Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Bohemia Interactive Studio
Release Date: Q3 2006
When you look at the first-person shooter genre as a whole, they can largely be broken up into gameplay that is either based on strict linearity (heavy use of hallways, such as Half-Life or Doom 3) or the somewhat less linear collection of larger, more open areas (e.g., Ghost Recon series, Half-Life 2). The original Operation Flashpoint came out on the PC a few years ago and was critically successful for two reasons. Firstly, the title absolutely oozed atmosphere, from the well-written yet totally fictional story of a clash between NATO and a Russian contingent at the peak of the Cold War to the wonderfully realized military weaponry and vehicles from the era. Secondly, there were only three "maps" to speak of (four with the expansion), but the scope of the game is appreciated when it is noted that each "map" was composed of 100+ square kilometers of varying landscapes and terrain, which took the "go anywhere, do anything" mantra to the extreme.
Armed Assault is the spiritual successor to Operation Flashpoint, as the franchise name has moved on with the split between Codemasters and Bohemia Interactive. The same development team that made the original title and its expansions is now working on Armed Assault, which promises the same level of quality. The title takes place in the near future on a fictional island approximately 400 square kilometers in size that is split into two distinctly different political climates. The northern half of the island is an aggressive Communist state, while the southern half is a fledgling young democracy. In the game's story, the northern half of the island has attacked the south, prompting the United States to jump to its defense.
The first thing we noticed about Armed Assault was that the title's interface and engine looked very modernized and crisp in comparison to the original game, so we were surprised to learn that the engine is actually a heavily modified version of the same engine that powered Operation Flashpoint. The character models and vehicles all obviously benefit from better modeling quality as well as the new lighting and shadowing, while the landscape is much more detailed, especially when viewed from above.
Upon loading up the title, we were shown a few sample aspects of the campaign mode. In stark contrast to the original game, the player has the ability to choose how the war is fought in the form of selecting a few optional battles to fight, which yields both pros and cons. The campaign mode will always have a main mission that you must undertake before the game can progress further, with each one taking two to three hours per mission. The player can perform these side missions to affect the sway of the upcoming mission, which in themselves take maybe 20 to 30 minutes each. For instance, if you undertake one type of side mission and complete it successfully, the enemy forces will have fewer units to put against your forces in the campaign mission, but their reinforcements will arrive sooner. However, if you undertake the other mission, the enemies will have more units already in place, but their reinforcements will be significantly delayed. Of course, another option is to simply do nothing and take the campaign mission straight away, leaving the enemy numbers and reinforcements as they would normally be.
Once in a mission, we got to see the game in action, and it was pretty easy to see the same glimmers of gameplay that made Operation Flashpoint so enjoyable. Within seconds, we were shown an urban clash between advancing U.S. infantry and a dug-in northern contingent taking up firing positions in a village on the top of a hill. As the demonstrator and his forces slowly inched their way up the hill, the battle raged, but it was clear that the fact that the hillside was devoid of cover was going to play a heavy hand in the U.S. force's defeat. We were then told that a new feature is the player's ability to call down air strikes or artillery strikes, which wasn't shown but would definitely even the odds when faced with charging up a hillside against a waiting enemy.
We were also shown that after a certain point in the campaign, the player will have the ability to switch classes mid-mission, and in the example mission, you could switch between a standard infantry soldier, a sniper, and a tank gunner. You can perform the switch at any time, but only while at least one unit of the type you are switching to is still alive. If all of your tanks have been destroyed, or your infantry wiped out, you would be unable to fill one of their shoes. It's an interesting concept though, and rather eloquently solves the problem of giving the player a variety of gameplay choices without making the main playable character some sort of sniper- pilot-soldier hybrid.
The multiplayer portion has been significantly ramped up from Operation Flashpoint, including both a heavily beefed up set of gameplay elements and a brand-new cooperative mode. How the co-op works is that players can undertake the entire campaign together with an undetermined amount of players (we were told the only limit would depend on the multiplayer server hardware), and the only limiting factor is that players must first have beaten a campaign mission alone before they can play one cooperatively.
In addition to the cooperative mode, there is a new mode called "capture the island," which is exactly what it sounds like. In this mode, up to 100 players must fight for control of the island by capturing cities, resources, and other control points. There is no formal mechanism for any sort of commander role, but individual squad leaders have the sole responsibility of leading their forces. A standard-sized session of this mode can take hours, if not days, to complete, which is why a "join in progress" system has been implemented to allow players to join and leave the game at will. It'll definitely be strange to hear of co-workers who play for a little while in the morning, go to work, and come back in the evening to rejoin the fight.
Another interesting thing to note is that game modifications that were created for Operation Flashpoint will work out of the box with Armed Assault, barring a few small changes. The new title uses the same modification and scripting engine as the original, and Bohemia has already begun talks with mod makers in the community to convert the most popular mods over to the new format for release.
There is no question that Operation Flashpoint was a heavyweight in the FPS genre, and while it did have a bar all its own for other games to aspire to, it seems that Armed Assault is vying to jump right past it in more than a few categories. Though a European release has been slated for this autumn, a North American publisher hasn't been nailed down yet, so hopefully, a publisher will step up to the plate and get this title on the store shelves.
In either case, Armed Assault is an immersive first-person shooter backed with a believable setting, realistic yet fun gameplay, and a 400-square kilometer sandbox in which you can wage war. It's safe to say that gamers who like authentic first-person shooters should keep tabs on this one.
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