Getting the game, and a word on piracy
Armed Assault: Combat Operations (as it is known in the States) is available at many software retailers and online. You don’t have to pay a German guy to buy it for you.
Of course, the game can also be pirated. However, unless you possess a valid CD key from an actual copy of the game’s manual, the game will engage in a process called “fading,” whereby the gameplay degrades to the point where it is unplayable. People on forums complaining about their shots winding up 90 degrees off-target and their helicopters constantly spinning out of control for no reason are probably warez monkeys – either that or terrible players.
Armed Assault was designed and produced by the same studio responsible for the 2001 jack-of-all-trades military sim Operation Flashpoint, and Armed Assault plays more or less the same. There are major improvements – 3D ironsights on all weapons, far larger terrain masses, much-improved graphics, vastly improved multiplayer code, many new capabilities added to the scripting engine, etc., but those anticipating some sort of seismic shift away from Operation Flashpoint are not going to be pleased. Most of that game’s problems have been solved in Armed Assault, but the series has not jumped the shark.
The core gameplay of Armed Assault involves the player taking control of a soldier armed with a wide assortment of modern military weapons faithfully reproduced and accomplishing an adversarial or cooperative mission with a garage full of realistically modeled military vehicles from both the Eastern bloc and NATO. This can take a multitude of forms – teaming up with buddies in tanks to blow up a city, screaming across the sky in a Harrier, or swooping down a mountain pass in a Littlebird to deliver your teammates into the maw of the enemy. Very serious stuff.
My remark earlier about ArmA not really being a game refers to its free-form nature. Aside from mission parameters and available equipment, you really can do anything you want in ArmA. There are no boundaries, no time limits (unless imposed by the mission), and no arbitrary restrictions of any kind. This allows for free-wheeling seat-of-the-pants tactics as well as methodical, by-the-book playstyles to flourish equally. It’s a purist’s “sandbox” game in uniform.
"Aside from mission parameters and available equipment, you really can do anything you want in ArmA."
Queens of battle
Infantry combat is the foundation upon which ArmA is built, and those familiar with Operation Flashpoint’s groundbreaking simulation of first-person shooting will find their favorite system back for a second run. There are three stances – prone, kneeling, and standing – and weapons can be fired either from the hip or using ironsights or a scope, if available. The player’s weapon still “floats” with respect to the viewing frustum, something which probably takes the longest amount of time to get used to but is ultimately one of the coolest features of the game. Leaning, sprinting, and climbing over obstacles round out the infantryman’s basic toolbox.
But he has other tools as well: his weapons. ArmA ships with a wide array of Eastern Bloc and U.S. military weapons, from M16s to AK-74s and everything in between. Every weapon is meticulously modeled and has its own unique sound, recoil, and accuracy at range. Weapons in ArmA definitely have more character than they do in your average FPS.
Vehicles play a huge role in Armed Assault. There are fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, tanks, armored cars, jeeps, and even knockoff Toyotas and Datsuns. And unlike their counterparts in Battlefield 2, every one is modeled with some attention directed towards realism. The end result is that driving a tank feels like piloting a 60-ton steel beast and winging your buddies into a hot LZ in a Littlebird feels like balancing a paper cup on top of a stick in a windstorm. It takes hours of offline practice to be able to pilot a plane or a helicopter successfully, but when someone screws up the results are usually pretty spectacular, so it’s almost worth it to send some untried pilots aloft and lose the aircraft. And it’s equally worth it to hop in the seat yourself and cut low across a wheat field or zip between buildings in a helicopter for no reason other than to do it. I’ve wasted hours in ArmA just flying around the game world and trying not to crash.
The campaign that ships with Armed Assault is a pathetic shadow of the campaign that shipped with Operation Flashpoint. There are side missions and branching story arcs, but for the most part the meat of the game is to be found in individual scenarios and online. Play the offline scenarios to gain proficiency in piloting advanced vehicles and for familiarization with ArmA’s unique approach to infantry combat.
Online, Armed Assault shines. The mod community, despite the fact that no official tools have been released, has already begun cranking out superbly detailed weapons and vehicles, and already there are hundreds of multiplayer servers playing dozens of custom missions. At peak hours, there are as many as ten 65-player servers maxed out and numerous others with slots free, and even in the most unlikely hours there are a few well-staffed servers where you can play. Part of this is ArmA’s popularity across the world and not just here in the States. If I may wax poetic for a moment, the sun never sets on Armed Assault.
"...there are hundreds of multiplayer servers playing dozens of custom missions."
Graphics and sound
Playing Armed Assault, from a hardware standpoint, is sort of like rolling the dice. There are rigs that can swallow other games whole that run up against ArmA and stop short as if they’ve hit a brick wall, and there are other machines that run the game fine with what could be considered mediocre hardware. I recommend trying the demo before buying the game, not so that you can sample the gameplay – it rocks – but so that you can see if the game will run for you. I had to tweak settings quite a bit, and, thankfully, ArmA gives you wide latitude to change the individual bells and whistles of the game, from scaling down shadows to tweaking post-process effects and altering the texture quality. And, much to its credit, ArmA scales magnificently. While it may not run as well as you’d like it to with your hardware, it will run. I managed to get it going on a laptop with a 2GHz dual-core processor and a business-level graphics card, the ATI X1400. And, of course, it also ran on the review 3.2GHz 64-bit AMD machine with a GeForce 7600 GS. ArmA will run on your rig; the question is just how good it will look.
From a sound standpoint, everything in Armed Assault is loud and frightening. The whoop-whoop of helicopter rotors can be heard from hundreds of meters away and the piercing whine of a jet engine is audible over even the heaviest firefight. Speaking of firefights, you will soon learn the distinctive crack that an incoming round makes and how to figure out where it came from solely based on the way it sounds. It’s actually a bit creepy when you realize the reflexes which ArmA inculcates, but in the end it’s a testament to the realism and the off-the-charts immersion factor of the game.
"It’s actually a bit creepy when you realize the reflexes which ArmA inculcates..."
Armed Assault is not for everyone. Some people find the free-floating weapon and the militantly anti-arcade gameplay a big turnoff. Others find the scope of the game tedious and boring. However, if you want an intense and thoroughly entertaining military simulation with limitless possibilities, huge battlefields and explosions and gunshots real enough to send you scampering for cover, then your game has arrived.