ArmA and ArmA 2

I lump these two games together because they were both created by the same studio that brought you the original Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, Bohemia Interactive. Also, both are the spiritual successors to that game, if not in name, then certainly in coding. They trace their lineage to BI’s Virtual Battlespace 2, a training tool used by various militaries to teach young squad leaders and other professionals in the brotherhood of arms the techniques they’ll need to make good decisions on peacekeeping missions and on the battlefield itself. You can’t get any more hardcore than that. While Codemasters still owns the Operation Flashpoint franchise, you can still see the echoes of that ancient game in the sound, the visuals, the voice acting, and vehicular control.

The visuals are much richer than that first title and I have a hard time deciding which one I like more. Both are excellently done and both give an accurate feeling of what it’s like to be involved in a large-scale combined arms operation. The motion blur of ArmA 2 often is a little off-putting and has, on occasion, induced some motion sickness on my part. It can be turned off, thankfully. Plus, the addition of some mild HDR bloom makes the sequel look a little softer around the edges, which is not in and of itself a bad thing.


The sound continues to be a weak point, for me, at least, especially the first ArmA. The voice acting still sounds like the recording artists have all the charm and presence of Walter Mondale on NyQuil. The sequel, at least, doesn’t have the moron shouting, "OH, NO! 1 IS DOWN!" into your radio comms every thirty seconds with all of the emotion of a guy who just lost a rhinestone money clip given to him as a Christmas gift from a particularly hated mother-in-law… or an ex-wife. It doesn’t help that most of the dialogue is in Chernarussian… a dialect that customarily sounds like a mixture of Greek and the sound a frog makes when it’s getting hammered by a rubber mallet.

Gun sounds in the original ArmA continue to be bad. REALLY bad. And it was something that got some much-needed improvement in the sequel. The gunfire in ArmA 2 sounds much more authoritative and less like the sound engineers took a recording of someone firing at a metal road sign with an Airsoft gun and hit the beer store.

ArmA and ArmA 2 - What Works for the Casual Gamer

Gameplay in ArmA and ArmA 2 is pretty similar, in terms of what you can do and how you can do it. However, there is far more of it in ArmA 2. The default campaign in the original ArmA is little more than a lot of individual missions strung together in a very loose fashion. You have waypoints you can follow, tasks you do, and then the mission ends and you move on to the next one, pretty much like any other shooter out there. It is also a little on the brief side.

The campaign in ArmA 2 is much larger, with much less structure. I now have to laugh at ‘sandbox’ games that promise the ability to freely roam and find things to do in an open world. Actually, games like that practically have a neon sign that reads in meter-high letters "SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT TO DO OVER HERE", leading you by the nose from place to place when compared to the completely unstructured "soup and sandwich" campaign of ArmA 2.

ArmA 2 dumps you into a portion of the map and just tells you "go nuts". No holding of the hand, virtually no waypoints saying "go here". You begin to get an appreciation of what American forces in the Shah-i-Kot Valley of Afghanistan were going through during the heat of Operation: Anaconda. You wander around looking for insurgents, arresting suspicious people, clearing camps, blowing up technicals, looking for arms caches, and just generally shooting the living piss out of anyone who looks at you crossly.

It’s great fun, and a blast to play, and here’s where it caters specifically to the casual gamer. There’s two little sliders in the Options menu that allows you to dial down (or up) both the enemy and friendly AI. You can bring it down to the point that enemy AI might not even fire at you, or drives tanks into trees and off cliffs. I don’t recommend it, because that’s not fun, you do want a bit of a challenge, but the guys at BI knew enough to finally allow people to scale back some of the inhuman rage your computer can inflict upon you.

ArmA 2

There’s also something else I appreciate about ArmA 2 that you can’t really do very well in the original. After having owned an Xbox 360 for the last four or five years, I’ve learned to appreciate the idea of a controller for a first-person shooters. At first, I thought it was sacrilege, even heresy to use anything but a mouse and keyboard. I will admit now that having a Microsoft Xbox 360 controller, especially as a left-handed gamer, makes things a lot easier. You may now commence to giving me the proverbial wedgie, kicking the crap out of me, and stealing my lunch money.

ArmA 2 ships with a default control scheme specifically for the Microsoft Xbox 360 controller and I use it exclusively because it is (for me) much easier than hunting and pecking on a keyboard when the lead is flying. For those wanting to try out the original ArmA, you can use a controller, but it has to be manually configured and I still haven’t found a way to get it to use the right trigger for firing your gun. I heartily recommend another, excellent, device, an Ideazon FANG gamepad. It even has a profile for ArmA you can download for free.

ArmA and ArmA 2 - What Doesn’t Work for the Casual Gamer

Be aware from the outset that this game was never intended for you to do what you’re doing. It was meant to be played at full hardcore realism, and it does some odd stuff when you screw with those settings.

For example, even when you dial the friendly AI up to the max, it’ll still do some stupid things, like your teammates getting lost in the unknowable universe of a garden tool shed. Once, I was running through a forest to take out an enemy camp when I heard a vehicle engine. Crouching down and fearing for my life, I crept forward slowly, inching my way closer to investigate what it was. I discovered a parked AAVTP, it’s engine idling in the middle of a forest, its crew watching wildlife… or deer hunting with a chain gun.

Also, when you dial down the enemy AI, it doesn’t affect the aim of armored vehicles or emplaced machine guns very much. They’ll still fill you full of lead, and a lot faster than foot soldiers, but one of the most maddening things to happen to me was when one of my team-members died. I was told I needed to revert to an earlier point in the campaign and it didn’t give me a choice as to when and it restarted, I was at the very beginning of the mission. That nearly killed it for me, but I was actually able to replay some stuff that I’d screwed up earlier.

I’d also like to be able to choose the weaponry I carry, like maybe a ACOG sight instead of a holographic reticle sight, but those are small things to complain about.

ArmA and ArmA 2 Pros

  • Gorgeous graphics.
  • Ballistics for weapons is an awesome thing to behold.
  • Scalable AI.
  • Ships with a default controller scheme for the Xbox 360 controller (ArmA 2 only).

ArmA and ArmA 2 Cons

  • Sound quality is still not as good as other titles.
  • Voice acting verges between generic and downright awful.
  • Still some weird AI behavior even when you DON’T scale it back.
  • Horrible results when you "Revert" on some missions.
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