Thursday, 7 March 2013

ArmA III promises much

The new Armed Assault has just had its Alpha version released. ArmA III is the latest in a long line of tactical first-person shooters originating with the classic Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis which was released by Bohemia Interactive and Codemasters. Following a split, where Codemasters took the trademarked Operation Flashpoint name, but not the engine or the development, Bohemia Interactive has continued to release titles under the name Armed Assault.

Operation Flashpoint and Armed Assault II are probably my most-played titles, and they have the greatest scope for re-playability out of any game I own. They are pre-Steam games so it doesn't log my hours, but no doubt it would outrank my other games three-fold. This is only an Alpha, but it is such a promising taste of what may be to come that I envisage many, many hours of my time being spent enjoying this new game when it is released in its entirety. It possess all the qualities that made its ancestors such brilliant games, in equal if not greater abundance: freedom of movement; grandeur of scale; an interesting look and feel to the soldiers, weapons and vehicles; the same solid texturing, surprisingly detailed considering the size of the world the PC has to render; the same gorgeous sunrises, sunsets and weather effects (and now blowing gales!); a full editor; endless scope for modding; and two new additional features: an underwater world, and rag doll effects!

The same gorgeous weather effects, showing here is the Alpha-version of the 'BLUFOR' (i.e. good guys) basic soldier, looking eastwards on the coastline of the only map to be released with the Alpha. It's still a huge sandpit to play in, with hills, coasts, forests, arid tundra, small villages and a big airport in which all kinds of combat situations can be enjoyed. Open the editor, put a guy and a car, and off you can go to drive for miles and miles.

Despite the big area to be rendered with every load (and the Alpha does load slightly slower compared to ArmA II) the details and textures are of high quality, thanks in part to a clever use of field-of-view graphics to reduce the load on your computer. This is a forested area just back from the cliff where the first screenshot was taken. I've set my guy up peeking around a corner. You can see the interesting look to the soldiers, incorporating much from the US Army's future weapons technologies that they do love to show off from time to time. The Land-warrior project, and so on.

Rag doll! One of my favourite features in a shooter of any breed. Sounds morbid, but pre-loaded death animations are one of my pet hates. Yes, occasionally it may fail, and if the polygons of an object aren't smoothly modelled then a rag-dog body may get caught there and jerk uncontrollable - talk about breaking suspension of disbelief - but here you can see it working perfectly here. This guy got shot and slumped against a pile of rocks with not a pixel out of place. It's also a good shot of what the 'OPFOR' troopers look like. Ever-so-slightly space-age, but there's something steam-punk-esque about the helmets with the wire, they almost look like liquidators from Chernobyl.

The underwater world. Difficult to experience to its fullest extent in the Alpha, as one can't tell what underwater units will be available, but it works well thus far and swimming around in the blue is certainly a novelty. There are sharks, even sea turtles out there.

Other niceities to be noted: a reasonably slick interface and menu - OFP and ArmA were always minimalists when it came to their menus. Good controls as always, though migrating the walk/run button from 'F' to 'C' is a bit confusing because 'F' now means cycle fire modes on your weapon. The Alpha is missing a lot of content so it's difficult to rate several areas: no tank, no planes, no specialist infantry, so it's unclear what great goodies will be living in that cupboard. However with OFP and ArmA a lot of the greatest content came from modding anyway. Particularly classy was the Unsung Vietnam War mod and Operation Frenchpoint.

I also enjoyed the fact that the editor hasn't changed a bit. I loaded it up (it runs in-game, so none of that minimising malarky) and within 10 seconds I remembered everything I needed to know. A mission where eight squads of enemy infantry laid siege to a small hilltop compound with its own mortar support, and an alarm that when activated caused three squads of allies with an armoured car each to load up and drive over at high speed to help, took only five minutes to set up. And most of that time was spent previewing it to make sure I'd placed the soldiers in the right places.

As with Operation Flashpoint and ArmA II, the Alpha suggests that ArmA III is going to be as beautiful, if not more beautiful, than its predecessors. The weather and environment were always key factors in my enjoyment of the game, that and its re-playability thanks to a superb mission editor, and its endless mod-ability. I can't wait for the Beta, and the full game upon its release. I hope they get a good story and campaign to back up all this other goodness.

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