Arma 3 Review-in-Progress: Launch Version First Impressions
Ostensibly played as a first (or third, if you prefer that angle) person shooter, Arma 3 uses what feels like almost every key on the keyboard. Some of the default controls feel almost arcane in their layout, with the toggle for switching between running and walking being W and S pressed together. There are keys for flipping up your compass, zeroing the sights of your gun and switching between upper and lower sights if your gun has two sets, but there’s no key to deploy a bipod on a weapon, even if it visibly has one. It’s a strange beast, and not exactly friendly or accessible at first.
Much like the previous games in the series, Arma 3 is a strange case where the simulation is absolutely unparalleled and rock solid 90% of the time, and threatening to shake itself apart the other ten. NPC AI can be impressively capable as a squad even when working unscripted, but it’s not unusual to see soldiers get lost when trying to navigate a single-floor house interior. When it comes to gunnery, it’s a crapshoot – depending on a variety of variables that may as well include the phase of moon, the AI’s combat accuracy can range from ‘Star Wars Stormtrooper’ to ‘Unassailable Aimbot’. Lowering the AI skill slider helps mitigate the upper extreme, but you’ll stumble upon the occasional eagle-eyed ace.
When it does work, though, it’s really in a league of its own. Slowly moving from cover to cover under heavy fire, frantically trying to spot targets or lay down suppressing fire while the sun rises over the next hill, blinding you. It’s intense. Missions can often have long, uneventful setups that sound dull on paper, but go a long way to increasing tension and conveying the scale of the distances you’re travelling. And all of this is compounded further when you go online and add friends.
This is a game of playing soldiers, and filling in the blanks with imagination where simulation falls through. Tinkering with accurately simulated guns, playing around with vehicles and carrying out semi-scripted missions across an enormous open land-mass. Set this time on the Greek island of Lemnos (rebranded as Altis to avoid upsetting the notoriously grumpy Greek government), American and middle-eastern soldiers carry out missions across rolling hills, scenic towns and stunning beaches. It’s a beautiful environment, and completely abandoned by default.
It could be argued that Arma is a sandbox in the most literal sense. It is nothing until shaped by human intent. This open, beautiful island might strain your video card (the Ultra detail settings are reserved solely for people with the most cutting-edge hardware available), but nothing will happen until either Bohemia or someone else adds some life, some goals and some context to the action, and with the first stretch of campaign not due until October, it doesn’t look like official support is the reason to buy right now.
At the moment, the only official single-player content in the game is but a scattered handful of ‘showcase’ missions, each one highlighting something new or improved since the previous release. There’s a smattering of basic missions showing off the smoother infantry combat, vehicle handling (now with an actual physics engine!) and command systems, but there’s a few more that show off the newer additions. One of the stranger new features is underwater combat, using special aquatic weaponry and rebreather units.
While the amount of mission content on offer ‘out of the box’ is nowhere near enough to sell a full commercial release, what keeps Arma 3 standing strong is its editing suite. The series has always been famously moddable, right back to the original Operation Flashpoint (recently rebranded Arma: Cold War Assault), but thanks to being a Steam exclusive release and having full Workshop integration, this is the first time that player-made content has been so readily accessible. It’s possible to share content direct from the editor, straight onto the Workshop.
While Workshop hosting has its limitations – new vehicles, landmasses and weapons are still relegated to third-party sites – it allows players to very easily share new missions and mods made using the impressively flexible scripting system. This is a large part of why the game may be worth purchasing at full price, even without an official campaign mode in place. There are already over 1800 missions, scenarios and mods uploaded to the Workshop, with more to be found on Bohemia’s official forum.
For straight pick-up-and-play fun, there’s already a good range of standalone missions that drop you into the action with minimal fuss. Among them are several remakes of classic Operation Flashpoint missions such as Ground Attack, Ambush and Revenge, and there’s more yet. These even cleverly use the voicework from the original game, although the new environment and much higher tech-level (OFP was set in the 80s, Arma 3 in the near future) give them a distinct feel of their own.