to go and what to do in the middle of a hectic gun-battle. It takes too long to communicate with individual soldiers as there are too many pages to scroll through to find the correct commands and responses which leave you vulnerable to enemy attack. There are workaround methods which enable you to use “voice-activated” commands by using applications such as VAC, but these are third-party solutions and voice commands are something that really should’ve been included in the game.
ARMA 3 is an absolute beast of a game. It’s unforgiving, the sheer scope is overwhelming and it’s not what many gamers may expect if they first try it out. ARMA 3 may not be for everyone due to its take on realistic combat. Nevertheless there are few titles available that offer the same experience as this and if given enough time, you may find yourself enjoying the intensity and challenge that this game provides. If you want an exciting, ambitious tactical shooter that’s massive in scope and rewards cunning and skillfull gameplay, then grab ARMA 3 and take part in some of the most thrilling and exhilarating gun battles you may ever have.
This review was based on a digital review copy of ARMA 3 for the PC provided by Bohemia Interactive.