ArmA 3 reviewed: Build your own game in Bohemia’s gorgeously huge island

ArmA 3

By on September 16, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Nestled between the rolling hills of Altis’s north-western forests, you’ll find an odd looking town. Sprawling up from the valley below, it clings to the rockface as if scrambling to the top, houses perched at odd angles. Approach from the west and this town of Abdera is framed by wind turbines, spinning ever-on in the distance. A location crying out for an ambush.

Let curiosity guide you further east, and you’ll discover Altis’s signature solar power plants, dotted around this 270 square kilometre expanse, but found in concentration here. Clamber to the top of one of their towers and you’ll catch the perfect view of this island’s airport, baking under the summer sun. Stare long enough and you’ll catch the mirage of a military airfield in full swing, where jets and choppers make hurried take offs to provide air support to soldiers under fire.

And when you’re feeling lost in those vast expanses? Hitch a ride out west to the old capital of Kavala. A deserted city that stretches for kilometres along the coast, before turning inland where civilisation fights desolation. In the midst of which sits a hospital, awaiting an undercover assassination and a hurried evac in a Ghosthawk lying in wait on its helipad.

ArmA 3, and its island of Altis, is a place that sparks the imagination. Bohemia’s obsession with the finer details of war may be their calling card, but this series has always been as much an opportunity to visit far-off places as it has a chance to engage in far-reaching conflicts. It’s for this reason that the first days here are spent at walking pace, these scenarios just a few to spring to mind on a leisurely stroll.

Bohemia’s most impressive creation, Altis is a departure from those that have come before it. Whether it was the deserts of Takistan, or the forests of Chernarus, they were all large but largely one-note. In Altis, though? You’ll find sheer variety – a North, South, East and West with a personality all of their own. Altis is where ArmA 3’s tagline of “This is War” finds its home, yet in truth “Build it, and they will come” would be as fitting a moniker as any. To wander Bohemia’s latest creation is to scout locations for your own personal war stories. To find sets awaiting a visionary director to pull back the curtain.

Now, more than ever, Bohemia are reliant on those who come to its parched Mediterranean terrain with more than a hint of imagination. They do so without the initial enticement of a single player campaign, whose absence will inspire reactions ranging from a shrug of the shoulders to forum-spamming rage. What little content there is here for those who prefer to roam as lone wolves  — found in Showcases and Firing Drills — are nothing more than curios. They act as showcases of Bohemia’s newfound home amongst near-future and ‘What If’ weaponry, more than missions in and of themselves.

Here is where ArmA’s long-running relationship with the modding community is at its brightest. Bohemia is now reliant on its players to fill the gaps left by those features that remain curiously absent — where is the ability to rest a weapon, or deploy a bipod? — as well as bulk out a scarce singleplayer content library. And while community reactions to this new role as content creators may have been less than enthusiastic, filled it they have. The Steam Workshop overflows with missions of every variety, and forums are filled with modifications made by a community that would see this game at its best… even if they have to do it themselves.

The campaign’s shift to free, post-release DLC could be seen as something of a curse in that light, but it’s also a blessing. Those iterations that arose from six months of Alphas and Betas have, in turn, ensured this is Bohemia’s most stable release: this sandbox of Altis is built on a solid concrete foundation.

This new stability can found, too, in ArmA’s core. The rucksack weight of an unwieldy movement system no longer hangs over ArmA. If ArmA 2’s encounters were ones of confederate soldiers lining up in awkward rows in the name of war, ArmA 3 is a chameleon of a modern soldier, versatile and agile. This is a playground with the ability to handle wide, sweeping tactical manoeuvres as deftly as two man SWAT  teams, carrying out raids under the cover of darkness. Battles are now fought between warring factions, rather than between player and their keyboard.

It’s in the online battlefields where those warring factions meet at their best, worlds away from the troublesome AI that continues to dog its single player scenarios. ArmA’s zombie cousin may be a game of betrayals and hesitant relationships, but ArmA is one of camaraderie, where it’s more valiant to die in the act of saving a friend than to live and leave them behind. Whether in co-op or through any of the game modes that arose through ArmA 2’s lifetime, the true power of ArmA 3 isn’t seen until it has the opportunity to stretch its multiplayer legs.

But while the singleplayer’s poor AI may force you online, ArmA’s continued unevenness with multiplayer performance tends to force you back the other way. It’s all a bit of a tug of war in these initial days. An unplayable mess in one moment, the most stable of things the next.

So enlisting now, at launch, is much the same proposition as it was during its alpha and beta: an opportunity to invest in ArmA’s future as much as its past achievements and present state. For any other developer this would remain a shaky proposition, but there’s no reason to doubt Bohemia’s commitment to continuing to nurture and expand. Three DLC episodes of campaign await on the horizon, alongside two new jets and who knows how many other tweaks and future content.

As ever with ArmA, this is a series that grows into its skin over time, a platform to be supported and expanded into the future. And in ArmA 3, Bohemia have found their most reliable, malleable foundation yet. There’s just enough here to make the most of those possible opening scenarios. A sniper ambush in the hills around Abdera. A hasty evac from Kavala’s hospital. Just enough content to create stories for days. But Bohemia have never been shy of grandeur — Altis the shining example of that — and given time there’ll be stories here to last a lifetime.

ArmA 3’s future tagline may well be “Build it, and they will die” – and what memorable deaths they will be.

Good

  • Altis is the ultimate form of virtual tourism. A wanderer’s dream and a scenario maker’s dream come true.
  • Core refinements make this the most approachable, versatile platform ArmA has ever been.
  • There’s no denying ArmA 3’s rendition of the Mediterranean is a gorgeous thing. A level of visual fidelity and a view distance to last for days.
  • Steam Workshop and its growing integration with ArmA 3 will only help to expand the modding community, and open this often unapproachable side of ArmA to the masses.
  • Home to scenarios and encounters that could only ever arise from a sandbox this far-reaching in its aims — whether with friends in co-op or randoms online.
  • Battles that last for hours, stories that last a lifetime.

Bad

  • The lack of a singleplayer campaign on release will upset some.
  • Multiplayer performance is as shaky as a tired soldier’s aim. Frustrating when not working, military poetry in motion when it does.
  • Some features still remain curiously absent – the ability to rest a weapon or deploy a bipod.

ArmA 3 is available on Steam for $59.99. The reviewer purchased their own copy at their own expense.

Screenshots used in this review taken by the reviewer on their own machine.

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8 comments (Leave your own)

The island’s phenomenal and I still can’t believe how well it runs at launch for a game from Bohemia.

But I was kind of disappointed that there isn’t more stuff. Playing around in the editor and there’s 1 tank for each faction, 1 attack helicopter each and so on and so forth. The fantastic variety of the map’s brought down by how little you can add into it imo. It’s not lacking in things, just not overflowing with them either.

 

Arma 3 is the best basis for their grand vision that they have delivered yet, things play a lot smoother, the gameplay experience – controls, graphics, sound are fantastic.

The content though is severely lacking at present, even more so if you have played Alpha or Beta.

The lack of a singleplayer campaign which up until recently was touted as a major feature (and has been of previous games in the series back to and including the original OFP) will be a big turn off for some. Sure Arma II made a crap load of sales due to MP only content – in particular Day Z, but the series has always had a heavy singleplayer experience focus as well. So to discount the lack of a singleplayer campaign, or even some coherent missions, is just glossing over the problem.

DLC will fix it is an increasingly common mantra in the gaming world. Adding “free” to it is just really absorbing the impact.

The showcases can be rather entertaining, especially considering the AI still has the BiS feel – meaning sometimes the AI is serviceable and sometimes it is abominable and you will wallow about trying to kick over a trigger or find the one guy who won’t rejoin formation and has decided to not board that vehicle there is plenty of room on.

As you said it’s enough to drive you to play the multiplayer experience. Which is quite fun. It’s enjoyable to work effectively as a team with other players in Arma, covering each other, briefly plotting your tactics – contact, IFF and engage. It’s where the game, and the series, is at it’s strongest – when people work together.

Of course there were a tonne of games/modes I played where people would lone wolf it in a vehicle forcing you to run your sorry arse about everywhere, and 3/4 of the way there have the objective change while your incompetent AI straggle along. That’s when it becomes a chore to play. Also currently the MP experience is funny performance wise, sometimes things will be beautiful and smooth and other times your computer will chug and it’s not server latency related.

It’s a beautiful sandbox but at the moment there is not many toys in it, and a few cat turds to look out for. Community involvement and BiS continued support should see the content pour in thick and fast and at quality. The core of the game is much more solid than in previous iterations in the series, a strong foundation to build on.

Also noted that they have jacked the price up now it’s on release.

 

Should probably add to the bad points that it still has a LOT of bugs. That the UX is terrible and that simple things that could be fixed remain (like changing a weapon locking you up from doing any movement, even if you were moving before starting to change weapons). If reviewers don’t touch on these points then they will never fix it. Arma players learn to live with them, clearly you are an Arma player (or if you weren’t are no, because it’s awesome) so you have learned to live with the many bugs that happen very very often.

I don’t want a campaign, I want bugs fixed and their server architecture to suck less. They still do a lot of the multiplayer stuff on the client side, that’s why everyone gets a dsync, that’s why when you shoot someone the dying animation starts, doesn’t play nice with server and pauses, then continues.

If they spent as much time as they did on lights on bug fixes/optimizations and a less shit server system this game would be my perfect 10 of all time.

Now that I have finished ranting I better go play some Arma 3 ;)

 

Is there an ongoing management, manpower (humanpower) or productivity problem at Bohemia?

 

jme,

Personally I just think they are an incompetent company in general. Or that their staff hasn’t changed meaning they don’t know how newer things are done. A lot of game companies still use SVN for this reason. Also feels like they have no real lead developer, someone to say “look here is a bug, go fix it” and instead they just all work randomly on things. Otherwise surely more bugs would be fixed…

 

jme:
Is there an ongoing management, manpower (humanpower) or productivity problem at Bohemia?

Always has been, always will be. Either their management are totally incompetent or they’re just crazy understaffed compared to other devs, it always seems like each person is working on 50 things at once and none of them ever get finished properly.

It’s an engine that just BEGS for content and traditionally it’s not them that deliver it, it’s the modders. On their own merits the franchise and company wouldnt exist, mods like ACE and 6th sense back in the day are what kept people playing for longer than 2 weeks.

 
TheGreatSkratsby

Gosh this takes me back to the old Games.on.net Internode review of ArmA 2, it was a positive write up but the game was made out to be the last of its kind, a scarce last ‘big, complex opended ended game made for PC’ which always stuck out to me.

It’s crazy to see Bohemia still working away on their mil-sims and this seems like their most stable release since Operation Flashpoint of all games; digital distribution, YouTube and stuff like Day-Z has done wonders for Bohemia in promoting the series.

It’s a bit of a bummer how there’s a lack of content in ArmA 3 compared to the others, but gosh. It actually feels good and really delivers a sense of agency that I haven’t felt in the series since Flashpoint. Hats off to you Bohemia, the community and Jamie’s review too – a damn fine read.

 

Lack of content?
I care rather little for those campaigns. Especially when there are already hundreds of usermade missions available.

Aside from that, when I play ArmA3 with my friends in coop, we often start with nothing but our custom-made base on the map.
From there we head out on patrols or with specific objectives and one of us uses MCC (mission control center) to create/modify the actual mission on the fly.

That way you have endless content and you’ll never know what happens next. :)

Playing with MCC is a bit like playing a pen&paper roleplay game, where your dungeonmaster makes sure the story goes on and everyone is involved. If done right, that can be pretty awesome.

 
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