ArmA: Combat Operations Review

Armed Assault: Combat Operations, also known as ArmA, focuses on making a thoroughly authentic military gameplay. Like Battlefield, it attempts to mix action FPS elements with a simulation of real-life battle. Unlike Battlefield, it is far more realistic and focuses a lot less on the “action” part. ArmA creates a realistic approach in both gameplay and control, whereas Battlefield just wants to look realistic while having easy to pick up gameplay and controls. ArmA isn’t so kind to new users, and offer a hardcore simulation of warfare instead of a pick up and play type of game that Battlefield offers.

ArmA is definitely not Battlefield 2, Ghost Recon, Counter-Strike, or any type of game based on modern combat. It dissects a lot of the actual “fun factor” and replaces it with realism. Instead of tight combat, clear objectives, and your FPS standard controls, you get huge battlefields, multiple and changing objectives, and a hugely in-depth control scheme. This game is about bringing you into the battle, and isn’t about to cut corners just to make your experience “easy” or “pick up and play”.

The first thing you may notice is the game’s massive view distance. The game lets you see exceptionally far, that is if you’re video card can handle it. The other graphic settings also make the game look pretty dang nice, but it does come with a price. My computer was able to run at a fairly decent rate on Medium settings, and it looked fairly sharp, even if a bit generic. When I turned the graphics up, the game looked fairly solid, but with such a big field of view you’ve got to have some serious horsepower to render such massive maps as well as all the detailed textures and effects the game offers. In addition, blown up vehicles and dead corpses seem to stay there, instead of disappearing. This adds a bit to the immersion factor of ArmA.

PC Specs:

  • AMD 3800 XP
  • 1.5 Gigs of RAM
  • Nvidia 7900 GT OC
  • Windows XP

Those specs gave my around a 30FPS on medium settings, no AA or AF enabled. However, my PC would drop in Frames Per Second in air vehicles, such as helicopters and airplanes, when I’m piloting at high speeds. It’s still playable, but I wish that it was a bit more optimized for air vehicles.

As for how it actually looks, it’s pretty good. The forests are dense and lush, full of vegetation. The urban areas are a lot of fun to navigate on, offering plenty of cover and unique battle situations. You get to battle in huge cities, small towns, barren forests, military installations, and more. Overall, things can be pretty varied and there’s a lot of different places to do battle.

Still, even with the variety, things seem a bit too bland from time and time. Even with a bit of added detail, such propaganda posters, civilian NPCs and vehicles, and other additions; the game just lacks any real personality to cling on to. It’s sort of a victim to it’s own goals – it’s trying to be a realistic and authentic looking and feeling game, but at the same time it can all feel a bit like deja vu. You’d like to see something new, but maybe that is unrealistic. Basically, the Middle Eastern setting is pretty nice, detailed, and varied – however, it is limited in scope, and I wish you could see a bit more environments as well as just more realistic cities (civilian AI is bad) and rural areas (no wildlife) to add to its immersion factor.

All in all, it’s fairly average. To get the big view distance and high resolution settings and effects, you’re going to need a true beast of a computer. However, the game scales well, and you’re given Very Low, Low, Medium, High, and Very High options to effects, textures, terrain, and more. Most people will be running Low or Medium settings, and the few that can achieve good FPS on the high settings will get a bit more view distance and more detail to their textures. Graphically, the game won’t amaze you, but it won’t disappoint you either. Instead of fancy graphic effects, though, you get big battlefields, a level of persistence, and nicely detailed textures.

The sound effects of ArmA seem to be spot on. If I were told that ArmA’s sound effects were completely realistic, I’d believe them easily. That could be due to the fact I’ve never actually been anywhere near any real combat; but from what I can discern from movies and television, they’re a very accurate representation of the real thing.

The game really stands out in voice acting. It is fairly dynamic, which comes out a bit during some of the hectic firefights. You’ll commonly hear chatter like “Unknown Enemy Man at 4 o’clock!” over the radio, and it’ll change with different variables and in different situations. There’s a slight pause in certain instances, but most of the time the voice acting is spot on and it helps the immersion quite a bit. Immersion is very important in games like ArmA.

The controls are like a lot of simulation games: very difficult to master, hard to get a grasp on, and constantly providing varying frustrations. The first thing that does is throw out even the most basic FPS conventions. Normally, your cursor would be in the dead middle of the screen, and you control your view to aim. In ArmA, you control your cursor and move it around the screen, and your view pans when you get close to the edge of the screen. While you do eventually get used to this style of FPS controls, you’ve got to question why they would even do this. There is no real benefits, and it requires quite a bit of “getting used to.” I mean, kudos for being innovative, but having a least a little familiar grounds to people who are new to ArmA would be nice.

That one part isn’t even so bad. It’s the sheer amount of controls you need to learn just to get started. The tutorial gives you the basics, but even then it’s barely introducing you to all the different types of combat, movement, leadership control, air combat, ground vehicles, etc. To actually be proficient the controls, you’re going to do a lot of dying, staring at long lists of controls, and trying to get a grasp of things in the campaign. The tutorial is pretty good, the problem is it’s just not nearly comprehensive enough for the game. Nearly even key has a function, from ~ to 0, from F1 to F12, from A to Z, you’re going to be playing a lot of “what the heck am I doing?”

Even once you get over the big learning curve on the controls, they’re still not that intuitive. What I I mean is you get a lot of control, so you can focus on every precise detail. On the flip side, I wish the game were more adaptive and simple, so you could focus on tactics and strategy over complex control schemes and button presses.

Much like the controls, the gameplay isn’t the most easiest thing to understand. It’s got a lot of variety, and with the overly complex control scheme the gameplay lacks a lot of focus. Thankfully, a pretty good tutorial gets you set in the right direction. Still, even with the tutorial, you’ll run into a lot of situations where you just don’t know quite what to be doing, or even how to do it. It really throws you right out into the fire, as shortly after the start of the campaign you’ll be running solo missions behind enemy lines, which at that point you’re not quite prepared for. The entire game feels like that, unfortunately. You get into situations where you just quite aren’t prepared or experienced enough for, and you become experienced by dying, reloading, and repeating the same parts over.

Missions unfortunately lack flow and direction a lot of the time. There are some genuinely cool moments in the campaign, however a lot of it is mixed in with confusion and frustration. It seems pretty organized, but a lot of the time things don’t really seem to be getting anywhere. That brings me to the plot, which is fairly weak. There’s a little backstory, but it is nothing to get excited about. At the very least, they experiment with a lot of different way to say “fuck”.

Vehicles control a bit funny. For example, from the gunner position, you can control the AI driving the vehicle to a degree. It’s very inaccurate and downright frustrating at times, though. So when you need precise driving, you drive. However, then your gunner AI won’t always engage quickly enough or from far enough away. So you really wish you could be in two places at once. Overall, AI is questionable at best. Enemy AI does some pretty stupid things as well, but that doesn’t mean when they’re 250m away they can’t shoot you down with a single volley of bullets.

The game has lots of variety. You get into a lot of different combat situations, and you’re required to do a lot of different objectives and tasks that add a lot to the experience. Instead of fighting and defending a base, for example, you need to run and bring a truck full of reinforcement to the base as quickly as possible, or lose the base to overwhelming numbers. You control a ton of different ground vehicles, air vehicles, and different types of infantry. Running in a special forces squad behind enemy lines or going solo as an elite sniper can be pretty darn fun, but also isn’t quite as cool as it could be.

Eventually it feels very rewarding after you’re able to piece everything together. It has a lot of challenges and frustrations, but at the end it makes the price is success taste twice as sweet. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t frustrating, it just feels great once you finally succeed.
Multiplayer servers were not up for my particular build. However, from the impressions I’ve gathered from people who have played in the beta, it is pretty darn fun. It has the same huge battlefields and variety in vehicles as the single-player game has, but you get to cut the somewhat dumb AI out of the equation. This makes things more rewarding.

ArmA has a built-in editor. This equals user-made content, possibly your own. Even if you don’t make your own battles, they’ll like will be plenty of other content available for download. It has a solid base for combat simulation, and it’s likely to attract a good modification community. I’ve got a feeling ArmA is going to have some long legs down the road. Even with the standard Campaign mode, Missions mode, Armory, and tutorials give this game a lot of initial value.

ArmA is really all about simulating combat effectively. Hardcore simulation fans should love the game right off the bat, however newer users are going to need a lot of patience. If you want to dive right into the action, you can go ahead and do that, but you’re not going to live for long. This game requires you to get over it’s large learning curve before you can really start enjoying the game for what it is. It’s likely going to see a fair amount of user content, and if you can get into the game I think it’ll pay off big in the long run.

My review may seem fairly negative a certain spots in Gameplay and Controls sections. Don’t let that deceive you, however. You get the full spectrum of war from armor to aircraft and snipers to squad leader. Sure, it’s got a few shortcomings. But it is also the most complete and perhaps even the best combat simulator out there. If that sort of game sounds appealing to you, and you’ve got the time and patience to learn the ropes, then this is a must buy.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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