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ArmA: Combat Operations (Windows)

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Developed by
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76
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.8
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  TheBS (16)
Written on  :  Feb 23, 2007
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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Summary

ArmA is OFP, only updated (v1.04.xx after 8hrs of "Single Player")

The Good

Overview ... + Continued Uniqueness in the Genre + Graphics Update with Shader 3.0 (DirectX 9) + Improved/More Realistic Effect/Usage of Foliage + Even Bigger and More Massive Landscape "Play Area" + Single-Player Gameplay (Multi-Player is Probably Even Better) + Same Open Ended/Scriptable Engine + Jump In and Take Control of Various People + Checkpoints and Save Multiple Times Now Allowed

Detail ...

+ Continued Uniqueness in the Genre

First and foremost, for those not familiar with its predecessor, Operation Flashpoint (OFP), Armed Assault (ArmA) continues the traditional of being unique among the Genre. If you didn't like OF, you won't like ArmA. If you loved OFP, you'll continue to love ArmA, appreciate the update and few, very noticeable changes, with a few, remaining curses at the same time (see "What didn't you like about this game?")

+ Graphics Update with Shader 3.0 (DirectX 9)

Before I say anything, let me say the "Objects" in ArmA are OUTSTANDING. That's the main improvement over OFP in visuals. Ignoring the environment, the "Objects" are very nice, no longer an "embarrassment" when you show the game off to others (including the cut-scenes) used to "less technical" first person shooters. Now with that said, I'll talk about the "environment" and its rendering.

The Virtual Reality 2 (VR2) engine has been updated, with support for DirectX 9 and Shader 3.0. Like the original VR[1] release (based on DirectX 8), the engine can and will support higher details and visual distance for the next 3-4 years. E.g., on my older GeForce 2 MX through GeForce 3 and even 4Ti cards, I had to put some of the graphics effects down, or limit distance on the latter cards. But by the time I upgraded to a GeForce 6800/7800 series, all effects and even greater distances are possible. No, it won't have DirectX 10 and Shader 4.0 (at least not without an update), but you will be able to turn more and more graphics detail on and view farther distances with newer and newer cards (like the GeForce 8800, especially the forthcoming, 45nm designs in mid-to-late 2007 and beyond).

For those that are used to more "close up" shooters, your first instinct may be to "criticize" the graphics as "last year." The first thing to know about ArmA, like OFP before it, is that it isn't designed for the "trickery" of DirectX that leaves distance and areas unrendered (commonly leveraged in shooters, even "outside" shooters), and takes shortcuts on geometry (clearly noticeable in other "outside" shooters). The VR[1] engine was original designed on, and its military counterpart -- the VBS[1] (Virtual Battlefield System) -- is actually implemented as, a full OpenGL 1.x geometry/lighting setup. This is the only way to render massive landscapes beyond what you see in even the Battlefield series or Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (which has some hacks to improve textures/distance, but not nearly to the same level).

VR2 (and VBS2) are of the same, base development on OpenGL 2.0, and correspondingly retrofitted to DirectX 9 and Shader 3.0. As such, it takes some hits in performance because of this. So with today's cards, you're not going to get all the effects without serious frame-rate hits. Hence why you'll lose some visual goodies compared to other shooters on the same hardware, but most of the capabilities are in there, just not turned on because of the hit the engine imposes for the massive scale.

+ Improved/More Realistic Effect/Usage of Foliage

One thing that has been greatly ignored in other reviews is the improved and more realistic effect and usage of foliage in the VR2 engine and implemented in the 400 sq. km. island of ArmA. Most other games, even Oblivion, make limited usage of trees and -- even more so -- grass.

In ArmA, grass and trees now interact with the environment, including human interference like crawling when prone or even downwind from machines. When you go prone, you can no longer easily "see through" grass like before (let alone most games). At the same time, when you get "close to the edge" of the grassy area, you will "push down" individual pockets, so you can see in front of you. This subtle, but very realistic aspect of "soft cover" not only now reacts perfect for your enemies, but limits you more realisticly as well -- beyond just shrubs or trees.

+ Even Bigger and More Massive Landscape "Play Area"

Most obvious is the size of the island, 4x larger than the islands before. No longer is the islands about the size of Grand Cayman (as they were in OFP), but about 5x larger overall. It's still a far cry and 100x smaller than Haiti + the Dominican Republic (I'll use that as an example, because the game is about a dual-country island -- North v. South), but hopefully in another 5 years, we'll have the graphics and computing power to render such more realistic

+ Single-Player Gameplay (Multi-Player is Probably Even Better)

The Single-Player "Gameplay" (although the "Testing" is another matter, see "What didn't you like about this game?") is spot-on, and gives massive replay value just like its predecessor. Even re-playing some of the included missions are great, as with OFP, because different incidents and outcomes are still possible, although sometimes that does require the missions to be "Well Playtested" (again, see the negatives).

I have not tried Multiplayer yet, but it should rock even more. Over 100 people in 400 sq. km. -- assuming the game server is sufficient enough (which is currently an "unknown" -- definitely *NOT* something you'd want on anything but a "dedicated" box) -- should make ArmA *THE* engine for military realism-seeking multi-players.

+ Same Open Ended/Scriptable Engine

But what I loved (and most loved) even in Single Player of OFP were some of the "they did it better than Bohemia Interactive" missions that I downloaded, from various sites when they got good reviews. And that's a testament to a great PC game -- maybe not so much of a console where you're "stuck with what they shipped" or "what they offer as a download" -- and it's clear that ArmA will do the same.

+ Jump In and Take Control of Various People

You can now "Jump In" and "Take Control" of various people, not limited to only one person in missions. Even when you're not the squad leader, the mission often gives you the option of at least 2-3 others to "Jump Into" if you die or just want to play a different role. No more having to "Hunt Down" AT or other Missile weapons -- e.g., "waiting for the AT soldier in your squad to die" -- just to complete a mission. It's not really as "unbalanced" as other people make it.

+ Checkpoints and Save Multiple Times Now Allowed

Lastly, there are now some better "Checkpoints" (IMHO) compared to OFP where the mission is saved (and you can "Load Auto[save]") and you can now "Save" Multiple Times. It's far better than what I had to do in OFP by switching to Windows Explorer, rename or delete files, etc... and switch back. Not perfect, but worth noting (although there is still a negative aspect to it too, see next).

The Bad

Overview ... - AI is Still Way Too Stupid at Times - Poorly Single Player Gameplay Tested - Almost laughable Single Player Story - Some Limited, Other Updates from Original (Could Use More) - Only "Last Save" Kept (Each Save Overwrites Another)

Detail ...

- AI is Still Way Too Stupid at Times

If you were hoping the AI was improved from OFP, sorry to say, it's not -- or not much at all. The AI still drives stupid. The AI still plays "Rambo" too often -- e.g., even your buddy, "expert" special forces get "mowed down" in "Cadet" (Enemy is "novice") mode. You're often either "on your own" or, when the squad leader, telling your guys to "hold back."

But the guys are a little easier to command IMHO, and they often are capable of completing some "combat" tasks well. I'll give it that.

- Poorly Single Player Gameplay Tested

My second, biggest bark is that I feel that the "included" Single Player missions are LESS TESTED than they were in OFP. Many of the missions in OFP worked fairly well -- probably as a result of testing -- with only the occasional situation of the "open ended gameplay" resulting in a mission that you cannot complete. In ArmA, I have run into that way too many times! And sometimes it's after I've already saved, so I have to restart.

Like the Stryker that is already destroyed, but I have to board it to continue the mission. Yeah, it's that bad at times, and it happens far more than in OFP.

Its not really the engine/gameplay, but the fact that missions have to be "well playtested" before release because of it. Again, IMHO, ArmA is WORSE than even OFP at release. Hopefully a few more updates (I'm running v1.04.xx from the initial UK/EU release of 2007 Feb 16) will address this -- or the community itself might take up the fix'n.

- Almost laughable Single Player Story

The Single-Player "Campaign" is still very linear, although you can now do one or more "support" missions before the "main" mission. That gives a nice "feel" to it, lets you affect the setup of the "main" battle, although that's about it.

Because the story is just stupid IMHO. I know Bohemia tried to make it more "real world" in the fact that the media reporting v. reality of war is not always the same, but I think it's a major distraction and doesn't offer really any value in the end. I would have rather seen Bohemia put the time into more missions and -- more so -- play-testing those missions than render cut scenes and try to build a story in a set of cut-scenes.

I'd rather have more cut-scenes of military briefings like in OFP, although at least the "movement" of the characters is greatly improved. And as I mentioned before, the "Objects" are far more realistic in rendering and motions (one of the great positives).

- Some Limited, Other Updates from Original (Could Use More)

You'll find a few, "cool" updates from OFP. E.g., your "eyes" are more realistic in their adjustment from light-to-dark and back again -- such as when you put on your night vision googles or take them off. Along with changes in how the foliage works, acts and affects your view, and a few interface improvements, there are a few things to appreciate.

But that's about it.

I feel -- and this is very subjective -- that Bohemia could have put a lot more "final touches" into this game. E.g., when you reload your gun or launcher, you still don't see the soldier actually get a clip or missile, just the arm movement. And there are still some minor touches in control and management I just can't stand, just like in OFP. Again, very subjective but if you had something that "really bugged you" in OFP, then it's likely it will still "really bug you" in ArmA.

But most people -- including myself -- "put up with it" in OFP, and you'll do the same in ArmA because no one "does it better."

- Only "Last Save" Kept (Each Save Overwrites Another)

The thing I really, really, REALLY hate about the "Save Multiple Times" is that with each save, you OVERWRITE the previous. That really, really, REALLY SUCKS when the second you come back from a save ... fhaassZIP ... uuuHaauuHhhhh ... you're dead. Because when you re-load from that new save, it's likely the exact same gun has the exact same bead on you when you saved, and now you've written over your previous save, so you're stuck with the never-ending "repeat'o death" until you just restart/revert.

The Bottom Line

Armed Assault (ArmA) is clearly by and for Operation Flashpoint (OFP) lovers, the updated installment of the same base design with an updated engine.

First person or even "Battlefield" owners who know nothing about OFP will look at it at "first glance" and dismiss by its graphics and gameplay/replay value. In reality, its graphics are far deeper and more of a load on the system than "Battlefield" and other "close-up trickier" type first-person shooters, and the "Gameplay" and "Replay" value. This cannot be under-stressed, along with the fact that the "add-on" aspects are FULL MISSIONS, not just "maps." There are some outstanding missions for OFP, and there will be more for ArmA as well.

Despite its 2000/2001 release, OFP users are still playing it -- and releasing missions for it -- because the focus is on the depth of its gameplay and the sheer size of the environment (including the ability of newer graphics to handle the massive distances). The same will happen with ArmA, and I expect to still be playing it in 2010. This is very different from other games like the "Battlefield" series where the focus is on "improved graphics" every 18 months with all the "close-up trickery/detail" and little "add-ons" or "unlocked features."

BTW, this review was by an American, who bought an "Import" version of ArmA from the UK/EU release on 2007 Feb 16 (from GoGamer.COM), with the version 1.04.xx. The 2007 May 01 US release published by Activistion is currently available for pre-order (from Amazon.COM, currently listed as $19.95), which may have a series of updates from this v1.04.xx UK/EU release by the time it is out.