Bohemia have built their most solid, stable sandbox yet -- but it's still more promise than content.
By Jamie Dalzell 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.
- 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.
- 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.