September 22, 2013

ArmA 3 Review for the EVE Player

I travel around the USA a lot for work. I stay in a location for 30-45 days, working 7 days a week, and then get about 14 days off before heading out again. Unfortunately, my last two assignments have had dial-up speed or less Internet. Which means that I've had basically no ability to play EVE for quite a while now. Luckily, I downloaded a few games before I left - one of which was ArmA 3.  I've been wanting to write something  for a while now, but having no access to EVE, I wasn't sure what to do. I came up with this idea, to write a review for a game geared towards the average EVE player (or at least, what I think the average EVE player is). Let me know what you think - if there's any benefit to this or not - in the comments.

For those unaware, the ArmA series has been around for about 13 years, counting the first game Operation Flashpoint (there's a bit of developer drama behind the name change, but I won't go into it).  It is, without a doubt, the premier military simulator game on the market.  The Operation Flashpoint namesake still exists, with two sequels released now, but doesn't compare in the slightest.  EVE and ArmA 3 have a lot in common, when it comes to approaching the game, and I think a lot of people that enjoy EVE may enjoy ArmA.

For starters, both games have a very large learning curve.  ArmA 3 requires nearly every button on your keyboard to successfully navigate the roughly 290 squared kilometer islands (if you only count the actual dry landmass) via foot, wheels, rotors, or jet engines.  It's a lot of information to take in, and the game doesn't do a terrific job of laying it out for you.  There are a series of Showcases which take you through short missions and have a few Hint boxes that will pop up in game, but you're just thrown in the deep end, really. And while it may give you the controls to do things, there's no real explanation. For instance, take one of the scopes in the game - the RCO. It has milldots that are marked for certain ranges - self explanatory. But what's the red line above the 300m marker? What are the lengths of the range markers? ArmA 3 doesn't tell you that if you put the top of the red line at the head of an enemy, his feet should be at the last milldot if he's 100m away, or that at 500m away, a man's shoulders should be about the same width as the 500m marker.  Once you get past the learning curve, just like in EVE, the game begins to make sense, open up, and allow for a lot of fun - but you have to find that fun.

ArmA 3 is set on two islands, one of which measures 270 squared kilometers, the other 20 squared kilometers, and are peppered with cities, towns, military installations, mountains, salt flats, airports, and more.  Right now, there's no official campaign, but being released on Steam and having always been supported by a large modding community, there are a lot of mods already out.  I've done a lot of multiplayer (back home where Internet lives!) for a few months now, and there's certainly nothing better than playing this game with friends. The AI isn't dumb, but it just doesn't compare to the things you can do with thinking, intelligent humans.  Some of the most fun I've had with ArmA has been when I was leading a group of about 30 players, split into different groups. We had a recon team find an enemy base and report its position back to HQ. Then, we had two Jeep-like vehicles with grenade launchers move to an over-watch position, timed so that the majority of players would arrive in different locations scattered around the base via helicopter.  After the mortar strikes landed, of course.  That was just something that I made up off the top of my head, too. We could have attacked that base any way we wanted - and that's the beauty.  You're completely free to do anything you like. Want to pound it into the ground with pure artillery? Sure. Want to load everyone up in a helicopter or jet and just shoot missiles at everything that moves? Why not? Pure ground assault? Absolutely.

It can be frustrating though, sometimes. This isn't an easy game, even after the learning curve is behind you.  One or two bullets can be the end of you, and even though ArmA 3 has made healing a bit more powerful than it used to be, forgiving it is not.  Most of the time, when I die it's because I've done something stupid - climbed a tower in front of a machine gun nest, for instance. Or sprinted across an open field under fire. Shooting isn't simply a point-and-click experience, and you'll need to get the hang of actually hitting targets before you have a chance of out shooting the enemy.  And that's after you can even spot them. Combat happens over hundreds of meters in ArmA 3, and you'll have to get used to spotting the enemy who doesn't want to be seen.  It's like trying to spot a Khanid ship in space visually sometimes!

Graphically, the game is outstanding. It's, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful games I've ever played.  Everything is realized in amazing detail - civilians excluded; their animations, especially! I spend a lot of my time just looking at the sights. Firefights in the early dawn hours as the sun rises and tracers are crossing between the shadows of mountains will make you stop and appreciate it. The sound is good, but it may seem a little flat compared to other shooters on the market.  I haven't spent a lot of time shooting too many guns, but from what I do know, I'd imagine that the realism Bohemia Interactive is aiming for is captured here pretty well.  Vehicles are maybe the exception here. I imagine they'd be louder. Maybe they're incredibly well maintained or something.  The ambient atmosphere is strong, and walking around listening to the insects, birds, wind, and waves can lull you into a sense of safety - right before you catch a bullet to the skull.

ArmA 3 is a hard game to qualify; I'd need quite a few pages to even try, so I'll end it here by saying that ArmA 3 is a game that will continue to provide content for years and years to come.  ArmA 2 was released in 2009 and still has a massive playing population.  With the Steam platform and Workshop integration - that's going to increase to levels previously unseen by the Bohemia Interactive team.  Given the effort, ArmA 3 is one of the most rewarding and interactive games you'll ever load on your computer.  There's something to do for almost anyone in ArmA, whether you'd prefer to be a rifleman, a transport pilot, a close air support pilot, a tank commander, or whatever.  It's a team game, and going solo is going to get you killed.  If your corporation likes to play other games with one another from time to time, ArmA 3 should be at the top of that list. The amount of fun that comes from the unexpected in this game is totally worth it. It's not perfect, sure - but it's so damn good you won't mind.

Edited to reflect true square kilometer size of the islands thanks to Reddit user DmitryStrelnikov.