One Phrase Sticks in the mind from the presentation of Armed Assault II. One phrase makes you ponder briefly what's changed in PC gaming, and what's changed inside our heads. When Marek Spanel says "We don't try to provide just fun - it's a deeper, more sophisticated experience than that", it catches your ear. It's not often someone derides the notion of fun, in a games presentation. Fun and games, right? They're like... shits and giggles. But Bohemia Interactive have never been frivolous, petty or whimsical. It's their continuing mission to give you an incredibly real location in which to wage a war. Whether you like it or not.
We used to like it With our most steamy, rose-tinted glasses on, it seems that PC games were once the very essence of exploration and discovery. Passionate, skilled, and unqualified mod-makers would be carried around the world on the shoulders of thankful gamers, and 3D Studio Max was as much a playground as Quake. We are stupider now, and games like ArmA feel like an anomaly. This shouldn't be the case; ArmA sold 400,000 copies without a global publisher, or even particularly glowing reviews. How brilliantly defiant is that? Let's get the basic stuff out of the way, first ArmA2 takes the conflict out of the fictional Sahrani of ArmA. and lands it into the equally fictional Chernarus.
Set in the very near future - the future doesn't get much closer than 2009 - it's October in this post-Soviet land, and the colour palette is appropriately rusty. Chernarusty, if you like. The country occupies 225km2 of meticulously mapped land, with terrain built from real satellite maps, with around 50 towns and villages spread amongst the game's 326km of roads (for more statistical fun see 'That's Numberwang!').
You take control of Razor Squad, a team whose well-rounded character sheets are at slight odds with the current state of the robotic communication (the generated barks don't stitch together very well at the moment leaving you talking to a robot with mood swings). The game's cutscenes see them in full character, though - potty mouths and all.
The engine is certainly looking better, although it's still a year or two behind the cutting-edge games which rely on bonfire night visuals to woo and confound. But visuals have never been where Bohemia have been cutting edge. A good example of this is the way they've declined to offer a DirectX 10 version of the game. Ninety percent of their community don't use it and they're working for their community, not to an imaginary new standard that was only ever really about coercing a Windows upgrade. Or, as they put it "We prefer users over the industry".
The advances are still there to be seen, though - dust clouds kick up from the back of trucks, helicopters form swirls of disturbed particles - it's a noticeable improvement over ArmA.
Talk of a role-playing element in the press materials might alarm some reality purists, but you might already have guessed that Bohemia aren't talking about levelling up. The role-playing here is in terms of keeping civilians happy - it's the battle for hearts and minds that the Americans kept forgetting about in Iraq. Keep the locals' trust and they'll co-operate, providing you with money. Be a gun-happy dick and they'll co-operate less, provide less money, and give information to the other side.
There'll also be multiple endings, depending on your decisions and failures. Just like previous games - and life - failing a mission doesn't end the game, it just affects events in the world.
There's good news for pilots, too, with the introduction of the F-35 Lightning and MV-22 Osprey Heliplane, both of which have vertical take-off and landing capabilities, so no more crash landing in a runway-less field.
In the multiplayer, you'll earn money from your achievements, giving you the chance to spend it on squad members and vehicles, from APCs to tanks. If you're feeling generous, you can also give it to teammates - or, if you're feeling like a cocky sod, give your enemies a few dollars for a nice new skirt. A side commander can issue missions to players and their squads, to give the game a really strong sense of a coherent military manoeuvre.
Commanding a squad takes a bit of getting used to, and can be done with a selection of F-keys (for selection) and number keys (to issue orders). You can also use the mouse wheel to issue commands. It's slightly less precise, but the application for any console versions is obvious. And now the potential for community involvement in the console market is growing, that's something that Bohemia are likely to be very interested in - even with the unlucky failure of Operation Flashpoint: Elite on the Xbox.
The emphasis is firmly, squarely, and unflinchingly on reality - that was the initial brief with OpFlash, and it's the passion that led to the US and Australian military using adapted versions of the game for inter-crew training. And let's not forget the military were trying to make their own simulators - so for Bohemia to outperform the US military's efforts, with all their obscene budget let's you know how seriously Bohemia take realism. But when you try to make a realistic wargame there will be some casualties.
Accessibility, for one - playing any of Bohemia's games is a waste of time unless you're willing to take it seriously and stop fannying about That means using sensible military tactics and obeying the chain of command. And no rocket jumping.
That's not to say there aren't compromises - even playing with a mouse and keyboard is technically a compromise in the battle for realism -but when Bohemia make compromises, it's always with a view to limiting the fantastic. For example, there are no Brothers In Arms-style circles above an enemy's position, to indicate when they've been suppressed by your fire. The inhabitants of Chernarus do not speak English, and the road signs - each one unique - will not be translated from the Cyrillic alphabet If you're in a foreign country, it's a bit much to ask. However, if your translator is present you get subtitles - an elegant compromise.
Bohemia agonise over these things, and concessions are trivial - parachuting into battle is only from 1,500m, they confess, and not the 7,000m that'actual Airborne soldiers would leap into a warzone from. "That would be boring," confesses Spanel.
They've also reacted to complaints that soldiers died too quickly and too often. But not by giving your character more HP, or by turning bullets into candy floss. Instead, they've introduced the idea of battlefield clearance and healing. If you're wounded, a squad member can pick you up, get you somewhere safe, and patch you up. It's not easy, and your saviour is taking a calculated risk; is it worth risking his own life to get you back on the battlefield?
Left 4 Dead may be at the other end of the gaming spectrum, but similar abilities promote a sense of interdependence and teamwork, way beyond "you go over there, I'll shoot stuff from over here".
The community is a huge part of daily considerations. Not only are many of Bohemia's staff plucked from the modding community, but part of the reason, Marek implies, that they fell out with Codemasters is that they spent far too long supporting OpFlash.
The game has always been a sandbox and ArmA2s armoury gives you the chance to play around with everything in the game. It's here that Bohemia's sense of properness takes a bizarre turn: 'everything in the game' includes a hen. It perhaps shows my own inability to fight in a war that I spend five minutes creating a hen, promoting her to the rank of Major, and pecking futily at a tank.
I'm fairly certain it's safe to say this wasn't Bohemia's intention - and I'm honestly not even sure if it was their idea of a joke - rather it's just shows how seriously they take the idea of the game being a sandbox, for users to play and create new wars in; to not let you take control of Major Hen would be taking your tools away from you.
Still, I bet they'll take out the ability to assign military ranks to hens by the time Armed Assault II is released.
Download Arma 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Codemasters May Have the Operation Flashpoint name, but Bohemia Interactive have the soul. Whereas the first Armed Assault game was a flawed, ugly, over-difficult, but fundamentally excellent, example of combat simulation, Armed Assault 2 looks like a different game altogether.
Meticulously designed real-life weapons and vehicles, accurate from their profiles right the way down to their bolts, turn ArmA 2 into a large-scale military sandbox. Though fictional, the land you'll b fighting around is based on real satellite imagery of an unnamed pail of Eastern Europe,''and even includes four castles from the area.
The Bigger Picture
- Military Might
There are 40-odd customisable army-specific guns in the game. They're all intended to be as realistic as possible - the ammo types won't just deal different damage, they'll have their unique style of tracers too.
Over 50 types of vehicle are in the game, including APCs, Mil Mi-24 gunships, and basic civilian vehicles. All vehicles will be specific to each side. But that doesn't stop you nicking an amphibious truck and driving it into a lake.
The fictional, post-Soviet country of Chernarus is the setting. Ravaged by a long civil war and plagued with an unstable political system, there's a delicate balance of factions at play. It's a country of insurgencies, counterinsurgencies, warlords, breakaway states and martial law.
- Fact And Fiction
Although the game is fictional, the story is as realistic as the action. Bohemia claim it "blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction". With recent news, the old NATO vs Russia themes have a chilling resonance.
- Bohemian Like You
ArmA 2s new version of the Real Virtuality engine supports multicore processors and Shader Model 3, and has a litter of other stuff such as "hemispherical lighting". This means that it will feature the most realistic dogs ever.
There's a new emphasis on characters in your sqaud. 'Eightball' is the linguist and son of a lawyer; 'Coops' is the college dropout turned recon guy; Tee Cold' Randy Sykes is a black ops marksman; Brian 'Scarlet' O'Hara is the ex-Navy medic. These are the guys who make up Razor Squad. Grr.