Import Review: It's not a regular Assault, this time you're Armed. Good plan guys.
Editor's Note: Our review of the American version of Armed Assault (known as ArmA: Combat Operations) can be found here
Yep, boys and girls, Armed Assault has finally arrived. For the time being, only in selected European countries. Oxymoronic title aside, Armed Assault is a sequel that qualifies only as a relatively moderate improvement over 2001's Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis (known as OFP around the PC crowd). Don't get me wrong, the improvements are significant enough in my mind to ensure Armed Assault's rightful place as one of the top PC titles of 2006.
The fact that a U.S release wasn't going to happen till at least February or March of '07 wasn't going to stop me from playing it right now. I began my quest by doing a little web searching. I finally found a site affiliated with the developer, Bohemia Interactive, which was selling legal downloadable copies of the German version. My credit card, a few mouse clicks and a community provided English language conversion patch was all I needed to get rolling. I was in business.
If you've only played the inferior Xbox version of OFP, titled Operation Flashpoint Elite, you'll likely wonder why the original PC version sold close to 2 million copies and was named Game of the Year by many sites and magazines. You'll wonder why the PC community has been crying, whining, dreaming and banging their heads against the wall in frustration, waiting for this overdue release.
The fact is, there had never been a military simulation so complete, so realistic, so flexible and downright fun when OFP took gamers and critics by surprise in September of 2001. Just about anything possible on a real battlefield was possible in OFP. The other reason it was such a success? The dedicated and talented modification (?mod?) community that grew up around the PC version of the game.
Some shortcomings existed, however, so when word came down that a sequel was in the works, gamers all over the world started asking how long it would be until the ultimate gaming experience would be theirs. So ?Flashpoint' fans started counting the days...the months...the years. When 2004 came to an end, with no official word on an impending release date, there was a question if fans would ever witness the miracle of Bohemia's sequel. Well, after more than a few delays, OFP fans have finally gotten their wish, whether they will be satisfied with the end result remains to be seen.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, the development from OFP to Armed Assault was clearly not an attempt to drastically change the game to match the next-gen gloss of current war shooters. That was never the point of OFP though.
?Flashpoint' was always about the gameplay and capturing the ?feeling? of battle. It was about incredibly vast land areas, accurately modeled military vehicles and beautifully coordinated combined arms multiplayer engagements. It was not simply a war themed game, it was a virtual war experience like no other before it or since. Developing a sequel to this legendary title was quite a daunting task, let's see how Bohemia faired.
Armed Assault's single player game consists of a series of training missions, 10 single objective based missions for quick action (6 of which are locked until you complete the starting ones) and the campaign mode, consisting of over 20 more missions strung together through the game's storyline. In-game engine cut scenes move the plot along between the action.
Well, the word ?plot? may be stretching it, but here's the premise of the single player campaign according to BI's website: A small U.S Army contingent has been sent to the Atlantic island of Sahrani with the purpose of helping to train the army of the local pro-American monarchy. The Kingdom of South Sahrani, rich in natural resources, has always been at odds with its Northern neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Sahrani. In recent years however, the situation has settled into an uneasy yet peaceful coexistence.
Until now, the Democratic Republic of Sahrani sees the training of Southern troops by the U.S as a threat. When they learn that the US troops have finished their deployment and are in the process of shipping out, the North prepares to strike while a false sense of security still occupies the minds of their Southern neighbor.
Here's where you come in, as a member of the U.S Army contingent on the Island, you're caught in the middle of a sudden war between these two factions. Not very original but hey, who cares about the story when the shooting starts.
The game ships with a starting lineup of about 35 vehicles, ranging from the American M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and the Soviet Era T-72 Tank all the way down to civilian vehicles like hatchbacks and city buses. 8 helicopters ? combat and transport variants, the AV-8b harrier jump jet, the RHIB patrol boat and 3 styles of zodiac tactical insertion rafts.
You get to handle over 40 different soldier carried machine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, sub-machine guns, handguns and portable weapon systems. Finally you'll have access to other equipment such as hand grenades, AT mines, satchel charges, binoculars, night vision goggles, flares and smoke shells.
The units available at launch should just be the start. Much like the original OFP, the mod community has already started porting over their previous creations to Armed Assault so you can expect the list of weapons, vehicles and aircraft to steadily grow over time. Of course the new additions will only be available for use in custom multiplayer or single player missions, available for free download at various fan created sites.
Getting under the hood, anyone who played OFP will immediately recognize the game interface and controls. Not much has changed here and new players will NOT find it difficult to pick up with minimal practice. FPS soldier controls now include the much requested ?Lean? function for peeking out from behind corners. The standard controls allowing for crouching, going prone, jogging, running at full speed or walking with your gun sights up are all present.
You also have the ability to issue orders to your AI or human teammates through the command menu system. Some of them include, telling your squad to organize into various combat formations, raise or lower their alert level, target a specific enemy unit, engage all enemy units in the area or simply hold position and hold fire if you want to do a little quiet recon.
The vehicle controls feel a bit more responsive here although they were always pretty good. Fixed wing aircraft control is a different matter. In OFP, they were difficult, here they feel damn near impossible. Suffice to say, it would take up a lot of your free time before you could successfully employ a bombing run in support of your friend's ground units. Although I guess it should
be hard to fly a complex modern jet, so maybe it's not such a bad thing when any new guy can't immediately hop into the AV-8B Harrier and fly like a god.
The Helicopter controls were reworked a bit too much on the touchy side but a patch released a few days ago has taken care of that problem. Speaking of launch bugs, there were reports of some graphic related glitches, multiplayer bugs and various types of game crashes for different reasons. In my own experience, I only had some minor lighting and shadow anomalies. I can happily report that most people, including myself, have found that these problems have mostly disappeared due to the aforementioned patch (Ver.1.02).
All in all, it's been a pretty clean launch especially considering the complexity of the game mechanics at work. The bugs or glitches that do remain are par for the course in any new game launch and shouldn't hamper the enjoyment of 99% of gamers. Although I'm sure you'll still find those professional forum whiners who live to find fault with anything under the sun.
On the visual front, things have definitely been spruced up. All vehicle, soldier and aircraft models are of markedly higher quality. The world seems much more alive. Tall grass sways in the wind, individual trees now make up forests instead of one large clump of amalgamated sticks and leaves. Terrain features are scattered throughout the land and flocks of birds fly overhead. Dust trails can be seen from a distance as tanks approach and a landing helicopter produces glorious blinding downwash. Accurately modeled constellations fill the night sky until passing clouds obscure them and a downpour starts.
Effects such as the smoke from a firing tank cannon, particle laden explosions, black smoke plumes emanating from the burning shells of enemy vehicles and collapsing buildings that have sustained too much damage are all nice touches that just add to the satisfying feel of the whole package.
Mountains, hills, valleys, rivers, bridges and towns are all there. The towns especially, deserve special mention. The individual buildings are a real improvement. The polygon count went from somewhere in the neighborhood of hundreds in OFP to over 60,000 per structure here. It's much easier to navigate inside buildings. Shooting from windows or rooftops is much more fluid not to mention rewardingly deadly.
The new engine allows for a much larger playing field too. While OFP was limited to around 100 sq. km. of land per island. Armed Assault has quadrupled that amount to 400 sq. km. of continuous land area per island. That's one heck of a large battlefield people.
Sounds are improved throughout. Realistic machine gun fire reverberates from inside your M1A1 as the .50 cal machine gunner opens up on a column of unsuspecting enemy soldiers. Tank gun booms, rocket launching attack helicopters, explosions, radio chatter, the echo of small arms firing all around?the sounds in Armed Assault combine to form a perfect symphony. This is the sound of war and it's sweet.
The AI, although not perfect, is certainly smarter than in most games. They work as a team, move together, cover each other and will use their surroundings to their advantage. Oh yeah, they also know how to shoot. Taking a bullet to the back of your melon from an enemy soldier hiding behind a bush is not uncommon. Much like real war, one wrong move will result in your quick death.
Multiplayer is where Armed Assault truly shines. The engine and improved netcode allows for over 100 players, as long as the host server's bandwidth and hardware can handle the load. The most significant addition here is the ability to join games in progress. The original OFP was plagued by the inability to join a game until it was over or the server's administrator quit and brought everyone back to the game lobby. This was often a grueling process when one mission could easily run over an hour in length.
A nice variation of MP modes rounds out the online package. The game comes standard with 17 multiplayer missions covering the range of modes. Possible modes include coop, capture the flag, flagfight, dogfight (airplanes), hold, sector control, team deathmatch and deathmatch . Another nice feature is the mission wizard. This allows you to choose among a few MP templates and set it up your way. You can customize such features as the island your mission is located on, time, date, weather conditions, start position of teams, how long the match will last, score to win, availability of AI players and what units/weapons will be present on the battlefield.
Multiplayer maps and objectives can also be created from scratch via the included game editor. The game editor is quite a powerful feature by the way. It's about identical to the editor in OFP, which is a good thing. Although, the more complicated aspects of mission making require knowing some scripting programming code, there is plenty of online help and pre-made script snippets available from the community for the original OFP editor.
This should help new players get a good headstart on how to use this editor. Armed Assault specific help is already appearing and will surely grow as the game gains traction, especially after the official U.S launch. I wouldn't expect much help with the editor from the game manual, stick with fan websites and forums. We don't know what kind of documentation BI will provide with the coming North American release but if OFP is any indication, it will be a bare bones explanation of the editor and its functionality.
Yes, there are a few annoyances, I don't particularly like the new ?iron sights? aiming setup. The original OFP's ?iron sights? seemed much more fluid and accurate when firing at fast moving targets. Enemy AI is still way too good at getting headshots on you and your team, even in normal difficulty setting.
They seem to be able to spot you from greater distances than you can see them. When you go prone in tall grass, you encounter another problem. You can't see 2 feet in front of you. The grass is literally in your face. The only way to get a view on an enemy is to stand up or crawl out of the grassy area completely.
I'm just nitpicking though, if you look hard enough, you will find faults with any game you ever enjoyed playing. The beauty with Armed Assault is that mostly everything you find annoying or deficient usually annoys other gamers too and someone will invariably create a fix for it.
Just like its predecessor, Armed Assault should occupy your nights and weekends for years to come. Its replay factor should be practically endless if the fan community rallies around this game as they did around OFP. Custom missions, both single and multiplayer along with new units should be plentiful by the time you see this game at your local video game retailer.
There's really no way to describe all the things you can do in Armed Assault. The game, coupled with the editor's features, allow you to pretty much simulate any wartime experience that you can think of.
If you're a salty old OFP veteran, this game should hold you over until BI releases their next offering, an untitled project scheduled for release sometime in '08. Armed Assault may not be the revolutionary change some wanted but Bohemia Interactive managed to improve an already superb game without breaking it. Fans of Rainbow Six are well aware how a developer can ruin a great formula by attempting to change the core game too drastically from original to subsequent sequels (Although R6: Vegas put things back on track.)
Bohemia Interactive continues to impress with the release of Armed Assault, especially considering that it's a small independent developer, without the deep pockets of the big boys. Some of those behemoth developers could definitely learn a thing or two from these guys.