Updated: September 30, 2013
There are seven reasons why the Czech people are the best nation in the world. They have the most beautiful women, they are extremely polite and docile, they have decent cars, Jozin z Bazin, Operation Flashpoint, ArmA 2, and now ArmA 3. This is the latest first person shooter game by Bohemia Interactive, or should I say, a war simulation, because it's nothing like all those stupid arcades out there.
Just a few days after it was released, I purchased the game, Deluxe Edition, at USD64.99. Even though this is a hefty price, I wanted to support both Bohemia Interactive as well as Steam for their gallant Linux efforts. Now, while the game release is official, it's still sort of beta. For example, the singleplayer campaign is missing, and will only be launched in a few weeks. There are all sorts of glitches and such, but that's not important. What we want is awesome, realistic war. And when it comes to that, no one deliver like the Czechs.
I was slightly apprehensive that the massive 9GB game might not work well on my primary gaming rig. While it happily ran ArmA 2 at the highest settings without any problems, it's been a couple of years since, so perhaps there could be new issues. Luckily no. ArmA 3 auto-detection set all the details to high or very high, resulting in about 40 FPS on average, which is quite respectable. We are talking a i5-powered desktop with 16GB RAM and Nvidia GTX 570 card. Still good for all the fun, all the way. Although you can do a lot of optimization, but that's a separate article.
The ArmA 3 Deluxe Edition offers a lot of things. You get the full game soundtrack in MP3 format, a tactical game guide, as well as the original, unbeatable Operation Flashpoint Cold War Assault, as a sort of a bonus, which you can then send to a friend, if you happen to have one, or more. Really neat.
As I've mentioned earlier, there is no campaign yet, but you can try all sorts of singleplayer missions, which are designed to showcase some of the ArmA 3 improvements and capabilities. All of these are also available in the multiplayer mode. Then, scenarios. User-generated content, the kind of thing that made the original game and its successor so damn popular. But now, it's even more fun. Because you have the Steam Workshop right there, inside the game, and you can actually download missions without going to third-party servers and then moving mission files into this or that folder. Just one mouse click, and you have your missions. Bloody awesome.
Well, honestly, not much - and yet a lot. It's like what Volkswagen does with Golf each time a new version is launched. At first glance, it looks identical, but when you dig under the hood, you find a whole new world of tiny, soft improvement. The same thing here. ArmA 3 feels like a very decent service pack for ArmA 2. It comes with the same raw, realistic essence, which is the most important thing, and then gently builds upon it with a new physics engine, new graphics, some small fixes in the overall management, artificial intelligence and such.
Really nice. Again, do not expect miracles, but if you like an occasional pimpup of the graphics stack without any compromise in the quality of the gameplay or your ability to play, then it's totally worth it. Better skies, better sea and wave reflections, more shadows, more ambient details, just the kind of thing that makes you wanna sit down and play, because you know and expect the fun to have remained the same.
The Bohemia Interactive team has really invested a lot of effort in adding tons of new vehicles and planes, and then making sure they look the part, with exciting camouflage schemes, wear and tear when needed to make things feel more realistic. I am impressed, especially with the ever-so-slight Mediterranean sun glare and light dispersion, which you don't get in the Central and Eastern Europe. Apparently, the developers have taken this into account, so it's not just different textures, it's truly a different world they have given you.
The smoke and explosion detail is equally splendid. When you blast enemy armor or airplanes, you will be greeted with satisfying blooms of fire and debris, followed by jolly curls of black smoke. Quite beautiful in every sense, and it sure adds to the realism.
Realistic plumes of smoke after some merry gun blasting.
The attention to detail is everywhere. Air pressure after artillery shots causing your character to wince ever so slightly, losing aim and stability, the blast of dust around the artillery vehicle, the hot exhaust from tanks and armored vehicles distorting the view. No other game offers these.
Notice the distortion near the front roller wheel of the self-propelled piece. Genius.
On large maps, and this turns out to be an entirely game-related problem, your framerate might dip down for a second or two until the game engine computes all the details. So the rendering might make your machine wobble for a bit, but after that, once the objects are loaded into memory, everything works fine and smooth, at least as much as your graphics card can allow. Note: This has been resolved with the latest patch.
And now, we discuss the most important piece of this game. What sets ArmA 3 apart from all its competition is the sheer realism. No other game comes even close to being that good, it's not even worth comparing really. You won't be bunnyhopping or sprinting for miles without tiring or anything of that sort. So if you're into fragrate, go home now, play with your teddy bear.
ArmA 3, much like its predecessors, managed to create a beautiful, engaging, difficult, brutal setting for combined arms operations, with elements of infantry, armor, air, sea, and artillery all cooperating, with solid but sometimes pervy bots that still manage a reasonable deal of intelligence. Add one-bullet-kill risk, add UAV, thrown in huge maps, scant ammo, and realistic ballistics, and you're into some serious fun. Emphasis on serious.
Like any good fanboy, I started with silly things. Racing cars. Sounds stupid, I know, but when you have a five-star rated map available in the workshop, you sure wanna try it. Indeed, the car dynamics has improved a lot. In the past, vehicles tended to feel more wooden, and once you got up to speed, they had all the grace of an oil tanker building up speed for ramming the shore. ArmA 3 comes with much better steering response, but then I am rambling now, and this ain't one of my car reviews, although you can't not have at least one car reference in any given article.
Skoda, Zil and Zhiguli out; fancy new hatchbacks in.
Brake, brake, oh shi -.
You can swim if you want to, you can leave your friends behind.
Next, I explored the vast new inventory of weapons and maps. Here, I was ever so slightly disappointed. For the first time ever, the ArmA franchise has stepped away from its heavily influenced Soviet roots, into a new modern sphere of doing things. You no longer have Czech or Russian villages or cars, or anything that might fit well into your slightly stereotypical portrayal of eastern Europe in the early 80s. Instead, you're in the Mediterranean, and you're fighting using modern, stylish, Western weapons. The materiel also comes with funny new and rather generic names this time. For example, while the game features a lot of Israeli armor, in the form of Merkava IV battle tank, Achzarit AIFV and Sholef self-propelled howitzer, they are given shiny titles like Slammer, Amos and such. These are the West-friendly names, it turns out.
No more sinister little gulags and industrial plants; it's all sunny and hopeful round here.
Achzarit in the front, Sholef in the background.
Merkava IV main battle tank; in the forefront, a noob with a headset.
Your soldiers will speak in all kinds of languages, including Turkish, and you will ever so accidentally be fighting against enemies that look and speak Greek. Then, you will spot motifs that could fit well anywhere in the region, including Spain or Portugal. Officially, the game maps are modeled after several Greek islands.
There are a lot of interesting new things. The self-propelled artillery is really cool. You can arm HE, cluster munition, guided munition, all kinds of interesting things, and then let them loose onto the battleground, using the artillery computer. This is similar to what you had with MLRS in ArmA 2, but here, artillery plays an even more important part.
Cluster munition diluting vegetation on a hill.
You get zombies! Yes. Not DayZ but something that is called Dynamic Zombie Sandbox (DZS), also available in the workshop, and this seems to be like an early experimentation on how the zombie element might get fully integrated into ArmA 3, probably as an expansion pack in the future, plus it raises awareness to the game.
Now, compared to DayZ, you still get scared a fair deal, but not as much. There's something less sinister about the Mediterranean building style, even with all the rubbish and chaos thrown in, as opposed to neglected villages in the heartland of Europe. You find it easier to associate with zombies that wear an Orthodox priest robes and run through a Chernobyl-like scenery than a sunny little coastal town.
Sunrise in Zombieville; not as sinister.
The zombie action is a little frustrating though. You need not worry about food, water or your core body temperature, but you still need to scavenge for ammunition and guns. At first, you won't seen any zombies, but if you fire even a single shot, then will come at you en masse. Sort of stupid. You don't have an ax to kill them silently, so this is kind of self-defeating. Moreover, the zombies do not really drag or hop around like those in DayZ. They look like laid back, casual hippies, wearing sandals, and not the kind of creatures that will eat your liver raw. So they are not quite as badass as the competition.
You start naked, but then you can steal uniforms from dead zombie soldiers.
Zombieswearing sandals, w00t!
Do not fire your gun, or they will swarm you and ear you.
The available collection is decent. It's suitable enough for new players as well as veterans, especially since different missions are designed to highlight new weapon types and game options, like the control of UAV, which is a new thing, more artillery fun, and other cool things.
Using remotely operated weapons, neat.
First, for those already familiar with the franchise, virtually nothing has changed. Some buttons, but not much more than that, in essence. G does no longer open the gear panel, it's moved to I, which stands to inventory, and the other button now throws a grenade, which can be awkward the first few times. The gear panel is clunkier than before, and it's not easy grabbing new weapons and ammo. Sprinting is activated by Left Shift rather than double tapping, and I find this annoying.
60 seconds before the fun begins.
The game behaves just like in the past. Enemy AI is pretty good, and so is yours, up to a limit, and if you're a commander, you will have to hammer the keyboard quite a bit to get your men to do what you want. But in general, it's all good, and three light years ahead of anything even remotely similar out there.
This is the really fun part. So we all know that ArmA always comes with its mandatory set of lunatic bugs that only get half-sorted out after the first or second expansion pack is released. No worries. Indeed, you compensate for all the quirks, which add charm by the way, by having fun with your friends and family in shared sessions. One of you hosts a server, the others join in, and you start blasting your way around. There's nothing else like it. Total fun.
Oligophrenia in new form.
Some of the missions are really daring. Imagine fighting at night without NVG. Sucks, I know. But with your best buddies at your side, you're invincible, save an occasional respawn or permanent death, because this is no arcade, this is a war simulation. This, is, Sparta! I mean ArmA. ArmaaaaA!
Well, not all was golden. We've mentioned the occasional stalling when entering a new map and details have to be loaded, which most often happens when you rotate your character left or right and expose yourself to a whole new chunk of the map. This happens regardless of what graphics card you have, so you will have to wait for the Czechs to fix it. However, if you suffer from a chronically low framerate, disabling V-Sync and shadows can double or maybe even triple your results. This is not just a speculation, this is an actual recommendation that works.
The bigger issue I had was that during the ten or so hours of gaming, ArmA 3 crashed twice. This is not a nice thing, and it seems entirely related to the physics engine. I hope the developers will be able to fix this. Meanwhile, here's the trace for those interested:
Faulting application name: arma3.exe, version: 188.8.131.521, time stamp: 0x522d98ae
Faulting module name: PhysX3_x86.dll, version: 184.108.40.206, time stamp: 0x5164246f
Exception code: 0xc0000005
Fault offset: 0x001521cb
Faulting process id: 0x664c
Faulting application start time: 0x01ceb959d0e0dc0b
Faulting application path: ...\Steam\steamapps\common\Arma 3\arma3.exe
Faulting module path: ...\Steam\steamapps\common\Arma 3\PhysX3_x86.dll
Report Id: 00367cb2-2454-11e3-b876-f42d04e6ae46
Finally, the lack of campaign might disappoint some, but I do not think so. I really loved the campaigns in the original game, including all three packs. With ArmA 2, the social interaction and investigative parts sort of spoiled it for me, because I was hoping for a more straightforward combined arms military action. Therefore, I do not know what to expect, but I guess I will be spending most of time in the multiplayer mode.
Well, well, just a few days back, ArmA 3 had a hefty 1GB download, which seems to have fixed the crashes, as well as improved the framerate, and more importantly, the consistency of framerate in the game, especially when playing large, open maps. Moreover, the lag when loading map data is also gone. So everything seems peachy.
This is good news, and just as I've expected. Soon, we should expect even more improvements, better and smoother action on both island, less lag, even more consistency, small polishes and fixes to the game engine and logic, and finally the campaign. Makes opening the Steam client all the more exciting than ever before. Living la vida loca.
Arma 3 is the natural followup of the best series of first person shooters and war simulators ever made, and it continues the legacy with pride and accuracy. It sure does not disappoint, and delivers an excellent combination of look and feel. It is very hard upping the ante when you have legends like Operation Flashpoint and ArmA 2 shadowing you, but the team has done it again. They made an even better, more fun title.
Make sure you know what you're buying. There might be bugs and problems and maybe even crashes, and you will have to wait some time before you get the campaign, and I have no doubt there will be many many fixes and improvements and a handful of expansion packs and addons coming in the next few months. But if you don't care about all these, and all you want to focus on is elemental fun and realism like no other, then there's no better game for you to spend money than ArmA 3. So, if we must grade, so damn close to perfect. 9.5/10. Yeah. More reviews coming soon!