ArmA III alpha impressions: The start of something big

ArmA III Alpha

By on March 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Dawn breaks over Stratis, pushing back the stars so accurately rendered that they could guide a lost wanderer — such is the level of simulation at play here — and for a solitary moment in what will likely be a digital lifetime spent in war-torn purgatory, it’s quiet. The videogame sunrise is something long since perfected — god-rays breaking over any variety of hill or sprawling beach — but few capture the early morning silence that completes the picture.

At the same time that rising sun pulls back the curtain on Bohemia Interactive’s latest refinement of a genre not just founded but forwarded, enhanced and defined by them and them alone, and for all of its love affairs with the breadth of blood-soaked battlefields — satellite imagery rendered to the nth degree — the early-morning sunrise has always been a highlight. Bohemia have a way with detail.

That details shows in the cities, true-to-life recreations that would have their real-world partners feeling like familiar places if ever visited. It shows in the “Crack!” of a distant AS50’s gunshot reaching your ears seconds after you’ve heard and felt the impact of the shot close by. It’s in the ghillie suit, hiding an enemy player in plain sight. Yet in the same breath, that unapproachable detail has always been Bohemia’s achilles heel, as if throwing up a warning sign to anyone with a passing interest in this curiosity of a genre.

But something’s different this time around.

The zombie’s bite, so lambasted for the genres it has crippled, has instead been kind to ARMA, infecting its sprawling landmass with the sprawling hordes of both zombies and players, infecting it with the staying power to keep on top of the Steam sales charts month after month after month. 2012 was the year ARMA finally received the introduction it deserved — not in decried “accessibility” but in an inviting apocalypse that highlighted not only the how but the why of ARMA’s near maniacal obsession with the trajectory of a bullet.

DayZ started it, Wastelands furthered it, and as they’ve begun to tire, ARMA III’s Alpha and its island of Stratis have arrived to the rising sun of new faces ready to serve the ARMA cause, sir. DayZ may well have wandered off to greener standalone pastures, ensuring Chernarus’ preservation, but there’s a new horde waiting at ARMA III’s door.

This could be big. Really big.

For now, though, it’s very, very small. Stratis, while larger than ARMA’s previous off-shore excursions, is a 20 km2 island that will play host to ARMA III’s continued development and its current focus on infantry refinements. A small blip on the some 270 km2 landmass that is Altis — ARMA III’s main island that dwarfs that of Chernarus two times over.

So where does a series, and its developer, go, then, when their only competition is themselves? The devil, as always, is in Bohemia’s detail, not just increasing draw distances tenfold, but refining wholesale. The changes are initially so jarring there’s a knee-jerk reaction to reject it point blank and fall back into ARMA II’s embrace. The comparisons are easy ones to make – Chernarus and all of its quirks have a way of working themselves under the skin – and yet the assumption here is that ARMA II is the pinnacle of realism that all others need to be judged by — but devote more time here and going back to Chernarus can feel entirely too wobbly, swirling around like a soldier made of jelly who could fly out of control at any second.

Combat is an entirely refined beast, familiar for those experienced with it and yet closer to the long-held standard for FPS controls. ARMA II’s sluggish movement is gone, so too its floating, flailing rendition of an aiming system – systems so endearingly ARMA but decidedly uninviting to anyone already out of their depth.

Mash out an ever-increasing number of Street-Fighter-esque button combinations and you’ll enter one of ARMA III’s new stances, allowing greater interactivity between soldier and the environment that both combatants are attempting to bend to their will. More than that, take aim down the sights and you’ll find increased flexibility – a light jog and no more of ARMA II’s stop-to-shoot silliness. This, amongst ARMA III’s stable of changes, is its key to unlocking a far greater variety of combat paces and engagements, dragging ARMA’s combat out of the one-dimensional box of the slow-paced crawl of advancing enemy lines.

The end result is a small island that is currently playing host to early intricacies and a future of possibilities, in an Alpha that will evolve, twist and contort over the coming months as release approaches. Parameters will be tweaked. Features will both come, and go. Its deep sea diving will expand to something more than a novelty. Promised possible additions of mountable weapons and new flight models will scratch the patch-note trawling itch of enthusiasts, while remaining ignorable by newcomers looking to see what all of the fuss is about.

Not that this early look-in for the ARMA-starved isn’t without its expected problems, filled with as many instabilities, performance wobbles and server crashes as it is possibilities. Bohemia’s definition of Alpha is truer to life — fittingly — than the betas-cum-demos of the modern videogame landscape.

So it’s all a bit messy, then, but it’s an exciting mess: the scribbled outlines of a great artist laying a foundation. A week or so in and Stratis is already feeling cramped, a pity since ARMA’s finest moments come when it has room to stretch its legs and unfurl the wargaming table top with a flourish. If nothing else, DayZ’s success has ensured Bohemia now has a lot more eyes watching it, awaiting Altis’ first morning sunrise and all of the days that follow — and now more than ever it’s approachable, and better yet, understandable.

This will be big.

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26 comments (Leave your own)

Great story, Jamie. Well set out.

 

Obviously being an Alpha things still need improving but at least its certainly on the right track especially compared to previous releases. I have had quite few bugs compared to Arma 2 and thats in the Alpha stage.

 

‘Combat is an entirely new beast, familiar for those experienced with it and yet closer to the long-held standard for FPS controls. ARMA II’s sluggish movement is gone, so too its floating, flailing rendition of an aiming system – systems so endearingly ARMA but decidedly uninviting to anyone already out of their depth.’

Well that’s disappointing; it was always a deliberate choice so people don’t just snap around like they don’t in real life. I’ll have to watch some combat footage before deciding whether to buy this game or not as having people just pop each other off at 500m like nobody’s business wouldn’t be fun.

‘a light jog and no more of ARMA II’s stop-to-shoot silliness’?

You can move and shoot in ArmA 1 and 2 actually, so I doubt you ever tried either.

I’ll be curious to see whether ACE will move onwards with ArmA 3 with the reduced realism it’s offering.

 

Should get my alpha lite key today or tomorrow. Really looking forward to it. Never played ARMA before!

 

Well gosh. Now I just -have- to get in on it. And admittedly, for $33 on Steam with the guarantee to have the full game, that’s cheap as for a AAA release.

 
Jamie Dalzell

@Forumrabbit

In regards to combat – don’t be mistaken – this is still ARMA’s trademark reliance on the familiarization not just with how each weapon behaves, but understanding distances, bullet drop and how terrain affects the situation. Combat is as tactical as ever, if not more so given the already expanded array of further stances/options – it’s just far more varied in terms of the speed of encounters, and you’re much more – in my opinion – believable in your maneuverability.
ARMA II was great, but spend any time with ARMA III, and you’ll better notice the sluggish wall between what you want to do and what your ARMA soldier is capable of.

And yes, I understand you can move and shoot in ARMA II, but it relegates you to a slower-than-walking pace that is rarely, if ever, useful. With ARMA III’s changes here – a light jog/slow run – manoeuvres such as infiltration and the quick clearing of buildings is a viable possibility.
Attempting to chase moving targets with sights up in ARMA II was near impossible – you were better off stopping and trying to line up a shot – hence the stop and shoot comment. Have been playing non-stop – literally non-stop – since DayZ’s release and am nearing 400+ hours of military silliness, so I hope that counts for something ;)

Hope that helps clarify any fears/questions you had :)

 

I works just like arma 2′s combat its just that with the shoot-from-the-hip part, the crosshair is more like BF3 than Arma 2. This only effects you if you play on easy, if you’re like me and play on expert you’ll never encounter this issue. Game plays just like Arma 2 from my experience.

 
HotdogWithSauce

You can move and shoot in ArmA 1 and 2 actually, so I doubt you ever tried either.

The point I think Jamie is trying to make is that the ‘move and shoot simultaneously’ method is noticeably more clunky in ArmA I and II. The gap of being able to “run and gun” is a little more seamless in ArmA III and, in my opinion, more refined than its predecessors. Of course it was possible in ArmA I and II, but it certainly feels different in ArmA III.

Also, to suggest the writer must have never tried either based on one sentence is pretty slack, dude. Come on, you can be more articulate and less unnecessary insulting than that. Don’t be lazy and rude for no good reason.

 

I am concerned about the combat comments. I don’t want a “run and gun” from ArmA III.

 

gammad:
I works just like arma 2′s combat its just that with the shoot-from-the-hip part, the crosshair is more like BF3 than Arma 2. This only effects you if you play on easy, if you’re like me and play on expert you’ll never encounter this issue. Game plays just like Arma 2 from my experience.

It also requires a litle roleplay like when I play arma. Play it as realistically as possible which means treating radio comms, reactions, formations, all of it realistic regardless of how the game handles those realistically or not.

 
HotdogWithSauce

jme,
Don’t be fooled, ArmA III is certainly not heading towards the play style of other first person shooter games. It still definitely keeps true to its original roots of being a realistic simulation first and foremost.

Just consider ArmA III to be a more polished and refined version of ArmA II (as it should be, really). In my opinion, BI have done a great job at improving on animations and interactions that took away from the immersion that ArmA II tried to create. If you asked me, I would honestly say that if you genuinely enjoy playing ArmA II, you will most certainly enjoy playing ArmA III.

It all sounds new, different and perhaps scary but once you start playing, if you’ve had previous exposure to its predecessors, I think you will find yourself continually saying to yourself “this works much better than it did in ArmA II.” Things have been tweaked slightly, but for the better; it’s even closer to being a realistic simulator now than it ever was before. Don’t worry, you have nothing to be afraid of.

 
Jamie Dalzell

@J-Me – Then you have nothing to fear :) The only running I’ve done is running for cover, followed by sitting behind said cover for twenty minutes trading the odd bullet with a sniper. The variable pace to combat is a good thing – the option to break off a part of your squad into a fast, unseen flank or a “We have no hope, lets go out in a blaze of glory” situations are exciting new options – but it’s the same ARMA (I’ve) come to appreciate.

 

forumrabbit:
“blah blah”

I’ll be curious to see whether ACE will move onwards with ArmA 3 with the reduced realism it’s offering.

Dude you wouldn’t know realism if it hit you in the face. It’s not a reduced realism offering, if it was their military contracts (yes BI have military contracts…) would cease immediately. Not only that you haven’t even tried it, yet are trying to make claims based on thin air, again…

Seriously how about going and doing some actual testing and using real data for your comments in future instead of your usual armchair vitriol you keep posting.

jme:
I am concerned about the combat comments. I don’t want a “run and gun” from ArmA III.

There’s no need for worry here. The game plays a lot smoother, but doesn’t turn into a Call of Battlefield clone. It does allow for the player to have actual control of your avatar unlike with ArmA 1/2 where you were always fighting with the avatar to get it to do what you wanted.

 

ArmA 2 and earlier you always felt like you were controlling a puppet on strings, so i felt, rather than the fluid movements of a human with at least basic muscle control. Watching ArmA 3 it looks much more refined in that area, and in no way does it look unrealistic.

 

Ive been smashing this since its release. Mostly in the Editor.
As HotdogWithSauce said “Just consider ArmA III to be a more polished and refined version of ArmA II”.

 

Krystal Ruch,

How is that being lazy, exactly, for having played from OFP onwards? That’s the antithesis of laziness in this discussion.

All I’ve seen is infantry snapping into position to shoot quicker than call of duty for crying out loud; I haven’t tested it myself so it may’ve been patched but I hope it’s not that quick on release. Hell even their sprint seems unnaturally fast with all the gear they’re carrying, I hope that gets tweaked too http://youtu.be/oI3RHg5DA5U?t=8m17s. The twitching now means CQC under 100m will pretty much be over in seconds between two guys unless cover is present, but that’s hardly realism outside of very lucky or opportunistic circumstances.

I’m also seeing zero exhaustion (is it even there?) from sprinting around 200m, something that was very crucial to the first 2 games in maintaining their realism and not just having someone sprinting at the enemy and popping off 3 guys in 2 seconds.

RSOblivion,

You know their military contracts are based around VBS? I’ve yet to read any sources claiming that the ArmA 3 engine would be used for another VBS, or indeed if one is being made after VBS2 but I’ll gladly read any sources you have.

The rest of your post is just pure nonsense.

 

forumrabbit,

“”All I’ve seen is infantry snapping into position to shoot quicker than call of duty for crying out loud”

Didnt take long for your exaggerations to start. No argument holds up if you resort to exaggerations, just turns your post into nonsense.

 
Jamie Dalzell

@Forumrabbit – I think the operative word you’re looking for here is “Alpha”, and it really is an Alpha. The chopper flight model resembles NOTHING of what it’s going to be in final release. Grenades are a simple button press. Deep sea diving is nothing more than a novelty and, hell, just yesterday they removed the rain weather effects because they want to improve them in a month or two.

Everything – quite literally everything – is in a constant state of flux. Updates are regular and they’ll be both big and small – the next will be tweaking running/movement speeds and animations – so you can’t really throw it under the bus at this stage. As I said, there’s potential here, and even without those changes this is still a massive refinement. Watching videos is hardly similar to playing the game.

 

Forumrabbit, you are a retard.

If you actually tried it (like the rest of us have) you’d KNOW that it’s nothing like Call of Duty. There is not “snapping” there is combat pace and the removal of reverse mouse acceleration.

Yes there is fatigue, you cannot sprint forever, again you’d know that if you’d actually tried it.

For someone who appears to care so much about the integrity of ARMA you’d think you’d actually give it a shot before lambasting it with the CoD clone banner.

 

tera,

I agree with Forumrabbit.

I’ve played it, and I’m actually figured out a way to quickscope to a level of 200 metres. It’s hard, but I can do it. I predict people will be ’360 noscoping’ in no time flat. Also, the fatiuge sets in after 9.5 kilometers. Not exactly realistic?

 
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