Arma 3

Se­nior man­age­ment have bunkered down, ter­ri­fied on the top floor of Linux For­mat Tow­ers as Evan Lahti pro­claims: This Means War!

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Man­age­ment have bunkered down, ter­ri­fied on the top floor of Lin­uxFor­matTow­ers as Evan Lahti pro­claims: This Means War!

Sim­u­la­tion isn’t the defin­ing as­pect of Arma. It’s scale. The enor­mity of the map is the foun­da­tion for the ex­pe­ri­ences that dis­tin­guish Bo­hemia In­ter­ac­tive’s flag­ship fran­chise. It’s what makes ra­dios, binoc­u­lars and com­passes prac­ti­cal equip­ment in an FPS. It’s what al­lows for kilo­me­ter-long head­shots and co­or­di­nated con­voy raids. It’s what makes us­ing your eyes to spot hints of en­e­mies as valu­able as be­ing a crack shot.

The scale of Arma3 dwarfs ev­ery­thing in the genre, in­clud­ing Arma 2. Altis is a Mediter­ranean is­land-na­tion as­sem­bled from ru­ins, air­ports, coastal vil­lages, so­lar power plants, mil­i­tary out­posts, salt flats, and tank-friendly scrub­land. It’s a var­ie­gated back­yard for you to play war in, but what’s more sig­nif­i­cant is that Arma’s land­scape fi­nally has the tech­nol­ogy it de­serves.

Arma3 rep­re­sents an aes­thetic over­haul of the se­ries. Dy­namic light­ing, a vol­u­met­ric cloud sys­tem, gen­uine ve­hi­cle physics, 3D weapon op­tics, rag­doll, no­tice­ably im­proved weapon au­dio, and other grainy, eye-level de­tails await scru­tiny in­side Arma3’s macro el­e­gance. The best im­prove­ment is the mer­ci­ful cut­ting of Arma 2’s rigid, Tin-Man-with­out-oil com­bat an­i­ma­tions, which makes in­fantry com­bat more re­spon­sive in your hands.

De­spite a long de­vel­op­ment pe­riod, long-stand­ing blem­ishes that arise from its na­ture as a gar­gan­tuan sim­u­la­tion linger. Even on rea­son­able hard­ware, frame rates can dip un­der the spec­ta­cle of some mul­ti­player mis­sions. Friendly AI units, though marginally bet­ter­be­haved, still de­pend on the player to be their brains, an is­sue that’s cir­cum­vented by play­ing Arma co­op­er­a­tively.

Op­er­a­tion co­op­er­a­tion

With voice-con­nected friends and a good user-cre­ated mis­sion, Arma3 is an un­par­al­leled war-story gen­er­a­tor. On Op­er­a­tion Fault Line with a gang of Steam pals, we had to drive a clumsy, eight-wheeled trans­port called a HEMTT across the map. To pro­tect this ele­phan­tine truck we had a IFV-6c Pan­ther, an APC with a mounted grenade launcher and 12.7mm MG. Min­utes af­ter leav­ing base, our tanky body­guard eats a land mine, ru­in­ing its left track. As we get out to sur­vey the dam­age, rock­ets streak across the val­ley. Ev­ery­one’s okay, but the Pan­ther is im­mo­bilised.

Dump­ing the APC is the only op­tion. We clump into the frag­ile HEMTT, burn­ing diesel to get off the ex­posed ridge. Green trac­ers track the truck, even­tu­ally prick­ing some of the tires. The wheels don’t de­flate enough to go flat, but the sus­pen­sion slumps to the left. The rest of the mis­sion it spent driven lop­sided, con­stantly counter-steer­ing just to keep the truck on the gravel road.

When we’re free of im­me­di­ate dan­ger, we send some­one back to base to re­trieve an ATV so that we have a for­ward scout­ing el­e­ment. At one point we po­si­tion two ma­chine gun­ners with night-vi­sion scopes at the lip of a val­ley to pro­vide cover as we drive the HEMTT down an ex­posed val­ley, then taxi them back to us on the ATV. The se­quence of events, the chat­ter, the wounds and kills we rack up, all de­vel­oped be­cause we hap­pened to run over a mine and our tires were shot up.

Get­ting flex­i­ble

Arma’s ca­pac­ity for stim­u­lat­ing ca­ma­raderie, at­mos­phere, and prob­lem-solv­ing, in other words, is fully in­tact. The feel­ing of own­er­ship that arises over these mo­ments be­tween you and your squad­mates sticks in your brain. Cen­tral to this fun is how mal­leable Arma con­tin­ues to be for its com­mu­nity, which be­fore launch day had pub­lished al­most 1,500 mis­sions to Steam Work­shop.

On the ground, a new stance ad­just­ments sys­tem is the best thing that’s ever hap­pened to in­fantry com­bat in Arma. Mak­ing small body ad­just­ments while be­hind cover ini­tially feels like fin­ger gym­nas­tics, but the sys­tem makes more types of cover vi­able and more types of weapons vi­able in that cover.

On the op­po­site end of your gun, though, AI re­mains a short­com­ing. Arma3’s en­e­mies share plenty of their an­ces­tors’ DNA, which means that they os­cil­late be­tween be­ing ea­gle-eyed snipers at one mo­ment and static, dumb, 3D sil­hou­ettes evoca­tive of a light gun ar­cade game an­other. Their great­est flaw is that they lack per­son­al­ity, which mostly re­signs them to be­ing tar­gets rather than soldiers.

A few sparks of in­tel­li­gence do im­press. Af­ter we killed the rest of his squad mates, a ri­fle­man flees for the first time in Arma, set­ting up a tense shot where we had a nar­row few sec­onds to snipe him in the back be­fore he dis­ap­peared be­hind trees. This is the sort of hu­man be­hav­iour we’d love to see more of, stuff like blind-fir­ing, limp­ing, throw­ing smoke grenades for cover, claim­ing aban­doned ve­hi­cles, or loot­ing bodies for sup­plies – any­thing that would lessen the pre­dictabil­ity. We do need to note that AI has been im­proved in re­cent up­dates.

Friendly AI is even worse, un­for­tu­nately, be­cause they’re typ­i­cally your re­spon­si­bil­ity. It’s ab­surd that your squad’s medic won’t patch you up even if you’re bleed­ing right next to him un­less a di­rect or­der is given to him. The crux of the is­sue is Arma’s mile-long com­mand menu, which scat­ters dozens of com­mands across all 10 nu­mer­i­cal keys. Like the en­emy AI, though, there are glimpses of au­then­tic be­hav­iour. We felt like a proud par­ent when an AI fireteam, un­prompted, broke for­ma­tion and spread them­selves be­hind cover dur­ing a raid on a clut­tered fac­tory. Go team!

Break­ing for­ma­tion

Bo­hemia’s graph­i­cal im­prove­ments are sub­stan­tial enough to make Arma3 one of the most vis­ually im­pres­sive games on any plat­form. Altis (and its lit­tle-

brother is­land Stratis) are ren­dered with in­cred­i­ble clar­ity, il­lu­mi­nated by light­ing that pro­duces pink sun­sets, blind­ing so­lar glare, and golden af­ter­noons. We love the way the earth feels tex­tured as you jog and crawl through it: gravel, sand, and grass all emit dif­fer­ent sounds un­der your size 10 boots.

On its orig­i­nal re­lease in back 2013 Arma3 was a per­for­mance hog. It could eas­ily bring a top-end sys­tem to its knees and di­al­ing down set­tings did lit­tle to re­lieve the is­sue. Largely be­cause of the huge draw dis­tances, heavy script­ing and boat­loads of AI par­tic­i­pants, Arma3 can be CPU lim­ited and re­quires plenty of fast mem­ory too. So faster CPUs are go­ing to fair bet­ter. For ex­am­ple, our older In­tel Core i7 4790 per­formed ex­cel­lently even with a weak Nvidia GTX 750 GPU.

If the down­side of Arma’s fi­delity is its in­con­sis­tent graph­i­cal per­for­mance, its up­side is that it re­li­ably pro­duces sto­ries. Even its mod­u­lar in­ven­tory sys­tem has pro­duced lit­tle rit­u­als, where like a moth­er­ing com­man­der we have ev­ery­one vo­cally re­cite the gear they’re car­ry­ing to make sure we have enough ver­sa­til­ity.

It’s an­noy­ing that it’s more of a bur­den to com­mand team­mates than it should be, on par with chap­er­on­ing a sec­ond-grade field trip. It’s both­er­some that en­emy AI os­cil­lates be­tween be­ing smart and dull. We wish 40- and 50-player mis­sions chugged less. Yet in spite of the niggles that are largely the con­se­quence of cre­at­ing the de­tailed sim­u­la­tion, the self-au­thored war that awaits in co-op is worth tol­er­at­ing all of this for.

Fic­tional and adapted con­tem­po­rary weapons, ve­hi­cles and equip­ment make up Arma 3’s ar­moury.

A tank per­cusses the ground af­ter fir­ing.

De­spite Arma 3’s size, vis­ual and au­dial de­tails like back-blasts and muz­zle flashes feel hand­crafted.

Arma 3’s sin­gle-player mis­sions are most en­joy­able when you’re not as­signed the com­man­der role.

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