Arma 3 Campaign Episode ‘Survive’ Review – You’re In The Army Now
It was mid-September back when we first took a look at Bohemia Interactive’s rather skeletal military sim-sandbox Arma 3. While already supporting an active and dedicated community, it’s hard to deny that the game wasn’t quite ready for prime-time, let alone a full $60 price-tag. Among the most notably missing features were any kind of official campaign mode – a casualty of the early release – and something that was promised in the form of a trio of free DLC packs post-release. While you’ll find a more general look at the Arma series in our previous article, here we’ll be looking at the first of the three official campaign offerings, and (at long last) passing final judgement on the game as a whole.
Since leaving public Beta, the game has received several patches and updates addressing the worst of the initial technical issues. Now the first campaign pack – Survive – is ready to play, nestling itself softly into the main menu screen. We polished our combat boots, pulled up our Khakis and made sure we were holding our gun the right way up as we embarked on a military misadventure. With Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts offering military action with the harsh edges filed off, the Arma 3 campaign has a tough challenge ahead of it: Bridging the yawning ravine between realism and accessibility.
Platform: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Publisher: Bohemia Interactive
Release Date: Sep. 12, 2013
MSRP: $59.99 – Free campaign DLC reviewed here
Set in the not-too-distant future of 2035, the Arma 3 campaign has you play the role of Ben Kerry, a NATO peacekeeper. Stationed on the small Greek island of Stratis, off the coast of the larger island of Altis, the peacekeeping mission is winding down, bases are being disassembled and troops are getting ready to go home. Whatever issues there were have been resolved, and NATO forces are moving out, preparing to hand things over to the local authorities so that things can return to normal. The dialogue is a mixture of world-weariness, snark and military bluster, but everything is peaceful, and all you’re doing is odd jobs, starting with driving a supply truck across the island. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong.
Something is rotten in the state of Stratis, as the previously surly-but-cooperative local troops turn their weapons on NATO forces. Unprepared for this sudden betrayal, most of your forces are wiped out in the initial attack, leaving you scrambling for cover and severed entirely from the chain of command. It’s just you and a slightly higher-ranking soldier, out in the middle of nowhere with falling choppers and burning bases on the horizon, and enemy soldiers lurking around every corner with shoot-on-sight orders. In short, it’s the start of a very bad day of work.
Rather than turn into a straightforward tale of military heroism against the odds, most of your time in this campaign chapter is focused around running, hiding and making hit-and-fade attacks against a much larger, better equipped and more organized force over the course of a single, very active day. By limiting the scale of the conflict to small squads operating with limited equipment, Survive acts as a simplified introductory chapter, easing newcomers into Arma without putting too much pressure on the player. You’re fighting a losing battle, so it doesn’t matter too much if sub-objectives are failed or if squadmates die, and your squad leaders are very hardy (bordering on invulnerable, presumably clad in impenetrable plot-armor), letting them take the worst of the enemy fire for you.
Survive isn’t particularly long – only eight missions – but it does cover almost all of the basics of Arma infantry combat in that time, along with a couple of more exotic roles like SCUBA insertions and quad-rotor UAV piloting. Outside of the prelude mission, though, you’ll not be driving any vehicles or manning any turrets. While it seems likely that later chapters will cover vehicular combat in more detail, this is a purely infantry game so far, focused on teaching you to shoot straight, follow orders, keep your head down and navigate the interface effectively. You won’t be seeing any enemy tanks or APCs either, and encounters with aircraft are limited to mostly-scripted sequences which aren’t usually a direct threat to your health.
Missions, for the most part, are well designed and scripted. Rather than expect you to lead a squad, you play a subordinate role here, occasionally given important tasks like calling in artillery support using your map, or laying down suppressing grenade fire, but with some additional coaching and tutorial popups if needed. It’s enough to make you feel important, but if your difficulty settings are low enough (making allied troops more responsive and accurate than their enemy counterparts), then your NPC squadmates might well take the lion’s share of the kills. Given the nature of the game, it might be good practice not to get upset when that happens, too.