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ArmA II review

Solid

Get into the habit of mentally adding the qualifier “which is good, if you’re into that sort of thing” to the end of almost every paragraph of this review. Look, we’ll do it for you this once, just to get you into the swing of things.

ArmA II is a military simulator set in the fictional Eastern European state of Chernarus, now a dynamic battlefield in which insurgents and peacekeeping forces take AI-controlled pot-shots at one another. A wide-ranging contingent of land, sea and air vehicles patrol dynamically from base to base, while civilians and wildlife try to get on with their lives without catching bullets between the eyes. It’s fundamentally hardcore army make-believe - the sort of game where every key does something strange and wonderful and the list of controls when printed could fill a toilet-paper roll. Which is good, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The thing is, many people won’t be. ArmA II’s biggest problem is that, for a lot of players, it simply won’t be “their thing”. Bohemia have made few concessions to accessibility and presentation, and as such the game is incredibly difficult for unwitting users to pick up and play. Everybody will have some idea of what to expect – the game warns you, patronisingly, that it isn’t like other shooters, as if anyone was under the impression that they were booting up a game of Call of Duty – but once you’re in, ArmA II is an overwhelming torrent of engaging, tactical combat, clever troop movements, intricate squad commands and utterly confusing menu systems.

Here’s a game in which the majority of soldiers whose heads you’ll so dutifully pop will be hundreds of metres from you, mere speckles of pixels through your gun sights. You’ll walk with your weapon pointed down, rather than with it hovering around the bottom of the screen. You’ll raise it to shoulder height and peer down the sights in an accurate, authentically motion-captured manner. You’ll spend ages trudging across the countryside, then die as a single bullet tears through your skull. It’s that sort of game, and being set in this gigantic open world means it’s equally blessed and cursed by the semi-autonomous AI that populates it.

The campaign introduces some narrative structure, which often falls foul of the game’s underlying AI systems. What we mean here is, your character might break away from his group to investigate claims of a mass grave a kilometre away and, upon discovering it, have a bit of a blubber about how horrible it all is over the radio to his commander. Once this bit of scripting relinquishes control of the radio back to the AI, your commander forgets your traumatised state and screams for you to get back in formation, like some senile, bellowing grandparent. ArmA II’s campaign is peppered with these holes: hallmarks of a powerful simulation engine simply trying to do what it thinks is right, but in the wrong context.

There are frayed edges here then, and ArmA II is, unfortunately, as unpolished as the original ArmA, but the roughness is the sort that will only bother those used to the perfect sheen of blockbuster shooters. We don’t think we’re being too forgiving when we say that if you’re predisposed towards this breed of game, you’ll happily overlook many of its quirks. For that reason it’s difficult to give ArmA II a straight verdict: this was always going to be a hearty recommendation with some fairly significant caveats hanging over it.

When it all works as intended, ArmA II is an incredibly involving and complex military sim. The campaign moves quickly from linear, objective-based missions to open-ended areas of operation. You report to your superior, who gives you a daunting list of objectives spread across huge distances, three underlings to command, artillery support when required, and access to a useful helicopter taxi service. Arresting non-combatants, destroying key structures, wiping out insurgent bases – how you proceed is entirely your choice, and at times you’ll be asked to make decisions which have ramifications later in the campaign.

Having secured a small rebel ammo dump, for example, the local priest pleads with you to leave it there so that the rebels might better protect the village. Let him keep the guns and he’ll give you some useful intel, and when you report the cache to high command you get big props. Again the AI tends to put its foot in it in these situations, as if throwing a tantrum having had control taken away from it. For instance, as he pleaded with us the priest was gently rotating on the spot.

When not being pock-marked by oddness, everything about ArmA II is steeped in authenticity. When you begin to think your handgun feels pathetically weak, you can be fairly certain that’s because it’s just as flimsy in reality. Conversely, the assault rifles and heavy weapons might often sound reedy in the open air, but in no other game do they feel this deadly.

Accurate ballistics carry your rounds realistically to their destination, and to fire from a prone position at a target in the distance only to have your round thud into the dirt around him – well, it feels like serious business. You spend enough time not firing your weapon to make that moment of squeezing the trigger mean more than all of the endless rounds you’ll have fired in Call of Duty 4. Couple that with the pervading notion that where you’re firing from, who you’re firing at and why, has all happened by chance and choice, and you soon appreciate that this truly is an open-ended and unpredictable world.

Though you’ll spend a great deal of time chatting with locals and strolling eventlessly through villages, combat remains at the game’s core, and from low-level exchanges between your squad and straggling militia troops, right up to aerial and armoured combat, it’s intense, enthralling and exhaustingly realistic.

The original’s penchant for lengthy vehicle and weapon rosters returns, and you’ll be able to commandeer and pilot everything from hatchbacks and tractors to M1 Abrams tanks to Kamov Ka-52 gunships. The Armory mode acts as a playground for the game’s extensive cast of usable vehicles, throwing challenges at you (maintain an altitude, reach a top speed, etc) which allow you to unlock further vehicles in that game mode.

They’re all meticulously detailed too. The frequent encounters with helicopters hovering a few feet above the ground, beating the grass flat with their rotors’ downforce and kicking up a blinding cloud of dirt and dust in their wake, is one of the finest sights in any game.

Your ability to command your units is extensive and exact, though it’s hidden behind the fiddly and cumbersome interface. Said interface is at least consistent: you’ll use the same crappy menu system for ordering a single man into a barn as you will for commanding whole battalions to open fire. ArmA II’s interface, while powerful, is as intuitive as shitting in a wind tunnel. Immense reserves of patience are required to get the most out of it.

That’s perhaps the best summary of ArmA II you could hope for: it’s for the patient. There’s a fantastic military simulation here, with genuinely spontaneous moments of tense drama and elation arising from intelligent and dynamic systems, but it’s obscured by the awkward relationship between hard-scripting and dynamic AI, as well as the unfriendly interface. Fans will look right past these problems and enjoy the game endlessly – and that’s sort of the point for Bohemia - they don’t seem terribly interested in presenting their game in a way that attracts new players. ArmA II is the pinnacle of fan service.

Where that ultimately leaves you depends on whether you’re “into this sort of thing”.

Jun 22, 2009

More Info

Release date: Jun 26 2009 - PC (US)
Jun 19 2009 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Simulation
Published by: 505 Games
Developed by: Bohemia Interactive
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Strong Language, Violence, Mild Sexual Themes
PEGI Rating:
16+

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7 comments

  • HeavyTank - October 9, 2009 7:20 a.m.

    Wow, we have lots of fanboys here....and please, to whoever recommended it for "every PC gamer": learn 2 recommend. From what I understand this is a punishin,, uber-realistic military sim..how the fuck is this for every PC gamer?....
  • Eqvantece - June 25, 2009 5:06 p.m.

    Where to begin whit this one? You might have all kind of expectation of this game if you yet hadn't played it so let me uncover the reality of this one. The Personal Computers has had over the years hundreds of pseudo and semi simulation about the warfare and thousands of FPS shooter but none of them have really tried to put it all together. It sure isn't easy to give rightful number ratio due subjective view of fan boyish but some objective view point will be needed. The story of development of ArmA2 begin in 1998 when BIS founders got idea to realize the vast open world with infantry and vehicle elements of other games into one single game. It was short miracle that OFP got so many things right whit so few resources they got back in days and they went making game enough open it to fully every single armchair enthusiastic make their own modification to it which is still one of the franchises most notable element to separate it other products. Community grow up to numbers challenge any other ones especially the amount of content made to it, you still might to find almost every single gun and military vehicle of some army of the world in addons or mods that is some kind of record in any games yet. Some of the community members took their ambitions to sell code to real world armies that which will later to became serving all anglospeaking countries military training simulator as VBS, the fact which really again make this product more feel like counterpart more suited version to gamers needs and demand. After separation whit original publisher they got need to keep flow of fund which was called ArmA to keep them able to stay on business which taught fortunately a lot lessons to coding team harsh reality of difficulties to ensure game able to work every machine correctly. So how the latest version of ArmA II release has now come of from all this work over the years? The game obviously in this size of the caliber will be vastly complex. The amazing ambition to push development of the genre has it troubles. When there hardly is any other game of this class its easy to forgive a lot of undone features, coding bugs & elements due there aren't any better product to choice against it. It would not be fair to too much concentrate to things which obviously lack of work which are easy to put to table. The development team weren't over 100 what it come to BIS coders which means a lot of trivial/simulation features are not coded what a pity! -Expectations and premises of game Ultimate Military Simulation is quite a immersing and blatant claim to game so how it can come up? -Physics the thing what have take grand step over last years .It is still basically the same Poseidon engine from decades ago and some part of isn't got updated. There isn't any ragdoll calculations to human bodies and therefore dead soldiers will stick to animations which might sometimes looks very unnatural. Vehicles and other objects have their share of problems when collision model doesn't work correctly. Damage model is simplified in the vehicles there hitpoint of some part that will determine when . There isn't yet possibility to correctly calculate the destruction of world in this size due limitation of current technology and CPU/GPU power. New GFX cards and collaboration work of manufacturers drivers and programs push certainly something new but is not yet enough easy to implement and therefore such features like DX10 new possibilities aren't used. So no digging inside ground make potholes or trenches and no . The building have more destruction zones and part can coded to fall apart before the whole block will demolish down to earth. Next instalment might then come whit full support to destructive environment. -Player movement have been tweaked and make it more appealing regular and casual players in general. It certainly feel less clumsy this time around thought there in time come moment you wish that it would have even more improved in specific situations what confront at times. You can climb over small walls and fences and lean over corners. There isn't shamely that much of options to different height positions especially when shooting behind walls or holes you neither can have a variety of speed on running or other animation. -AI they have they own ability to work in teams and individually. Player teams can fight on they own and like to keep their asses alive so they wont just look stupidly over their shoulders under fire. In longer rangesunscripted AI can keep their positions without searching any cover or too much bothering get killed what really isn't intuitive. In CQB they doesn't shoot back immediately in all the moment and can be found stuck of some objects. They currently still sometimes keep walking through objects without affect of real force preventing it.
  • Eqvantece - June 25, 2009 5:05 p.m.

    PROs + +feature-rich war game sandbox +ambition to working livable work is right there +for 50$ product excellent purchasing value +graphical design is very great considering how much it have to work to drawing long view distances and same time to keep the micro details +focus on so many game types is making it playable to many people +multiplayer people will have great time fun what ever is gametype from DM/CTI to RPG or RTS +Mission editor is enough easy to beginners yet complicated to more complex mission making +more fluid gameplay and controllable characters +There is more gametypes out of box than in general such of SP campaign/single missions/tutorials/skirmishes/editing/simple Armory/encyclopedia,MP +Open non-linear campaign is still not yet overdone in gaming and surely have so many interesting moments +Step ahead from A1 in sense of optimized engine to able pull +An Animals and massive amount of plants/trees/landscape objects make authentic atmosphere +the AI have it strengths , in some way is new evolution of FPS genre and they make you on hard setting afraid of your life any moment. +future of community developing extra content things will certainly keep interest many years, +there is so much of potential for further development which will mean that the life curve will be much longer than in any other games +BIS will deliver patches and even new content for long time to come +The real successor to 2001 OFP is certainly got the feeling in general as it should have CONS- -Need much more quality control which means more employees to code and test game before release version to get better ratings and peoples reception -customization to different gameplay aren't supported out of box -restricting animation still in making some quick gameplay impossible -lack emphasis to deeper hardcore simulation of warfare all the tech advantage in past 50 year have missed example FLIRS,laser meter,electrical computing etc -not modification tools yet out meaning the content will be follow much later period of games life when they will be released -inconsistency in scripts working due complex nonlinear design -bugs are very trivial ones and can be annoy a lot of the people different ways -people doesn't have enough much time to learn and find many things in game and will never understand them and therefore ignoring some of the very important things that rise the game overall value -game engine is in the pieces which means some things have got much more focus than other ones and game isn't so called "balanced" which actually is good thing -AI has many moment of freezing,super ability to spot anybody without notable reason , working different situation such of driving of vehicles and not able to work independently without mission designer assign -will again be bashed by so many other peoples who prefer CQB in tunnels and not appreciated of the so many more of content over minor ones Overall it is a big stack of masterpiece which will set limits & standarts to come and no PC gamer should in any case miss it!
  • frmonth - July 3, 2009 7:56 p.m.

    wow i think that Eqvantece worte a longer review then gamesradar which is good if your into that sort of thing lol
  • Eqvantece - June 25, 2009 5:07 p.m.

    It is important have a lot of variety and randomness on their behavior some should be fearless machines and some life fearing campers. In A2 they not have that much of difference between units ranks or nations but generally all behave more or less similar way. AI have nasty habit to be known player position without directly seeing them. Sometimes it is rightful from information of other teams or hearing but spotting player when you are far away them on night can still cause bit nerve racking on some. AI is able on their own search their best calculated route from A to B and leaning over corners and keeping distance to other team members. The teamwork where MG support fire during movement under combat is well done team leader give commands and hand marks. Grass and vegetation have different view block meaning AI can see through grass but not trees or bushes can which make it unfair to player to shooting back invisible target. The inconsistency of their reaction and play thought is unacceptable stage so far. -Missions and Campaign are well more got work over them this time. I would go to much of speak of them but quickly reviewing that they have the feel and continuity on them. The plot of marine force invasion is seen but seems work well. Civilian life during mission is great feature over other games empty population. There is a lot different way to approach of objectives meaning you have much choice how and when to do something. Story have its twists and stand up to its peers. Warning word, many missions scripts are broken causing mission not trigger some important objectives and preventing advancing on campaign which should be possible skip using "endmission" command cheat. -Weapons are well presented to game theme there is NATO s and marines M4 family most prominent but others are still in. Russians have too a lot AKs. There is pistols, missiles, and such but the few concerns is that lack of customization part such of scopes change during gameplay aren't in, hand grenades throwing isn't that well done there isn't way put them correct places you would like them to go. No hand combat in general. Artillery modules is fine upgrade thought doesn't have easy implementation to custom missions. Reloading during moving is new feature. Lack of animation to see correctly reload magazines and hand in gun might disappoint some. Shooting feel as it should sharp and accurate when mount and prone although there isn't way to stabilize them against objects. Recoil is done right player hands move whit gun not rest is affected. No stacking of ammo or those are in game. Ballistic, penetration and few muzzle parameters are all what you could expect. The lack of variety of muzzle fire effects doesn't look too fine. -Sounds in general are gorgeous there is great variety to noises in ambiance and when it comes to firefight the intensity of all the sounds are spectacular. Radio commands have their problems there is kind of not yet finished system of giving away information about enemies locations and need further work to more specifically give player to know where to look. Voices of actor aren't the most top heap but do it work. Guns sound varies over some does sound like IRL counterpart and some not there is difference between where they are shot and making more feeling . Vehicles does sound right and can give away they types even when not visible to player. There is Doppler effect and speed of sounds in game so explosion in 2 miles will take over 10 s to hear. -Cars doesn't stay on road that easily that you could do IRL due lacking of further development of controlling methods and mechanics that mean that drunken driving in bikes and unarmored vehicles will have lethal consequences in high speed. Destruction models need more stages and individual parts of vehicles should be possible to separated apart each other. Tires loses their air and can be removed and the glass be shoot off entirely. Penetration values of different ammunition isn't yet that well implemented and will cause many situation where IRL counterpart doesn't work in game . The passengers still might all get fully killed when the damage of vehicle is full up. There isn't way to passengers shoot out of vehicle without scripting and no free movement when moving is possible. AI have hard time to keep their speed on road and will slow down in some situation in moment least needed. There aren't animation out of open doors or in and transition remain same as in predecessor. -Tanks they are easy to control as a driver but as a commander you ll get unresponsive AI crew making your life harder. No implemented laser range finder or more complicated tech to shooting but should do general what player would expect them to do giving armor against infantry treat. AI tanks without player control aren't capable to maneuver using real life tactics meaning tanks keep wouldn't expose to enemy their sides or back or using right ammunition to different treat.
  • CAPST3R - June 24, 2009 8:15 p.m.

    never tried a military sim, but i'll get either this or operation flashpoint 2 when they're released on the PS3. which makes this review inaccurate, as it is attracting new customers. the rest of it's good though, bravo.
  • curly_jefferson - June 23, 2009 2:28 p.m.

    This is a really good review. i'm always rubbish at hardcore army sims but i would love to see someone play one really well, i imagine that would be impressive.

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