Updated: June 5, 2017
If you ignore the ever-so-nagging DLC suckfest, ArmA 3 is an excellent game. Sorry, scratch that. It's a gritty, accurate, realistic, brutal, grim, slow-paced, not-for-kids, top-notch combined-arms war simulator, a worthy continuation of the finest and really only FPS series - everything else is just silly arcade for 10-year-olds - which had started with the most legendary Operation Flashpoint, continued with the utterly sharp and splendid ArmA 2, and now we have this third installment. No new news here per se. But.
I play the game quite often with friends in privately hosted servers, and we go about testing and trying different mods and scenarios available in the Steam workshop. We look for engaging, high-quality, bug-free content that can be installed without too much fussing, and mostly through the game's integral interface. Recently, we came upon a magnificent mission called The Last Hope - Abandoned. It's so good that I decided to write a complete review. Follow me.
Zombies and Demons
The Last Hope - Abandoned is a single-player or two-man COOP mission, with the classic zombie fiber. You wake up in a post-apocalyptic settings, a world infested by zombies after the outbreak of a deadly virus. The story is familiar, and you'd expect the execution to be cliche. Well, almost.
The scenario begins with you (and your fellow player) indeed waking up in a woodland cabin, dressed in modest civilian clothing, and only a single weapons crate. You get two rifles and a handful of bullets. Nothing fancy. As the scenario briefing highlights, this particular mission is not about going about blindly shooting zombies. You are meant to be discreet, you are meant to be wise, and you're meant to conserve your ammunition. That means using your brain to figure out non-violent solutions to a big problem.
If you think rationally about it, in a world populated by zombies and a few lucky (or unlucky) human survivors, brute force is not going to cut it. The force multiplier just isn't in your favor. You cannot kill everyone, so you must use subterfuge and guile to make it through. Even more importantly, the zombies are contagious. If they touch you, scratch you or bite you, you will yourself become infected and die. Then wake up as a zombie.
The Last Hope uses the excellent Zombies and Demons mod. This one follows in the footsteps of DayZ, a very scary, very tense mod, which was initially available for ArmA 2, and which I've reviewed extensively, including a handful of Youtube video clips plus a somewhat (mostly) unfunny Zombie-Badger narration parody.
The zombies come in all shapes, flavors and sizes. The eyes glow red, which sure isn't heartwarming. They totter and waddle, but they can also break into a mad run. A few of them also crawl spider-like on their backs, not unlike Pazuzu in The Exorcist. They also make scary noises, including huffs and hums and growls, which are not always spatially accurate, so you almost have a feeling there's someone breathing down your neck. Let's say, playing in a dark room is not advisable. Oh, and the zombies can only be stopped with a headshot. Oops.
The story unfolds ...
Anyhow, you and your friend need to figure out what happened. You need to collect intel from abandoned houses and rotting corpses, and then follow the hints and suggestions toward salvation. The quest begins with you and your buddy walking through an empty field. A thick fog settles, reducing visibility to just the meager blob of your rifle flashlight. There's heavy rain, and brooding music. At this point, we thought about abandoning the scenario and watching Teletubbies.
Then, you stumble upon an abandoned army camp. Ruined vehicles, dead soldiers. Nighttime and still more rain. Instinctively, you climb into the observation tower, because you expect to find something there. Indeed, you do find more information about the outbreak and some spare weapons. At the same time, you start noticing a sort of background noise, in between thunder and the steady patter of rain. Random, erratic noises like breathing or moaning. Step out onto the tower ladder, and you see a rain-slick field full of zombies, just standing there, hundreds of them with glowing red eyes and blood-spattered uniforms, your former colleagues, watching you. Waiting. Waiting for us.
You need to get into the Hunter vehicle, but there's a whole lot of them in front of you. Another Teletubby moment. Then, a few start shambling forward, approaching the ladder. You start firing, aiming slowly, carefully, well aware that you don't have enough ammunition for the entire lot. Headshot, one, two. Luckily, this horde is slow. Somehow, you can walk around them and get quickly into the Hunter vehicle.
You follow the instructions from the gathered intel, and then, there's the radio announcement, which sure doesn't make things any easier. It's too dark, and you can hardly see. But you don't stop, you never stop, you keep driving, even if it's in circles, trying to figure out what to do next. Stopping means a zombie could very well pop out of the rainy darkness and attack you. Then, through luck and some cunning, you get to a safe zone.
We few, we unlucky few
A small group of survivors have entrenched themselves in a village. They have supplies, including food and weapons, but they do not have the means to escape the area. As a newcomer, you are asked to prove your usefulness, which is not unrealistic for a brutal, ugly, Game-theory-brittle, post-apocalyptic world. If you wish to be included, you must contribute. So you are sent on a mission, to collect supplies from a ruined helicopter.
This is a relatively easy mission, just enough to help you gain trust with the survivors, but then, you are sent to retrieve a helicopter engine from an old factory. What seems to be a simple enough assignment soon becomes a nightmare. At first, there are only one or two zombies wandering in the yard aimlessly, and a couple of well-placed suppressed shots handle the situation. But as you start wandering about, walking through buildings, searching, the zombies get a scent of their prey.
A simple sinister moment. You just turn around, and they are there, in the corridor, walking. Yes, they climb steps and they open doors. At this point, my friend and I found ourselves stranded in a building that had a definite 70s vibe of an old, disused hospital, and dozens of zombies coming from every angle. Then, my friend got scratched ...
Within only a few seconds, he told me he was feeling funny. Odd. Uncoordinated. The world seems to have slowed down for him. That his vision was turning blurry and hazy, and then ... he was a zombie, too.
Luckily, respawn is available, but you get no gun. Nothing. You must wander through pitch-black darkness alone, trying to find out an old corpse and salvage some clothes or weapons. Meanwhile, I was left alone in the building, shooting, trying to escape, quickly running out of my meager stock of bullets. Then, I got mauled by a fidgety zombie, and within a few seconds, I started developing the same symptoms, just as I managed to slip out of the building. My movements became retarded, the colors in my vision started running, and then, I was dead, too. Had the authors of The Lost Hope wanted to make it a brutal one-timer like DayZ, we would have failed at this point.
After a while, we succeeded finding our old gear. Rearmed, we continued the search, and then it dawned. Hazy gray colors of hope. No zombie in sight. Relieved, we eventually did find the helicopter engine and brought it back to our new friends.
The Last Stand
Still, we could not escape. The pilot was held hostage by a group of rogue survivors. Alas, we knew it would have to come to man-vs-man. Even in an ugly world where everyone should do their best to help one another, there's always people with selfish motives above all. And so, it became a Gunfight at OK Corral, exacerbated by hordes of zombies shambling our way, attracted by the sound of firing. We had to dodge bullets and sharp nails, and there were so many of them. Eventually, we managed to repel the undead and defeat the gang in close-quarter battle inside half-ruined shanties. With the pilot in our hands, we escaped to the safe area.
The scenario ends on a happy note. The team finds its way to the downed helicopter, and with the tools and the engine and the pilot, we were able to escape the zombie-infested region. Where to? The scenario does not tell, but the two hours of tense gameplay provided more than ample fun and satisfaction to our frightened minds. Again, I'm no fanboy of scenarios or mods, but sometimes, you stumble upon some really good, hidden gems.
The Last Hope - Abandoned is a great scenario. It is designed and executed with baby-smooth balance. There's just enough of everything to keep you engaged and motivated, without being over the top. The focus isn't on a turkey shoot, or you trying to outrun a million zombies. The focus is on cunning and intelligence, and the game excels in delivering the right kind of atmosphere. All the triggers work well, everything is timed perfectly, there are no bugs. The decor is of high quality, including music, narration and ambient events. And there are also a couple of side quests, if you want to explore beyond the strict narrative.
But that's not all. The author mentions he will be coming out with a new mission, with even more side quests and a longer main story. If The Last Hope is anything to judge the sequel by, it's going to be brilliant. I am so happy to have found this scenario. It excels by not trying to hard. Genius through moderation. And maybe just a little bit of horror. Take care. And sleep well.