Sunday, 26 July 2009

Bloody 'Armazing'

It's so easy to knock a game like Arma2. It is a behemoth of a game; aiming at meeting the expectations of a community of gamers so hard to please that even real militaries sometimes fail to convince them things are done a certain way (America's Army 3 for example). Arma2 is the spiritual successor of Operation Flashpoint and is, in many ways, just like that 2001 title.

The interface is essentially the same, only far more sophisticated. You get more options. You get more units. You get improved A.I and you get one stunning new graphics engine. For me, the fact I got a brand new map to play with and make my own missions on was enough. I guess the one things that really is new here is that map in all its graphical glory. Stunning. There is no game to compare this 225km2 landscape to. It feels real and lush and takes us noticably a step further into a virtual subspace. Oblivion was the first to really do this in 2005. Now we have Arma2.

I could go on and on here about why Arma2 is easily the greatest FPS/Military Sim ever made. It is an acquired taste though. Many will only take note of the bugs and sure, it has them in abundance. Many will also just dislike the intense realism and the fact that you just cannot play this game rambo style. Arma2 is a tactical affair and one that simply acts as a gaming platform at its core. The fanbase will mold this puppy like they did with the original Flashpoint and first Arma game. Mods will eventually come out that will improve on aspects that are arguable lacking. Already, a stunning sound mod has been ported over from the original Arma community and works great with Arma2.

Any PC gamer with a good enough rig needs to at least check out the demo of this game if only to see the graphics. But be warned: this game is a demanding one and even mid range PCs will struggle. I recently bought what can only be described as an ub3r gaming rig and even I struggle. To be honest, this is largely down to current issues the game has with Nvidia's flagship GTX295 card and Bohemia have promised us patches that will fix these problems.

The gem with Arma2 isn't the campaign. I haven't really even touched on it. Nor is the gem here the adversarial mp. If you want that, play Call of Duty 4. The gem is co-op. This is plain and simple. Co-op in Arma2 is co-op squared. No game compares. Any console game looks old and weak in comparison and even most PC-based co-op games fall short of what Arma2 offers: the ability to make and host your own co-op missions/scenarios and play them effortlessly online with as many mates as your bandwidth can handle (about 3-10 I'd say). The YouTube video posted above is my very own and based on a mission I am currently working on. (see here)

The sad thing here is that most PC gamers really just have a lot of hardware catching up to do to join this co-op fest. If something like this ever made it onto Xbox Live... game over competition. There are rumours that Arma2 is, in fact, being ported to the 360 and I am very excited at the prospect. Let's hope they manage to transfer this "create and host" dynamic onto a console. Without it, the game wouldn't be the same.

In terms of platforms, Steam is the way to go with Arma2. Although it doesn't support cloud-based features or server lists and steam friends invites, it does automatically update itself (which is worth the extra few bucks alone) and supports the Steam in-game interface. This allows for you to talk to friends whilst in-game and simply makes arranging games a more hassle free affair. However, I will admit to being slightly disappointed at the lack of 'full' integration. It really is no big deal though as the netcode is stable and hosting private games is a piece of cake.

I am simply in gaming nirvana when I have the tools of Arma2's inventory at my disposal. I have made a bunch of missions and keep learning more and more aspects of the powerful mission editor. I have hosted them and played with mates and it feels like gaming has finally enabled a level of freedom never before seen. I can make my own scenarios and play them with friends. From this point on, anything else for me is going to seem dated and seriously limited in comparison to this.

There are issues with Arma2 though. The flora/grass is great but doesn't exist after about 20 feet. Ground is bare and featureless besides trees and bushes beyond this point. This means that no-one can truly hide in the grass as they will be seen by people at a distance! Bohemia fixed this in the original Arma with a patch that simply created less detailed grass at a distance and basically need to do the same here. There are also just general bugs with everything from a certain weapon's firing animation to the fact players tend to get kicked from mp games when the host switches a mission. There is one word for this though and that word is patches.

Fixes will come and Arma2 will improve. Mods will hit and Arma2 will find new fans. Arma2 is a platform and I cannot stress that enough. No developers out there are doing what Bohemia have done here. They have released a toolkit for the wargamer. Everything from first aid modules to hand signals can be enabled or disabled in the editor and for the single player side of it there is even a random mission generator that allows you to define the type of battle. If you know what you're doing, you can even then save these missions and put them in the appropriate folder of your Arma2 dir and host them online! True gaming freedom.

If everyone who is remotely into war games had the kind of PC you need to fully embrace Arma2 then I think we'd be seeing far more hype about this game. The reality is though that this game is just too revolutionary for most gamers to take on board. Firstly, you need a really high end PC to get the most from the visuals. You also need to know what you're doing and be prepared to 'fiddle' and experiment with tweaks in order to get those extra frames per second. Perhaps most importantly though, you need to be a patient and mature gamer. Not a gamer who is only after the quick fix sensations of the linear 'CoD' genre. This game spoonfeeds you nothing. You have to go out and find those gaming moments. The thing is, once you encounter them they are real and unscripted. Nothing else comes close.