ArmA: Combat Operations Review
If you played a game called Operation Flashpoint a few years back, then you’re in for a serious case of déjà vu. ArmA is developed by the same studio behind Operation Flashpoint and shares that game’s look and feel, interface, and style of play. This also means that it pretty much has the same good and bad points as Operation Flashpoint, so just like that game some people will love ArmA while plenty of others will want to stay far away from it.
ArmA is set on the fictional island of Sahrani. The island is divided between two nations – a totalitarian dictatorship in the north and a monarchy aligned with the West in the south. As part of a small US military garrison assigned to the island, you find yourself in the thick of things when the north invades the south in an attempt to take control over the entire island. You fill a variety of roles – rifleman, tank jockey, helicopter and A-10 pilot, to name a few – as you help the south fight to retain its freedom.
Like Operation Flashpoint before it, the most impressive aspect of ArmA is its scale. The game models the entire island of Sahrani to scale – all 250 square miles of it. If you so desired you could spend the entire day walking from one end of the island to the other, taking in the island’s sights such as its cities, mountain ranges, and beaches. ArmA is not quite as pretty as other military shooters, but it’s easy to cut it some slack when you see how much territory it’s rendering. You can climb a hilltop, look down at a town in the valley below, and see soldiers and vehicles moving around its streets. If you decide to enter the town you don’t have to follow a specific path laid out for you by a level designer, you can enter it from any street or alleyway you like. The sheer scope of the game becomes even more apparent when you take to the air and look down on several towns at once or see the coastline stretch to the horizon.
As for the gameplay itself, ArmA is far more of a military sim than it is a typical first-person shooter. Often times your first encounter with the enemy will be when a bullet comes out of nowhere and strikes you dead. ArmA is a hard game and it’s difficult to play it for long without getting frustrated, even if you know what you’re getting into before playing it. The first time I played the game my entire squad was shot dead within the first two minutes of play and I never saw where the gunfire came from. The next time I played the mission I never saw the enemy or fired a shot. I ran around listening to the radio chatter, saw a few dead bodies in the streets, and then made my way to the extraction point when the call was put out to do so. I suppose all of this is similar to what you’d encounter in a real war, but this is a game and as such a lot of people will be turned off by some of the things they’ll experience right off the bat in the opening missions.
The game’s campaign offers up optional side missions that can have an effect on the difficulty of the main missions. For example, you could strike an enemy camp behind lines to reduce the number of troops you’ll face in the primary mission. This is a pretty cool concept, but the side missions make the regular ones feel like a Sunday stroll in the park. The difficulty of the side missions becomes apparent pretty early in the game, as one of the first ones sends you alone behind enemy lines to strike some armor parked at a camp. You’re alone, there are sentries everywhere, and if you manage to blow up the first tank you’ll find enemy soldiers swarming all over you in no time.