I really enjoyed what Arma II set out to do. It was a complicated, extremely ambitious hardcore game that set out to portray realistic military combat. It had lots of great ideas, but unfortunately it wasn't flawlessly executed. I love it for what it tried to do, but I always longed for a more poslished experience.
Bohemia Interactive didn't give up. They kept working on their vision, and it's easy to see how Bohemia have iterated on what was there in Arma II over and over in order to improve and streamline mechanics without ever giving up on that original vision of a realistic military shooter. It's still very much a game where one bullet makes all the difference and two bullets is one too many. The attention to detail is mindboggling, and it's the calm before the storm that really offers the best and most intense experiences.
Much like its predecessor this is a game that puts itself at a save distance from other military shooters and focuses on the simulation side of warfare. As a soldier fighting for NATO, CSAT, AAF or FIA you're put in the middle of some of the most dangerous battlefields and you have front row seats to an exhibition of brutality. The pace is slow for the most part, the transport between action sequences are often meansured in minutes and firefights often play out at great distances. If you're looking for close quarter you need to look elsewhere. Players are given command of troops and through a (naturally) complicated interface that makes it feel as if you need to press more than half the keys on your keyboard, you hand out orders.
The main problem and part of its charm is the steep learning curve. It's there for a reason. You need to work hard to learn the most complete military simulator on the market. As with the predecessors I spend a lot of time configuring what buttons I feel are most apt for the different commands, and after a while I come to grips with the mechanics. A lot of players will probably forego the system for troop commands when they realise just how complex it is. And that's Arma in a nutshell - it requires thinking and patience to be fully appreciated, but if you invest the necessary time you will be rewarded with a whole new experience, believe me.
Arma III has been available as both alpha and beta, and it seems a good choice, as it would appear as if the developers have been able to make use of early feedback to make a better game. The result is stunning for the most part. No one needs to feel left out, and this means you will be able to turn off all the heads-up display information and set the intelligence of both friends and enemies. This opens up the experience to a larger audience and to a degree you decide what your Arma III experience will be like.
Speaking of intelligence, the soldiers on both sides in the predecessors were often lacking in that department with instant death as a result. These area shows a lot of improvement, especially if you turn up their intelligence. Computer controlled soldiers move more logically and for the most part they never stand still in the same place just to be shot three times in the leg. If they find themselves in a bad spot they will retreat, and when two larger squads face off you will find your enemy will often try and flank you. Most importantly the x-ray vision of your enemies has been thrown out and you will now be detected more fairly. To really gage how much better Arma III is I booted up its predecessor and the difference was striking. Arma III is much more enjoyable and polished.
As far as content goes this is a proper beast. The main campaign isn't even included at launch and will be released as three free episodes starting next with episode one next month. Arma III still offers lots of content. What is here is robust multiplayer, a fully fledged editor (and accompanying mods that smoothly loads from the main menu), a dozen or so sample maps, challenges and tutorials. These have been designed to give you bitsized samples of what's on offer - artillery attacks, helicopters, underwater action and driving. Hopefully the upcoming campaign will offer something a little more developed.
What you will be spending most of your time with is probably multiplayer, and it's really something special. Everything that's Arma III is implemented in multiplayer and it quickly becomes clear that this is where you should be spending your time. To come up with strategies with complete strangers in the co-operative mode to try and outwit the enemy is a very rewarding experience. It's a game that stands and falls with the level of immersion it achieves and it really succeeds in this regard. You will hold your breath in anticipation, scream in frustration and cry with disappointment.
Personally I find Arma III most enjoyable in these squadbased modes - co-operation comes through as a very well crafted component of the game. Since you die from one bullet proper teamwork is incredibly important. If you have a bunch of patient friends Arma III is a game you don't want to miss out on. There are other modes such as classic deathmatches, teambased variations and capture the flag. It spans a lot of the game will continue to evolve as creative modders flesh out even more content. One favourite mod that returns is Wasteland, which offers survival in teams (or by yourself), where the world is full of both computer and player controlled soldiers.
The most interesting part of the package is without a doubt the editor, that will allow the community to pick Arma III apart and put it back together as they see fit. The massively successful DayZ was born out of Arma II and the powerful tools available will no doubt allow for new and exciting concepts. It only takes a few button presses and your creation is made available on Steam Workshop for all the world to see and play. The editor is however very advanced. At least for a novice.
This part of the game isn't overly accessible and even after a couple of tutorials it felt like a mountain to climb. Perhaps it's designed with existing Arma modders in mind, but thankfully there are lots of beginner tips to be found through the community. And if you'd rather play there are plenty of player created missions to sample. Few games are blessed with as loyal and enthusiastic fans as the Arma series and this is evident by the list of 1600+ missions available at the current count. I've sampled quick vehicle races, a night mission that started with a helicopter crash, and blatant DayZ clones. This is where the Arma III experience will continually grow and it's going to be exciting to see what the future might hold.
Visually Arma III puts its predecessor to shame. I would even go as far as calling Arma III beautiful in places. The textures, inspite of nice design, are lacking in resolution, but as far as lighting, animations and character models goes this is looking seriously good. The best part of the visual packages is without a doubt the environment, that are both varied and elegantly designed. If the environments of Arma II impressed you, then you will be blown away by what's on display here. Altis and Stratis are the two islands we're treated to. Altis is somewhat bigger, a massive 270 square kilometres to be precise. The scale is evident throughout the game. No matter what, how and when you're playing Arma II you will never feel stuck between invisible walls. There is a true sense of exploration.
Arma III is more entertaining than its predessors, thanks in large to a symbiosis of nice effects, thick atmosphere, and a massively improved soundscape (gone are awful voice actors and pea shooters). The fact that Bohemia have improved the core mechanics since Arma II cannot be overemphasised. In many cases these tweaks appear small and subtle, but always well thought out. You're no longer limited to standing, crouching and proned positions, instead there are position in between these that are surprisingly useful. You can now swin underwater (and shoot fish!). Did I mention ragdoll physics? No. Well, it was a much needed addition to the sereis. Arma III feels much more alive, dynamic and exciting than any of the previous games.
One big problem previous games suffered from was the lack of polish on the technical side of things. Crashes, graphical glitches and uneven framerate was common place. Arma III shows a lot of improvement in this area too, and during my sessions the game only crashed once and there are fewer bugs. Despite being visually far more impressive it's kinder to the hardware than Arma II, but there are still problems with performance.
Especially in multiplayer the framerate fluctuates, but it's still an improvement. When it comes to a game with this kind of scope it's easy to overlook one or two bugs as they've never been of the game breaking kind (unlike Arma II where fellow soldiers got stuck in the ground preventing me from completing my mission). Simply put, it's far more polished right out of the gate this time around, but there is still room for improvement.
Arma III isn't a flawless game, but instead a game with plenty of flaws, but these are routinely overshadowed by the insane ambition of the developers. It follows the same formula as previous entries in that the whole is something greater than the sum of the individual parts. The controls, the learning curve and performance are three important areas I would like to see improvement in, but it doesn't hide the fact that what's on offer is tremendously impressive. This is without a doubt Bohemia Interactive's finest hour and a very strong 8. It's a massive leap ahead for the series, but there is still room for a lot of improvement. If the upcoming campaign proves enjoyable and the worst performance issues are dealt with the score would likely be bumped up. It's a brave and ambitious game, that isn't only the best of its kind, but a nice change of pace when a lot of games start to like alike.
Well done, Bohemia.