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