The Military Shooter I Can't Review

Bohemia Interactive's ArmA III, a super-realistic modern combat simulation, is out today. I've been playing the retail release for over a week now, so under normal circumstances this is where a formal review of ArmA III would go. But with ArmA III, that just doesn't feel right.

Firstly because the game's not technically finished yet. The singleplayer campaign is missing, and will be made available as a free download later down the line. For series veterans that's not such a big deal, but given it's such a huge piece of content, and is important as a tutorial for newcomers, it's a big deal.

Secondly, and more importantly, I don't think I've played anywhere near enough of the game to even scratch its surface. I mean, I've played the singleplayer scenario missions. I've dabbled in multiplayer. I've wandered around the "showroom" areas, where you can drive every vehicle in the game. I've made my own missions. I've flown choppers, driven tanks, gone scuba diving. I've followed orders, made orders, killed men.

And died. Oh, how I've died. It feels like I've died one million times over. Given how brutal this game is, that's probably not far from the truth.

But ArmA III isn't like other shooters. It's a simulation. A sandbox game. A game-builder. The real meat of ArmA doesn't come from what ships on release day, it's what you're playing 12-24 months later, once people have made more awesome custom missions (though note: there are loads of good ones already available) and settled into how to best tackle the game's ridiculous, trademark large engagements.

So, no, I won't be "reviewing" ArmA III today. What I will do, though, is tell you what I think of what's there.

  • It looks gorgeous. No, really. The lighting effects probably steal the show, but the modelling on the vehicles and soldiers is excellent as well. This is a very, very pretty video game, and looks great even on lower-spec machines.
  • A big problem with the last few games in the series - and I'm including the original Operation Flashpoint in this - is that for all the ambition of the developers to create a truly life-like military simulation, the whole endeavour was let down by the stiff, wooden way the soldiers moved and were animated. That's been vastly improved. Everything looks a lot smoother, and for the player, everything moves a lot more smoothly as well.
  • Ditto for your interactions with things. Everything from driving a car to firing your gun has a little more weight to it, a little more heft. You'll feel more like a real human in a war zone, less like a floating gun platform.
  • The UI is still....hrm. Look, I know that it's remained largely unchanged because in some ways it's perfect, and for series veterans it's great that the communications system is the same. But it's still a nightmare to get your head around.
  • In fact, it's a shame the game as it stands is so hostile to newcomers. Again, I know, this is a niche game with an established fanbase, but there's so much in ArmA III that so many people would find so damn fun, if only they didn't have to study a textbook just to drive a tank.
  • The addition of undersea sections is a real "holy shit" moment. So is the scaleof the game's biggest island, Altis. I can only squeal softly at the thought of what enormous missions and battles both users and BI themselves can come up with for the playground they've built here.

I may revisit the game a few months down the line, when there's a campaign, more user missions and maybe even a decent tutorial, give it a more formal appraisal. Until then, all you need to know is this: ArmA III is a very serious war game that asks you to learn a lot of stuff in order to just move around and shoot at things. Then, once you get on top of all that, you can die from a single bullet.

Get your head around all that, though, and you'll find a recreation of combat that more theatrical games can't (presumably, I'm not in the army!) come close to.

Given that it's a pretty deep game, if you've got specific questions, drop em below and I'll do my best to answer them.


    Fair enough :)

    Two things that I've always taken issue with in the franchise:
    1. The UI.. yeh.. you get used to it if you play frequently enough.. but man, it can feel clumsy when it comes to inventory management and the comms stuff.. eegads. It's not a game-breaker.. but it's not the most accessible UI in the world...
    2. The AI pathfinding.. Bohemia, in my opinion, have always really struggled with this side of things, especially when it relates to vehicles driving off road around hills/escarpments/etc They can certainly follow scripted paths.. and most of the time they can handle roads (though not always)..

    You mentioned the UI in this article.. but what about the AI?

      I'm glad I've been playing since Operation Flashpoint in 2001, so the squad management part of the UI just seems normal to me. :p

      AI pathfinding is still as horrendous as ever... I agree.

      The AI is actually quite a bit better than OFP for driving, its still not perfect by any means but you can plonk a car down on one corner of altis, give them a waypoint to the other end and they'll pretty much follow the road all the way.

      Granted they still have trouble judging speed & crash into buildings when driving in tight quarters more than they should but ultimately it's a substantial improvement.

      Much of the problems with the UI & action menu can be dealt with using something like VAC. Takes a while to sit down and really build up the profile to do everything but its really nice to be able to simply say "Stealth" and have the game select your whole team, put them on hold fire, put them on stealth mode & get them to go prone. Sucks to have to buy another program to do it but its pretty cheap and damned effective once you get used to it.

      Man, I played the original OFP till I could see it in my sleep, I loved it that much.
      Played Day Z about a year ago, and was surprised to see the UI was still very clunky, so any improvement on that is going to be an improvement in my eyes anyway.

      The co-op games of OFP were the most fun I had online until L4D came along..

    I once had an entire army stop driving because there was a rabbit on the road. I waited a few minutes but I eventually had to walk to the front of the column and shoot the stubborn bunny. Then we went and got on with liberating Chernarus.

      Indeed.. a large rock.. a bunny rabbit.. something unexpected.. and that's the problem they've always had.. you'd think that over the years, they'd have spent a little bit of money on improving that stuff....

      Though, like your example, it can lead to some amusing moments :)

      Its good that your troops are respectful of the dangers of the Russian attack rabbit, it's like the rabbit from Monty Python & The Holy Grail only works like an AT weapon

      It's good to know that Aussies are extending rabbit genocide to the virtual world.

      Now to see if we can come up with virtual myxomatosis...

    Playing with AI teammates is always kinda... interesting. AI as the enemy is usually fine (especially with Dax AI mods and such), but I only ever play with humans by my side :P

    I play with Combat Team Bravo over at if anyone is interested in playing more tactical-based ARMA - part of the Australasian Battle Group

    So what's happening here?
    Is there no Single Player Campaign to be had at the moment? Why even release the damn game?
    Is it available to purchase in stores?
    Don't make me have to look this information up myself!

      The core of the game is complete, the campaign is coming in 3 bits (for free) over the next 3 months. They explained it in a blog post, the short version is they had a shipping date they couldn't change & had several problems with the engine that took priority.

      It's weird to release a game without a campaign but a large percentage of the userbase create their own stuff from scratch and playing multiplayer operations anyway. Since it's got the steam workshop integrated, you have access to hundreds of missions already. I'm only hoping the campaign will be worth waiting for.

        Yup.. it's pretty similar to how the Shadowrun: Returns was released.. there was a single player campaign in that of course.. but the idea wasn't to release a great single player experience "out of the box" but to create a bunch of easy to use tools for the community to create their own..

        Thank you kind internet sir.
        I'm off to steam now to purchase!

    I'm just glad they got rid of the old radio talk.

    "2... Driver... Get in that......... HUMVEEEEE!!!..... at....... one o'clock."

    Be getting this when I have some spare coin, even though my pc will struggle.
    Like how the tune in the video is very similar to one from op flashpoint

    Last edited 13/09/13 4:30 pm

    Unf... this war porn hit me right in the grenade pouch.
    I know what I want for Christmas now... hope it's in the annual Steam sale..

    I have to agree that this game is absolutely gorgeous. Even on my below average PC it looks and feels fantastic. This is war at its most realistic and epic. The scenery in some areas is stunning.
    Sure it is missing a campaign right now, but that (first episode) is coming in October.
    Right now it is about creating your own battles that you can tailor to be as difficult, easy or just as epic as you like. Assuming you have the programming skills that is.
    Yes, the AI still has problems, but it is a huge improvement on the previous games (OF and ARMA).
    The radio comms and unit animations are a massive improvement from the older games. It feels smooth. This adds to the realism.

    The bad side to this game since the full release is the multiplayer. It has bugs that cause huge FPS problems while playing online.
    It is also very CPU intensive. Setting your graphics to anything below regular will use your on-board GPU and CPU instead of your dedicated GPU.

    Last edited 15/09/13 7:18 pm

      Having spent numerous hours poring over scripts trying to figure out some of the multiplayer missions for Arma I have actually found that it tends to be poorly designed user scripts that are causing the majority of the FPS issues. While I don't disagree that the game engine is not optimised properly to take advantage of multiple cores etc the scripting that is possible with the game can lead to more issues than the game itself.

      For good solid MP gameplay look for TvT maps, Domination (ported from Arma 2) or Invade and Annex as these are running decently on our clan server without major FPS issues.

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