America's Army 3 - hands-on

The America’s Army series has been a win/win scenario for both gamers and the Army alike. The Army uses the games as a tool to educate the public about what it’s like to be a soldier in combat, and gamers get a free online squad-based shooter. America’s Army 3 was playable at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference and we got a chance to get our butt kicked by real soldiers. Lucky us.

Every player has a role in AA3, and there are now more roles than ever to choose from. After you go through basic training, you pick an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) such as combat engineer, advanced marksman, medic, and more. As you progress through job training, you earn equipment which will help you perform your duties in combat. You won’t just load up on new gear and head out onto the field though - you’ll need to pick and choose your loadout based on your squad’s needs. If you’re charged with quickly getting from point A to point B, you’ll want to pack light, because the more stuff you carry, the slower you’re going to move. However, if your role is to stay put in a defensive position, you’re free to load up with as much stuff as you can carry.

Once you’re all geared-up, you’ll be taken to the new map screen. Here, your squad commander has about 15-20 seconds to explain their plan to the group. He or she can even decide where specific groups will spawn. This means that, just like in a real battle, the enemy is not only dealing with a squad with a plan, but has no idea from where the attack will originate. There are five maps in the game, each of which supports three match types. A few of the locations, such as the bridge, will be familiar to series veterans, but even the older maps have been rebuilt from the ground up to take advantage of the new gameplay engine.

A host of changes make AA3 play better and more realistically than ever. A new, circular menu system lets players quickly make selections and communicate with fellow soldiers without taking their focus away from the situation at hand. The system has been designed to give you maximum control without being cumbersome. Soldiers can now run and slide, hurdle and climb over objects, and even roll sideways while in a prone position. Damage is location specific, so if you get shot in the leg you’re going to move slower, and if you get shot in the arm, your accuracy is going to take a hit. If you get shot in the face - you’re hosed.