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Old 07-01-2009, 06:33 AM   #1
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Please rate this review: ARMA 2

A great idea on paper, less so on your screen

High: Massive scope and ambition

Low: Shoddy AI, interface, audio and scripting

WTF: Not being able to complete a mission because a NPC died for no reason whatsoever in the middle of the base camp.

I really, really want to like this game. Even now, I still really, really want to like this game. At the moment, however, I merely admire the thinking behind the game. Itís just a shame that the implementation from design to end product has somewhat failed. Now, before you go crying out that Bohemia Interactive is a small operation and should be given kudos none the less, it still doesnít take the sting away from paying out £25 on a product that a bigger and blander company could deliver seamlessly (wellÖthatís the theory anyway). Thatís the crux of my opinion, so bear with me and Iíll explain that yes, the game deserves kudos in the spades, but it would be better to wait till Bohemia Interactive has ironed out the bugs, preferably with a spade of its own.

Now, the mechanics of the game itself are on a par second to none. You get, straight out the box, an astoundingly massive world to play in. You even get an astounding amount of kit to use, all of which come courtesy of an astounding looking game. The scope of ARMA 2 itself is astounding. Now, I think we can all safely assume that (astounding + astounding + astounding) / astoundingly = a game of rare vintage + I should really get a thesaurus. But joking aside, the graphics are lovely to behold. Draw distance can be all the way to the horizon if you have machine enough for it. Water effects are gorgeous and itís a real treat to see the shoreline sparkle and fill your screen as your pet pilot takes you across the map in helicopter. The level of detail shown in the game is gratifying in the extreme. Just as an example, when I was trying to crawl across a field, I could even see the grass being flattened as I advanced. Itís a real testament to the graphics of ARMA 2 that the flat 2D texture of a handle on a helicopter stood out simply because itís so rare an experience. So rare, in fact, that it should probably belong on an endangered species list of some sort. Added to this is the ability to play with any of the vehicles you happen to stumble across on your merry rampage across the country of Chernarus, as long as youíre suitably advanced along the campaign, of course. Donít expect to jump into an Abrahams tank on your first mission after all. Chuck in a load of guns and a handful of warring factions in a disintegrating nation and you get ARMA 2. So where is the catch?

Well folks, the catch is the sometimes terminal stupidity of the AI found in team-mates and the often frustrating bugs found in the single player campaign. Oh, and the audio. Donít forget the headache inducing interface either. Let us deal with the smallest one first shall we? The audio is alright most of the time. Sure, subtitles and spoken word donít always match up. Thatís relatively minor, right? The problem lies with the noise that you get when you see somebody else. So, youíd think a relatively appropriate message would follow when you spot a potential threat, yes? Something along the lines of Ďwell, old thing, I see a chappie over there. Chocks away Ginger, and prepare to give that blighter a bit of the old lead, what what?í Well, maybe not that line exactly. But I certainly donít expect ĎMAN. UNKNOWN. 200 METER TO OUR. RIGHT.í It sounds exactly like it is. A poorly cobbled together jumble of speech files. Itís atrocious. Thankfully, somebody has already rushed out a custom speech pack to negate this. The second thing is the AI of team mates. The AI of enemies seems to be pretty watertight. Iíve been flanked by squads of gun toting enemies on occasion and I usually lose more fights than I win, thanks to my tactical expertise being on a par with that of a rock. But I must stress heavily that my own terrible situational awareness is substantially better than the AI of my team mates. During a fire fight or just out of the blue, team mates often wonít take your orders. I can understand that the driver of an APC might not want to go forward when the gunner is giving some good news to the bad guys, but when itís to get out the way of a tank then youíd think the bloody man would comply. So, you take the bull by the horns and jump into the skin of the driver (yeah, you can do that) in order to move the APC. So, now that you are busy possessing one of your subordinates mind and soul, the body you once inhabited (i.e. team leader AI) thinks that it would be just swell to order the team medic to rush the tank with his pea shooter. I mean, come on! Tops marks for courage, less so for common sense. I think itís possible to disable the team leader AI from kicking in when you switch into another team member but it then reduces your squad into brainless automatons. Which is the lesser evil, I wonder? Of course, all this is guesswork, as the manual doesnít cover what the devil the Ďsmart AIí (ainít that an oxymoron?) option does. Lastly, the bugs present in the single player are simply terrible. One mission I had to take out a heavily fortified encampment using nothing but a pitchfork and couple of two by fours. Since Iím not nearly the level of the A-Team I reckon I was supposed to call the mortars I was given at the start of the mission to seriously level the playing field. Or to a least put a couple craters into said playing field. The problem is, when I report the position of the encampment, my fire support option disappears without even a puff of smoke in sight. This is not an alien experience at all. Multiple bugs can crop up in a single mission, any of which can cripple your mission. To give the developers their due, they are really trying hard to redress these issues. However, that doesnít help me in the meantime.

The last thing to attack is the interface. Itís clunky. You really need to know your button presses before you can even do even relatively simple commands. Something as simple as ĎSee that person over there? Yeah, the one dressed the same us? Yeah, the guy who keeps yelling for a medic? Do be a good sport and give him a sticky plaster or something, will you?í That command took me quite some while to figure out. You have to get familiar with all the menus that are available to you. It doesnít even have a handy graphical interface for issuing orders so you have to rely on your knowledge of what button does what. I know a context sensitive menu is available, but when time is pressing and lead is flying, itís more useful to know the complex commands. It usually takes at least 3 button presses to get your people to do something.

So to recap, this game should be applauded. Itís a rare bird with bags of opportunity, vision and a robust engine if you discount the AI. Itís just unfortunate that you really have to look past the flaws (of which are legion) to get to the gold underneath. Donít go into this game thinking youíve found a sandbox Call of Duty 4, because itís not. It is geared towards a simulation and yes, you are going to get burned if you're not careful. My first experience of running gleefully into a field and crouching behind a tree got me hopelessly shot. If you want realism, this here is the game for you. If you can get a bunch of your mates together to play multiplayer, then you could have a rewarding experience on your hands. Just beware of the bugs, Ďcause this game is close to being crippled by them at this point. If youíre patient however, the developers are working on getting the single player campaign fixed. That may be the best time to purchase this game.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 40 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 0 times) and 5 hours of play to multiplayer modes.

Parents: Unsuitable for minors. Blood and violence is present and nature of game involves planning how best to eliminate opposing force. Game is rated 16+.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Subtitles available and set on as default. No integral audio would be missed, however.
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