Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Year of Release: 2007, 2009
Operation Flashpoint was one of those games I spent hours on but never bought. Most of my time spent at my grandparents in 2002 was spent in a single field of a Eastern Europe looking country, running across it clutching an M16 and being mown down time after time by Russian machine guns. But I didn’t care – for a boy who spent most of his break times at school fighting pretend wars in the playground, this single challenge was the best war game I’d ever played. But due to my lack of skill in it I never bought it. In fact, I only picked up ARMA when it was sat in the buy one get one free section of Gamestation in Leeds. But despite this terrible start, ARMA and its sequel is a brilliant game if you are willing to spend time learning how to play milsim style and forget your tea bagging and noob tubing skills you learnt on the mean streets of COD4.
First, some history. ARMA and ARMA 2 are made by Bohemia Interactive, a company who specialise in interactive simulation training packages for the military and the same people who made Operation Flashpoint for Codemasters in 2001. After a split which left Codemasters with the name but Bohemia with the tech. In 2007, Bohemia then released ARMA based off their latest training program (closely followed by an expansion) and then in 2009 ARMA 2 was unleashed upon a rabid and dedicated fanbase built up since we first fought the Ruskies across that bloody field.
ARMA is a soldier sim which delights in realism. Bullets act like bullets do in real life, with rounds arching at long ranges and requiring the usually annoying snipers to have to learn how to adjust for all sorts of factors (including the Coralis effect if you want to try firing a Barrett at around a mile.) Your ability to shoot and move can be modified in several ways such as through stamina or injuries. If you attempt to lug a machine gun across a field then when you attempt to shoot you will probably be more of a threat to your own squad than the bad guys. Similarly, the game hates your guts so don’t expect to run forward into the battlefield like Roach in Brazil – try any of that and you’ll be full of lead before you can say “Run Forrest Run”. Instead you need to keep low, command your squad and not attempt to open up on full auto at long range. As part of this, you need to use the terrain to your advantage – find a wall and use it for a base of fire team. In fact, if your able to find any real world military tactics, you can probably use them in the game.
Most of the time you will be a simple foot slogger in the infantry but occasionally you’ll be driving tanks, APCs, Humvees, trucks and tractors or flying helicopters and jets. The game can render full combined arms operations with helicopters and jets providing support to ground forces and its at this point the game comes alive. There are few better gaming moments then when you sit back and watch helicopters silhouetted against the sky like in Apocalypse Now as flak round light up the sky. Yet at the same time even playing a small mission as special forces can be among the tensest times you’ve seen. One example was a time I’d sneaked into an enemy camp to place some demo charges – avoiding roving patrols was genuinely scary. Its amazing how versatile the game is.
Part of this is from the games editor which is amongst the easiest I’ve ever used. Within moments (and with a limited knowledge of scripting), you could be defending a beach landing zone from waves of enemy troops coming ashore or commanding a Marine Battalion as you advance through a No Man’s land of minefields and artillery strikes. The missions can be as complex as you want – I’ve seen missions which are based off the in game templates while others rival those that came with the game. Which reminds me – the campaigns in both games are terrible. They are alright if your wanting to learn how to play the game, but don’t listen to the plot or the dialogue as it is terrible.
Multiplayer is I think one of the main draws of the game. As well as the usual mission types, the game also includes a pretty good mode called “Warfare”. By combining squad of infantry players with a commander who balances equipment and artillery support in an RTS mode, the game feels like a war going on with order seeping down from the top. Its like the PS3 game MAG, but better and with more people. But like that game, if there is a single idiot in the game at a command system the system falls apart and the game become no fun, especially when the commander thinks is funny to drop phosphorus rounds on the staging area. ARMA 2 makes it even better with a mode featuring three separate sides leading to a great deal of diplomacy between the West/East and the third party faction side. One game had the insurgents backing the Yanks up until the final moments. Unknown to the US, the guerrillas had placed satchel charges around all the key buildings and defences and carried Russian Special Forces to a cabin overlooking the West sides base. So while we were sat in the Russian camp smoking victory cigars and admiring our handiwork as we whittled down the remaining buildings, a huge explosion could be seen far away. The multiplayer is full of these moments and that is why its one of the best multiplayer experiences available.
That said, both games are buggy as hell. Its a lot better when it gets to about the third or fourth patch but at launch both games were in a state. Constant crashes, memory errors, multiplayer disconnects and, the biggest issue of all, a stupid set of system requirements. The games’ system requirements on the back of the box seem alright, but it runs terribly on most PCs. The second is a slight improvement in the fact it runs slightly better (due in part to being optimised for multi-core processors) and looks better but even so, if you want to run it on high settings, you better be using a national supercomputer. I think this is in part to the 10 kilometre draw distance which is an amazing feature but its rare you’ll actually use it. Another downside is the command system, which has not been changed since Operation Flashpoint. It is really clunky, which can make it hard to make orders in the middle of battle accurately with round flying around. It takes more keypresses than it should to order a single soldier to hit the deck.
At this point the games need to be looked at separately. ARMA takes place in Sahrani, a fake Atlantic island which is in the middle of a situation not too dissimilar to the Germany in the Cold War, with the West backed South fighting the Communist North. In this you play as a US Army helping to train the Southerners. Its an interesting set up.. The map was also designed with two totally different climates with a desert to the south while an Eastern Europe looking region to the north. This variety allows it to pretend to be areas ranging from Iraq to Eastern Europe. ARMA also received an expansion pack called Queen’s Gambit, which takes place just after the end of the Sahrani campaign and has an even worse set up. However, the expansion also includes several new units and weapons which are a boon to mission makers, such as technicals, as well as a totally new island of Porto which is perfect for all the Blackhawk Down style missions.
ARMA 2 is a much better package from the off. It looks better, plays better and is easier for new players to get into. Its multiplayer has worked reasonably well from day one and the setup is much more interesting than the first game. This is set in the fake ex-Russian state of Chernaus and has a conflict that escalates from a small scale insurgency (with American involvement) between entirely Chernausian forces up to an almost World War 3 conflict between the Russians and the US. The maps are also detailed to the extreme, with tiny incidental details littering the entire 225km square area. Due to it being based off satellite imagery of an area of Bohemia’s home country of the Czech Republic, every hill, valley, forest and town feels real. Unlike in Saharni, there are no areas that have the look of “generic_hamlet_01”, which make fighting through them a real joy. The Russian scenery is atmospheric with mist hanging low in the mornings as the sun rises over fields and castles. It’s a place where you could be quite happy to just move through the world ignoring the mission objectives. There are several galleries online packed full of landscape shots taken in the engine. The other advantage is the sheer number of different units on show. There are 5 sides (US Marines, Russia, local forces, insurgents and nationalist guerrillas) engaged in this conflict and each have their own set of vehicles and weapons ranging from main battle tanks to ATVs to artillery pieces to shotguns which are all detailed to the extreme as they should be in a training tool. ARMA 2 is getting its own expansion soon which adds the US Army, an Afghanistan-esque map and, for the first time, other Blufor troops (the German Special Forces and the Czech rear their heads.)
I have four personal recommendations for anyone wanting to get into the ARMA games:
- Buy ARMA 2 – its far superior, has more people in multiplayer and more addons being made for it.
- Learn to use the mission editor – I’ve spent most of my time in both of the games just making up cool scenarios ranging from single man stealth operations up to full scale wars across a huge area. There is a lot to learn but the basics such as unit placements, waypoints and basic triggers should be alright just for the start.
- Join a clan – It is easier and more fun to learn to play while part of a clan. I learned so much from the guys at Royal British Commandos ranging from how to use the editor to the oddities of the different equipment. It also means that you can just turn up to game and have a good time with a group of people who all enjoy the game.
- Download addons – most of the fun from ARMA is how its used as a platform for other mods ranging from changing the UI up to total conversions that change how the game plays entirely. Armaholic is the main site I use and it pretty good at getting only the best mods available. In fact, I’m at the point where the addons installed are around the same size of the game’s original data files. But if you want to be conservative, ACE 2 is a must have due to how much it adds or changes. However it can be a bit complicated to install and if you want to use it online you will have to make sure you regularly update.
I’ve spent over 230 hours in the ARMA games fighting in virtual wars. These games are war simulations without equals and bring you as close to war as you want to go, as long as your willing to learn how to play them. Jump in straight into the fire and you won’t enjoy it. But learn how to play, learn tactics and how to master the clunky command system and you’ll have an amazing time. Just try the demo before you buy as although I could rave about it until I grow a beard but it doesn’t appeal to everyone. See you on the battlefield.
(I have actually review ARMA 2 before and it is still online over at geeks.co.uk
Its a brilliant site and the team behind it are all awesome)