Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Release Date: July 7, 2009
As a developer of military simulation titles, Bohemia Interactive is pretty much unparalleled. Operation Flashpoint and its expansions set the bar, and though the original ArmA didn't expand upon the formula too heavily, it did bring essentially the same solid gameplay to the table with a new graphics engine. Arma II should have been the crown jewel of the series to date, but though the graphics engine is top-notch, the gameplay seems to have fallen by the wayside. It's still about as realistic a portrayal of modern warfare as a game can allow, but as a means of entertainment, there are many areas where the game is simply broken.
You play as Sgt. Cooper, a member of recon team Razor sent to the fictional country of Chernarus to help the local government quell an insurgency. Chernarus is as beautiful as it is deadly, and even as you fly over a forest in a helicopter, you can't help but look down and wonder if there isn't a squad of enemy soldiers just hoping that you touch down nearby so they can pick you off. With few exceptions, the game is mostly unscripted, and more often than not for each "level," you are given a set of objectives that you can go about completing in whatever order and using whichever method that you see fit. The prime example of this is the "Manhattan" level, which gives you free reign over the entire land mass and provides you with a transport helicopter that you can call in at any time to extract your squad and then unload you at whatever destination you wish. Care must be taken, however, because if you order your helicopter to fly over enemy positions, it is possible that it will take enemy fire and crash.
Of course, even if you take such care in plotting a course for your ride, rest assured that the chopper pilot does not. He simply lacks any sort of self-preservation, and if the chosen landing zone has obstacles, he will likely force his chopper in and crash and burn, rather than scoot over and land in the wide-open clearing 100 feet to the left. Once your chopper is destroyed, it cannot be used for the rest of the level, which means your options are limited to the much slower route of land travel or reloading a prior save.
Once you have your boots on the ground, Arma II proves that its infantry combat is just as rewarding and brutal as the series has ever been. Bullets strike and ricochet with surprising realism, and given that most combat is performed at relatively significant range, you really have to worry about bullet drop and leading your target. Of course, this makes dropping a foe on a distance hilltop with just a few shots from your rifle all the more worthwhile. If a member of your team takes a hit, he'll usually drop to the ground and call out for first aid. At this point, either you or a member of your team can heal the wounded man where he's at or drag/carry him to safety first. He won't be back to 100 percent and may have slightly shifty aim, but he'll live long enough to get back to an infirmary tent and heal up properly.
One very irksome quality of the game is how it is so centered on the antics of Razor team. Though your team has some relatively memorable members, their inclusion comes at a price. If any member of your squad dies, you immediately must revert to your last save. In a game so heavily based on realism, such deaths can and do happen often, and in larger fights you are almost better off telling them to hang back while you and the other friendly NPCs fight rather than have them run off and get killed. Adding salt to the wound is the fact that your squadmates' AI has about as much self-preservation as the chopper pilot does, and they're fully content standing upright while a squad of enemy soldiers sends fire their way. You can issue orders on the fly to command your squad to drop to a prone position or move to an alternate location, but it is bothersome that whether they live or die often depends on such orders, and it's not something that they're doing automatically.
Arma II is also plagued by a slew of bugs and oddities, from purely cosmetic flaws to nearly game-breaking ones. Support options, such as artillery, can randomly disappear from your list, even though you haven't used it. AI units can effectively get stuck and do nothing, such as when a convoy of APCs drives into a forest and just gets into a jam for no discernable reason. Chopper pilots will take off before your whole squad boards, and aircraft are nearly unflyable without a joystick in hand. For all the charm and intensity that the game has, there is an equal amount of effort pushing you out of the immersion.
With the single-player campaign so flawed, many players will look to the multiplayer component of the game, which fortunately delivers a much more solid experience. Though traditional modes such as deathmatch and capture the flag are available, the game's built-in editor allows for much more creativity. One multiplayer mission type pits all of the players on the same side and tasks them with eliminating enemy soldiers, one city or base at a time. This mode proved to be a lot of fun, flying into a hot zone with an actual player at the chopper's controls to set us down in a clearing. With a group of players, you actually have some teamwork going on during each firefight, with your squadmates providing covering fire and taking cover so that they don't get shot up.
It must be noted that Arma II's engine is simply top-notch in its portrayal of war. The environments are lush and filled with forests, hills and towns, and with the unscripted nature of the game, these environments can always be as deadly as they are scenic. It can be realistically difficult to spot distant enemies, if only for the fact that the game has so much of this detail that it is entirely possible for them to blend in. The audio side of the game is very impressive, from the distant sounds of rotor blades cutting through the air to the sounds of a firefight ripping through the open field in which you're currently pinned down. However, the fractured communication between your squad members as they call out targets or situational reports is as broken as ever. Granted, for someone to voice all of the possible combinations of these would be out of the question, but that still doesn't make the lines sound any less like a bunch of separate voice bites slammed together to form a broken sentence.
Arma II is a very deep portrayal of warfare, and it's not for the faint of heart who want their shooters to involve little more than pointing a gun and shooting. However, its depth is somewhat two-faced, as though its environments and overall feel seems as real as ever, the multitude of bugs that you will face really take you out of the fight before you've even been felled by enemy fire. In previous games of the series, you felt like a soldier playing his part in a larger conflict where squadmates occasionally die, but in Arma II, you mostly just feel like you are stuck with three other squadmates who you must babysit while you're all being carted around by suicidal helicopter pilots. It just doesn't feel like the gritty style of gameplay that the series is known for and feels more like a failed experiment in trying something different.Score: 6.6/10
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