First look at ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead

Those videos on YouTube of people creating huge helicopter and tank-filled battles were genuinely awe-inspiring. Sadly, ArmA II’s best bits were merely setpieces, the quality of the underlying game checked by glitches and errors. Thankfully, Operation Arrowhead, a standalone expansion to ArmA II, aims to put all of the wrongs right, allowing the average gamer a chance to join the party, while keeping the commitment to depth and detail we’ve all come to admire.

The game will be a virtual melting pot of genres, with RPG and RTS elements melding with the core hardcore shooter experience, all adding up to what could be a unique take on the serious military FPS. We’ve heard ambitious things like this before from Bohemia, but this time it’s looking more likely that they’re going to deliver.

First of all, there’s the new campaign. Set in the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Takistan, (which, translated into Czech, means “Another-stan”) this main trunk of the game will be much more plot-driven than before, with a branching story and multiple endings.

Using the same engine as ArmA II, there’s been plenty of buffing, polishing and tweaking going on since it first appeared on our radar. You’d expect it, especially if you’ve had the benefit of playing a fully patched ArmA II, to run a lot better than it originally did. It’s no longer going to grind to a halt the moment anything interesting happens.

Pushing the game more towards mainstream production values doesn’t mean Bohemia have forgotten their core fans. There’s still plenty for them to get excited about, including more than 300 new units, weapons and vehicles, multiple factions (USA, UN, Takistani army, and guerillas) and even the addition of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), equipped with night vision and thermal imaging systems. The desert setting also allows for Bohemia to spread their wings a little, used as they are to shooters in ‘greener’ locations.

Finally, there’s multiplayer and the comprehensive mission and map editor. The former supports over 50 players, plus hundreds of AI units, and the latter is still surprisingly intuitive. There’s also an SDK kit for modders, which should produce some interesting results.

Operation Arrowhead is Bohemia’s final big push to make ArmA II more than just that game you were interested in but, at the same time, scared to death of. The evidence so far indicates they could finally have nailed it. The proof is naturally in the playing, but it could be that ArmA II’s potential has been realised after all this time.

May 31, 2010