In between Armed Assault (aka ArmA: Combat Operations) and its sequel, recently announced at the Leipzig games conference, Bohemia Interactive has released a small, download-only expansion pack. The concept of expansion packs is not new for the studio – they released two sprawling, gargantuan campaigns and dozens of new scenarios for Operation Flashpoint over the course of five years. Queen's Gambit is considerably less ambitious than those efforts, however, and even though it does add two new campaigns and a few new vehicles and weapons, it's hardly more than a speed bump on the road to Armed Assault 2.
Grabbing Queen's Gambit is simple enough. BI has their own download service that bears comparison to the ones already established by VALVe, Stardock, and Paradox, and after handing over a credit card number and parting with some of your money, Queen's Gambit can be yours. The next question: do you want it?
Armed Assault, though the equipment was modern, was still set in a Cold War environment. Two states, one vaguely fascist and the other vaguely democratic, eyed each other across a barren DMZ and harbored conventional militaries that were, for the most part, identical. Everybody had tanks and artillery and helicopters. However, the situation today in most conflicts is radically different. Guerrilla campaigns against organized, conventional militaries are the rule and not the exception. With Queen's Gambit, Bohemia Interactive tackles this new form of battle.
|"With Queen's Gambit, Bohemia Interactive tackles this new form of battle."|
The situation at the beginning of the game is that the war which took place in Armed Assault is over and the forces of freedom have prevailed, but an insurgency in the north is brewing, and the U.S. forces that helped secure victory in the first place are long gone, so the suddenly besieged government calls in foreign mercenaries to help put down the insurrection. The campaign follows the mercenaries through the woods and mountains of north Sahrani, as they earn their hazard pay from the government and eventually side with the rebels after uncovering a sinister conspiracy.
Of course, the topic of private soldiers is a hot-button issue and BI seems to have realized this. Between the missions mercenaries talk about the morality of their actions and even make oblique references to the current conflict in Iraq. One mercenary, in a bit of pre-battle banter, tells his boss, “I don't want to end up shooting civilians like last time.” It can hardly get clearer than that.
The expansion adds a smattering of new weapons and vehicles: a large propeller-driven transport aircraft, a few pickups sporting machine guns, and a couple of small arms. The additions in this department are insignificant and actually rather disappointing, especially considering the tremendous leaps and bounds by which the mod community has advanced over the course of Armed Assault's short lifespan. If someone working in their spare time was able to import dozens of weapons and others were able to produce high-quality vehicles virtually from scratch without the benefit of the internal tools used by the developers, then I don't think it was unreasonable to have expected a bit more from this expansion pack.
Thus, the substantial changes brought about by Queen's Gambit are limited to two new campaigns, one covering three massive battles for control of an island, and the other following the mercenaries mentioned above.
|"...I don't think it was unreasonable to have expected a bit more from this expansion pack."|
The three-battle campaign is a nice chunk of action that, owing to its difficulty and scale, will probably chew up a few hours all by itself. The mercenary campaign is considerably more involved, in terms of length and storytelling (ham-fisted though it may be). Getting through that one is probably a six or seven-hour job, which makes Queen's Gambit a very economical proposition.
Of course those ten or so hours of gameplay are not perfect. In the mercenary campaign, the storytelling (never a strength of the series) has reached new lows and attempting to take it seriously is almost always impossible. The voice acting is very amateurish, there are plot twists you can see coming from a mile off, and the story relies entirely on B action-movie clichés to move itself forward. Just turn down the volume when a cut scene starts and head off to perform an errand or feed the cat. On the other hand, you should definitely come back when the mission starts, because for all of its wonky storytelling, the campaign missions in Queen's Gambit are actually pretty good.
Throughout the mercenary campaign you lead a small team of professionals sporting tattoos, cowboy hats and scruffy beards on a series of well-crafted missions that include nighttime stealth operations, liberations of death camps, convoy ambushes, and the defense of a TV broadcasting station. The mission objectives are clear, reasonable, and, for the most part, make some kind of sense. There is even a small degree of customization available. Most of the time in Armed Assault squads are made up of a man with a sniper rifle, one with a machine gun, a couple others with rifles, and so forth. By contrast, in Queen's Gambit you have the option of buying a totally new loadout at the beginning of every mission from an arms dealer, and while the concept isn't fully fleshed out (you can't take weapons from a dead enemy and sell them, you can only trade in what's on your person, and that limits the amount you can spend), it does allow you a measure of freedom that is refreshing and actually useful. Certain missions are made much easier by buying everyone in the squad a high-capacity machine gun, and the chest-pumping coolness of having four of your men let rip on full auto at the same time is not to be missed.
Queen's Gambit is a mixed bag. The new campaigns are solid and well-worth the effort despite their obvious flaws, but the vanishingly small number of new features, weapons, and vehicles make it difficult to recommend. Luckily the low price point makes the decision a bit easier, but in the end Queen's Gambit is still only a sure bet for dedicated fans of Armed Assault who are after more of a good time.