Updated: July 7, 2017
As big as the game industry is, in the past 17 years, the ONLY company making serious war simulators has been Bohemia Interactive. Everything else is just heavily-scripted movie-like arcade. It all started with the legendary Operation Flashpoint. Then we had ArmA 2, and now ArmA 3. A game that will test your soul, your persistence and your keyboard. Not necessarily in that order.
I've already written a handful of reviews on ArmA 3, most notably my first encounter plus a nice zombie mission, so it would seem another article is unnecessary. You'd be wrong. Having recently invested several hundred hours more in ArmA on private servers, with friends and whatnot, all ex-military, just like Bohemia's dev team, I found fresh passion and interest in this amazing first person shooter slash combined-arms simulation. So let's salivate a bit more.
Like real combat, sans the risk of getting killed
That's the idea, right. But then, you realize it's not just a game. You end up playing a single mission for several hours, there's no pause button, no accelerated travel, just gruesome fighting, you sweat between your toes, and the only reason why the revive function is there, it's to give people some hope of surviving the combat. Then again, a large number of scenarios does not offer any relief. Persistent death, and in the best case, you will be spectating the remaining players through the eyes of a random bird. This can be quite annoying, especially after you made some honest progress an hour or three into the mission.
Rarely will the enemy do predictable things. The disposition and strength of enemy troops will only be estimated, they will use smart, aggressive tactics against you, they will use smoke and signals, they will coordinate their attacks, and it doesn't take much more than a shot or two for them to pinpoint your firing location. Enemy vehicles will not just shoot everything they've got, if they come close, they will also try to run you over. No retreat, no surrender.
To be able to enjoy ArmA 3, you need to be committed. You will get angry and frustrated, you will hate the lack of fairness, you will hate the asymmetry, and sometimes, you will just hopelessly, forlornly watch as enemy armor rolls through your base, and you have nothing to stop it. Or the enemy may have overpowering numbers, and simple missions become diehard engagements.
Bullets and missiles coming from everywhere. Smart enemy AI that will try to outflank you, sneaking around your positions, using fragmentation and smoke grenades and suppressing fire. Difficult visibility conditions, with rain, fog, bad lighting, and vegetation all in the way of a clear shot. Sprint, and you will get tired. Your aim will get all shaky, even more so when you're under fire. Breathe in to get a little bit of stability, or place your weapon on some kind of support. Windows, rocks, sill, they all work.
Of course, there's no bunnyhopping
It's not all Shaving Ryan's Privates. If you're defending, you will probably be able to lay down mines, Claymores, bouncing APERS, anti-tank stuff - but do not be surprised if the enemy sees them and walks around. Playing as CSAT, you will actually hear enemy soldiers say: "I see a mine." Oops. They will also try to destroy your machine gun nests and towers, so you lose the advantage of superior firing positions.
On the upside, you may get artillery support. This is one of the strong sides of this game, and you'd better use it wisely. Whether it's 60mm mortars, mine clusters or even guided anti-tank munition deployed by 155mm howitzer batteries or the scary, powerful 230mm MLRS-like salvos, you can and should use artillery to disrupt enemy attacks. Sometimes, you will only have a few rounds. But you may also be lucky and get virtually unlimited support. Even then, though, it can take a good minute or so before the artillery hits the targets, so you will have to try staying alive for a while longer. Preferably singing Bee Gees.
The artillery can be dangerous. Badly aimed, it will land close to friendly troops, and then you have a two-fold problem. Especially with the 230mm rockets, which can still send a deadly shock wave a good 100 meters away or more. Or you may find yourself hopelessly surrounded and decide to play it out as a hero, requesting a salvo on your position.
Just observe the Defend Kamino mission results, following roughly 7-8 waves of enemy attacks over a two-hour period. The map shows all the locations where the artillery support was called. We're talking 60mm ordnance, in salvos of usually 6-8 rounds, plus some use of flares during night combat.
You can also call in helicopters and close air-support (CAS) airstrikes, with laser-guided bombs and free-fall munitions, and you may sometimes have mechanized infantry and tanks to assist you. On paper, it all makes things easier, but then, even tanks can be destroyed if you're not careful.
Then again, if you're facing tanks or heavily armored vehicles, don't be surprised if your rockets barely scratch their turrets. To wit, here's another great example of the brutal realism in ArmA 3: Defend Kamino, the 6th or 7th wave of enemy attacks, and the bad guys have just brought in an IF-6 Panther. This is fictitious name for Namer, an Israeli AFV based on Merkava Mk.IV, which has sneaked into the game as the Slammer MBT. In a nutshell, it's a tank without the 120mm cannon, some 60 tons worth of armor, and no vulnerable turret to speak of.
Three of us (human players, right) were facing this thing, and decided to destroy it with RPG-42 rockets. We each had a launcher and four rounds. We fired our entire batch of 12 rounds, but we failed to destroy the Panther! It was ridiculous. The vehicle was damaged, but still working, still dangerous. Eventually, we had to call in the 2S9 Sochor support, to deliver a guided round, and only then was the Panther finally knocked out out action for good. Blimey. This does remind me of the story of an Israeli Merkava Mk.IV in 2006 taking some 25 Kornet direct hits before it was penetrated and disabled.
A notable scenario that comes to mind was a combat recon assignment, with the goal of destroying an enemy artillery piece, located in a small village. We even had an APC at our disposal, armed with a 40mm cannon, so it looked like an easy task. But as soon as we hit the target, we realized our mistake. Enemy transports paradropped several platoons of spec-ops, and we got hit by an anti-tank rocket, losing half of our squad.
In the end, we spent roughly an hour and a half stranded on the side of a road, at the top of a hill, presenting a juicy target to the enemy in the wooded valley below. I even found myself crawling into an old chapel and firing from inside it, holed up for a good half an hour before they took me down. Fortunately, the mission did have the revive parameter enabled, so it wasn't all gloom and doom for me.
You want to call an evac helicopter, but you don't want to lose your only chance of bailing from deep inside the enemy territory. So you must suppress the enemy first, but you no longer have the vehicle, the remaining squad members are all wounded, and you're running low on ammo, about to scavenge rifles off the dead foe.
But that's not all. You can also use UAV terminals to fly, well, UAV, and also operate remotely control weapon systems (RCWS) on the ground. The enemy will have these as well, as he may also deploy and use remote machine gun posts, so do not be surprised if you suddenly get decimated out of nowhere, especially if you're advancing into a heavily fortified territory with strong enemy presence.
If you're feeling adventurous, you can use patrol boats, mini submarines, and of course fly all sorts of craft, all of which add to the variety and excitement, especially when you need to use these platforms to good effect to support your team. Sometimes, the mission may be something as straightforward as airlifting troops, but this gets tricky when the enemy has MANPADS. Sometimes, you will also be sent into the combat zone free-fall style, just don't forget to open your parachute in time. Sounds fun, until you realize the AI does not really obey the Geneva convention, and they will glad shoot at you, man and AFV alike. It ain't fun getting sniped by a 30mm cannon, for sure.
You will sometimes need to use toolboxes to repair damaged vehicles, and use explosives to destroy weapons caches and enemy bunkers. You even have laser rangefinders and designators, so you can guide in airstrikes, and mine detectors for when you need to plow a way through a minefield. You may think this is just a marketing gimmick, to make the game feel and look believable, but it's very real. I've probably died a dozen times in a handful of MP missions, sometimes by accidentally wading into an enemy minefield and sometimes by tripping explosives laid down by friendlies during a hectic defense operation. If you're wondering, yup, you can use artillery to deploy mine clusters.
Be aggressive, be be aggressive
ArmA 3 will test your soul. Yes, it's only a game, even if a highly accurate one. But over time, you will start to care. No so much about the game, more about your own personal commitment. Even the outcome of a mission is just a screen that says job well done, when you put 3-4 hours of your unrewindable life on the table, you want that effort to mean something.
You will get angry. You will get frustrated. You will hate that your squad only has light weapons, and the enemy comes a-chargin' with armored vehicles and heavy grenade launchers. Sometimes, you will just crawl around, bleeding, unable to do much about the superior enemy firepower. It almost makes paranoid sense to carry a couple of RPG on any given mission, just in case. You will find yourself carefully marking down the position of dead enemy AT soldiers, so you can take their weapons.
In the end, it's all great fun. When you combine the noise, the chaos, the precision, the intelligent artificial intelligence, the effects of weather and fatigue, and the well-orchestrated play of different arms of modern armies, you will realize there isn't anything like this elsewhere on the market. ArmA 3 simply stands out as a simulator that lets you do things like a real soldier as opposed to just silly arcade.
The only downside ...
Well, it cannot be perfect. DLC. That's the dark smudge on an otherwise pristine sheet. ArmA 3 features in-game downloads, which go totally against the creed of serious war simulation. Think about it. You run around a map, you find a dead soldier, you want to collect his weapon. Nope. DLC. You need to purchase it. What.
This is a suckfest of megalodonian magnitude. It's also intrusive, because if you play maps or scenarios that do let you have an initial loadout with premium weapons, you will ever so often be reminded you can buy them which is distracting and completely unrealistic. Because if there's a corpse, and you can access its inventory, then you should be able to use everything. Otherwise, why not slow the playback for non-premium users? Or downgrade the graphics? Or make them wait at random points on the map? Ridiculous, pointless stuff that destroys the very fabric of what the whole ArmA spirit is all about.
I really don't mind expansions. For example, Age of Empires. Another legend. I purchased all three recent packs, because they do enrich the game. But the thing is, there's nothing to interfere in your gameplay. Either you have certain features or you don't. The same should apply to ArmA 3. You buy extras - as an expansion - and then you can enjoy them. You don't, no biggie. They never show up. OFP had this. New campaigns, new stuff. No problems. This new model may bring in revenue, but in the end, it will scare away loyal users. And as someone who had gladly bought every single title Bohemia released, that tells something. P.S. I did buy the Apex expansion pack, because this is how it should be done. No probs there. So, a review of this shall also come in due time.
Pretend the DLC thing did not happen. ArmA 3 is a superb piece of fun. Raw, hard, difficult, extremely fun. You will need to gear yourself up, and it's not about pretending to be a wannabe soldier or anything like that, although I'm sure quite a few people have probably imagined themselves re-writing Bravo Two Zero and Blackhawk Down after playing ArmA 3 for a few hours. Nope. Let's face it, still something that happens on a computer screen. But it happens with such realistic delight.
If you want to experience war simulation on another level - and no, no corporate charity shirts proving you're a tough man - ArmA 3 is the answer. You will learn and enjoy the delicate mechanics of asymmetric fighting, the balance of power and the lunacy of rifle versus tank, the ballistics, and simple human nature. You will exert yourself, test your expletives skills, and learn to cooperate and work hard together with your friends. In the end, for a violent escape from an even more violent reality, ArmA 3 should satisfy your needs. The pinnacle of BIS development and war cunning, with better graphics and more sophisticated AI engine before. Plus of course fresh profit greed unbecoming of a soldier. But that's a battle for another time. Game wise, the best there is, why don't you grab it and have a go. 10/10. Splash out. A Tanoa review coming soon!