Updated: July 4, 2020
No one would have believed, at the turn of the 21st century, that a small, obscure Czech game developer would create a good first person shooter. Because that's not what happened. They didn't create a good first person shooter. They created THE BEST first person shooter, the finest milsim in the history of computing and possibly the entire universe: Operation Flashpoint. In a world of arcade, Bohemia Interactive's title stood out as a beacon of hope for hardcore, uncompromising fun and realism. Even now, just saying Malden invokes a gush of deep nostalgia.
Fast forward two decades, ArmA 3 is the spiritual and material successor to Operation Flashpoint. And it doesn't forget its roots. The theme music is an orchestra piece laid over the original theme song, the gritty realism is ever present, and the community is working hard on re-creating the maps and scenarios from the older titles in the franchise. But then, nothing is sweeter than an official nod to the good ole times, and it comes in the form of Malden 2035, a future-reimagined map from Operation Flashpoint cast into the ArmA 3 universe. Naturally, it's time to go a-explorin', and what better way to do so than an intense, nerve-racking Dynamic Recon Ops (DRO) mission. Of course.
A couple of years back, Malden 2035 was released as a free DLC. It comes with some neat extras - including a set of Combat Patrol missions, where you can randomize the objective, the strength of the enemy force, and the location of your target. But most importantly, it gives you the ability to play and re-experience the classic Flashpoint combat across rugged, rocky coastal landscape and in small, deceptively serene towns, similar to how it was in the original game: cool Pacific vibe cum French rural villages.
But then, through a liberal use of mods, you also get extra factions, including the US and Russian forces, and it's like time stopped. Actually better, it did move, twenty years, giving you enhanced graphics and bringing back the magic that hooked you into this world in the first place.
So let's proceed. Our DRO mission was a seemingly simple one - find an enemy weapons cache and destroy it. Location? One of those small, deceptive serene towns.
I say again
We soon realized we weren't facing just ordinary infantry. We were up against experienced troops armed with SPG-9 guns and platoons of Spetznaz toting silenced AKSU. The mission started ... badly.
Early on, as we dismounted from our unarmed Humvee transports, an enemy patrol, astride a UAZ jeep armed with a 73mm Kopyo SPG ambushed us. The first HE round hit and destroyed the lead vehicle, and the secondary explosion disabled the other transport. We all got injured one way or another, so I had to run around, patching people. Hint: I always like to play the commander-medic role. A balance between taking and giving life, sort to speak. Nah, that's just philosophical vaxing. The AI medics aren't quite as effective as me, so there's that.
Slowly, we regrouped, and ingressed townwise, accompanied by the soft crackle of suppressed weapons. If you think urban combat can feel hectic, it's even more demanding when you can't really tell the direction the gunfire comes from, and the sound doesn't really tell you who's firing, the friend or foe. Then, to make things even worse, the enemy lurked in every building, and they were not shy throwing nades or firing RPG. As always, not unlike the photos from authentic military engagements, stills can't really convey the sense of chaos. It's when you start sweating between your toes that you realize you're fully and emotionally invested.
Normally, ArmA 3 isn't geared for urban combat, but even with this one so-called design flaw, it still gives you a pretty good sense of close quarter engagements. Fast, harrowing, frustrating. You definitely have to go slow and be methodical, and if you have artillery, great. We spent an entire hour, pegged down at this one place, inching through rubble. At some point, we almost ran out of ammunition and had to call in air supply. Not like the band. Same same but different.
The tide turneth
Outside the town, Malden 2035 presented us with a fresh challenge. Vineyards a-brimmin' with ambush-lusting foe. But at this point, we managed to commander one of the enemy SPG technicals, replete with HE ammo. So we continued in a rather crude but fun way. Two men mounted, the rest following on foot. Slow move, stop, fire, slow move, stop, fire. We'd sometime use the gun as mobile artillery, ranging far, or using it to soften the indirect-fire enemy positions before moving in.
Our initial blunder had made us extra cautious, which was good, because we managed to keep our commandeered vehicle intact - until we ran out of shells. And we did run out, because the randomly created map had an excessively number of foes, possibly more than a hundred, and they kept on firing the RPG rounds like independence day fireworks. But hey, that's what two or three hours of evening time are meant to be, right! Sweating between your toes.
Malden, you say
But you might wonder, how's this different than any other DRO? Well, each map has its advantages, its charms, its special mien of memories. The same way there's sad, soft serenity in the Chernarus Winter map, the same way Malden carries about its beauty and harshness combined. Perhaps to an untrained eye, it's just a bunch of textures, but for the veterans of this fine franchise, there's more to that.
ArmA being ArmA, the terrain plays an important part in how you fight. For instance, Takistan and Zargabad maps are huge, with impassable mountain ranges, the vehicles suffer from high-altitude loss of power, and you need heavy-caliber weapons for effective fighting. Chernarus is all about partisan action in wooden areas. Altis has a good mix of everything. Meanwhile, Malden is elegant and deceptive peaceful, with significant elevation and cliffs, which can force your combat maneuvers into deadly traps.
Back to base
The extraction was slow. You don't appreciate how tricky Malden can be until you need to leg it, with your last reserves of ammo, and the relentless enemy at your heels. As always, the DRO toss of chance means you don't know what will happen once the extract trigger is ... well, triggered. You could just calmly walk out of the engagement zone, or there would be a fresh batch of spontaneously spawned specops chasing you.
But the mission ended, successfully. And we were happy to have been given a chance to enjoy the magic of Flashpoint one more time.
Malden 2035 is an excellent addition to a solid game. As I've briefly alluded earlier, there's a lot more to it than just pure nostalgia, like the new mission types or buildings. But for me - and a whole bunch of people who grew up with Flashpoint, there will always be that desperate feel of Cold War, the sense of realism that didn't exist in computer games before and hasn't been re-created outside the ArmA family since.
If you like ArmA 3 - or would like to try your luck not bunnyhopping around, I strongly recommend you give Malden 2035 a whirl, especially if you did play Operation Flashpoint in the past, and you're looking to rekindle your childish, primal need for team work and big explosions. On my end, it was a great mission, and I'm happy to share it with you. We fought, we sweated, we won. Veni, Sudori, Vici.