ARMA 3 Preview: 1001 Ways to War
Video games, viewed a certain way, are about power fantasies and wish fulfillment. To deliver both, they make complicated processes seem simple and easy. Neal Stephenson might deride the idea of “press a button to swing a sword” in his recent Kickstarter announcement , but the fact remains that most of the time, pressing a button and watching a character on screen do something awesome is really very fun.
There’s another kind of fun to be had with video games, however, created by making things that are actually complicated and difficult…actually complicated and difficult. Of course, power fantasy and wish fulfillment are still in play, but you can see this idea at work in a game like Dark Souls — the harder the task, the stronger the satisfaction felt upon completing it. This is true of Day Z, a popular mod that subverts zombie game tropes (“kill all the zombies!”) in favor of involved, wonky gameplay that requires players to stockpile canned food. This also true of ARMA III.
The open-world military sim, designed by Czech developers Bohemia Interactive, has been in progress for what seems like forever — I saw their demo at E3 2011. All the technological bells and whistles are back this year, and my 2012 hands-on experience revealed gameplay that is complicated and difficult in all the right ways.
Not many developers would have the balls to start off their pitch with a visit to the firing range — I’m not an expert FPS player, but I’d like to think I know my way around a video game gun. As it turns out, though, I had plenty to learn, particularly about the adjustable in-scope rangefinder that was key to hitting distant targets. Even the most basic elements of ARMA III’s gameplay exude realism and an obsessive attention to detail. Series fans will eat it up, and when players master its various systems, the satisfaction they feel will be immense.
That said, the ARMA difficulty curve is infamous. According to the Bohemia rep helping me with the demo, the plan is to spoon-feed new recruits all the various combat systems in order, from one-man infantry operations to complex vehicle maneuvers. Players will get an opportunity to learn at their own pace, which is crucial considering the sheer volume of control inputs and schemes the game throws at you. The design philosophy boils down to this: if you can dream up something awesome to do with military hardware on a pair of gigantic, simulated Mediterranean islands, Bohemia wants to help you make it happen.
This was certainly apparent in my second hands-on mission, which featured scuba diving and some literal minesweeping. Though inching along behind a motorized underwater sled didn’t make for a white-knuckle beginning, it did give me a chance to admire the seabed, which was meticulously sprinkled with ferns and bits of coral. ARMA III’s underwater environments look better than the grass in some AAA games. When the enemy divers did show up, dispatching them was satisfying in a Thunderball kind of way.
I was simultaneously excited and nervous about my next mission, which involved a helicopter. Despite once compiling a list of Battlefield 3 helicopter piloting tips, I’m absolutely hopeless at flying them. To my surprise, I managed to keep my whirlybird in the air for a stunning five minutes.
Before the inevitable crash, I strafed an enemy compound. The defenders (included an armed truck) were extremely hard to spot amid the scenery. ARMA III provides no flashing arrows, no red-dotted mini-map, no garish neon outline. If you want to shoot something, you’re going to have to look hard for it (just like a real pilot would), and if you can’t see it and you get shot down, too bad. Again, the game’s devs give you a variety of complex, carefully designed tools to interact with your environment, but refuse to allow any kind of abstracted “press A to make it die” gameplay.
Though the chaos of E3 made it hard to compile a comprehensive list of new features, tweaks, and tricks, players will soon be able to enjoy ARMA III in the form of an open alpha coming this fall. The version will provide a limited array of missions, along with a 2D mission editor and support for modifications — Bohemia’s community-focused and mod-friendly philosophy was the main reason I picked them our best of E3 2012 piece. Here’s hoping they can get the full game finished sooner rather than later.
OS: Windows Vista SP2,
Windows 7 SP1
CPU: Intel Dual-Core 2.4 GHz or
AMD Dual-Core Athlon 2.5 GHz
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT or
ATI Radeon HD 3830 or Intel HD
Graphics 3000 with Shader Model
4 and 512 MB VRAM
RAM: 2 GB
HDD: 15 GB free space