Bohemia Interactive first brought us Operation Flashpoint, a fully fledged realistic soldier simulator that set an unparalleled standard of realism for gaming. A few expansions later, and another army simulator ArmA under it’s wing, 2009 sees the release of ArmA II, and while it improves the already winning formula, it’s lack of accessibility is ultimately the games downfall.
ArmA II is set in Eastern Europe in a fictional area. The battlefields will feature beaches, towns, farms, forests, hills and more, rolling over a staggering 225 square kilometer area. You fill the role of a US Marine recon squad, sent in to help out in a civil war that is raging between several factions.
Those who have played Operation Flashpoint will be familiar with the mechanics of the game and should feel right at home, but for those new to the series, ARMA II is going to be a struggle. It’s not your average run in, aim and shoot FPS, it requires meticulous planning and concentration to even complete some of the most basic tasks.
The issue here is that the game has so many systems and mechanics for each of the abilities that it’s hard to master them all. It ends up feeling clumsy and at times you will find the controls won’t register the way you want them to. The inclusion of commanding the squad later on in the game is a double-edged sword. On the plus side it gives the player more involvement, and there is a certain sense of accomplishment when you have co-ordinated an attack that goes smoothly. On the down side, just like every other facet of the game, the command options feature so many layers that it will take you days to grasp the concept and feel comfortable with it.
Control issues and mechanics so deep they’d rival the Grand Canyon aside, ArmA IIoffers an experience quite unlike any other. You are given complex missions, you are faced with a highly skilled and extremely intelligent foe (even on the easiest difficulty), and you can drive whatever you can see, fly whatever you can pilot and go anywhere on the map. Some missions can literally take you hours to execute, and there is such a sense of freedom, there are always multiple ways to complete a scenario.
Unfortunately, a lot of these scenario outcomes will be decided for you by the bugs that are still to be ironed out. Often triggers will either not go off at all, or simply of off without warning, rendering the mission useless. It’s frustrating, and Bohemia really need to sort it out soon as it has a crippling effect on the gameplay.
ArmA II offers a playground that is full of fun toys to try. Whether it be flying choppers, jets, driving T-72 tanks or even tractors, there are plenty vehicles for you take for a spin. Just make sure you don’t let your AI pals do any of the driving, they seem to be serious impaired when it comes to driving anywhere. Along with the wealth of vehicles on display, there are a bunch of weapons for you to take on your missions. ArmA II features some of the most realistic ballistic modeling ever to feature in a video game. Nothing is quite as satisfying as making a sniper shot from the top of a water tower over 500 metres away.
Graphically ArmA II looks utterly gorgeous. Using the Real Virtuality engine, the level of detail is mind-boggling, wether it be the expressions on the soldiers faces, to the amazing smoke effects. The game just looks so natural and realistic, it certainly is an achievement. Though to run it at full spec you are going to need a damn good machine, the requirements are rather high to get a consistent frame-rate.
The distant ring of gunfire, the orchestral music, the radio chatter, ArmA II sounds just like it should, featuring different sounds for each weapon, the roars of jet engines and explosions truly sound like a thunderous boom of thunder.
The Final Verdict
Is ArmA II the game for you? If you are expecting another Modern Warfare steer clear, this is a realistic war simulator that is hard, in depth, and is going to take you weeks to become comfortable with. Some missions can take hours of concentration, but the reward for your efforts is enough to make it worthwhile. The graphics are amazing on a high end machine, and with a lengthy single-player campaign, an in-depth online component and a strong mod community behind it, ArmA II will last you years.