It’s hard to believe that eight years have gone by since Bohemia Interactive launched Operation Flashpoint on an unsuspecting PC gaming world, introducing a degree of realistic single- and multi-player warfare that had hitherto been unimaginable.
Building on that success, the company followed that milestone with more military muscle in the shape of ArmA: Armed Assault, and the heavy duty sequel ArmA II is now deploying on a desktop near you.
In a nation seemingly obsessed with the instant-engage-and-kill thrills of Call of Duty, ArmA II will initially feel like an ice-cold shower at seven in the morning. This becomes immediately obvious when you start the Boot Camp training which doesn’t just involve learning how to fire a weapon and move round the map, but covers everything from medical training, parachute jumping and base building, through commandeering tanks, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to giving orders to small tactical groups and whole armies.
The action takes place in the fictional state of Chernarus where several factions are fighting for overall control and both the Russians and the Western powers are worried that this will destabilise the area. So for much of the time you’re in charge of a five-man task force, although you will be called upon to give orders to a larger army.
Once you’ve finished your training, probably the best place to go to before tackling missions is the Armory, where you can test out any of the 81 weapons and 136 vehicles on offer in the field. While you do this, a number of mini-tasks will be offered such as defending a position or stealing a vehicle, which will further boost your confidence in moving around this enormous (no fewer than 225 square kilometres) landscape.
The main problem for newcomers to the ArmA system is the interface which, apart from the standard WASD movement keys, principally relies on extensive menu and sub-menu buttons. Sometimes you can make use of the mouse wheel to aid you, sometimes not. Some keys have multiple functions depending which menu you’re on and there are 10 vital menus that handle everything: you’ll quickly have to master these if you’re going to succeed in your missions.
If you’re not put off by all this complexity (and it’s likely that many will be) then it’s worth persevering to enjoy some of the other unusual features this game offers, including a ‘dynamic conversation’ facility where civilians and other soldiers can be questioned for useful intel. Because the core emphasis is on realism, missions constantly have to be adapted because of unforeseen threats or clever AI activity and moral choices also influence the action, where perhaps a target can only be taken out by risking civilian casualties.
With seven single missions where the action can devolve around supporting an amphibious landing to counter-attacking to save friendly troops, plus a main campaign that will tax all of your Boot Camp skills, several multiplayer options and a Mission Editor, your game combinations are literally endless. The graphics may not be up to Crysis standards but the tension at times is unbearable and if you want an experience that’s as breathlessly close to real combat as possible, ArmA II delivers the goods.
Company: Bohemia Interactive