posted 8/18/2009 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC
While the gaming segment for military-based shooters is quite wide, running the gamut from ancient history to future wars yet to be fought (with a notably large spike surrounding the WWII era), the types of games available can be categorized more readily. The spectrum of types goes from the scripted “rail” games that concentrate more on action, theatrical presentation, and high body counts such as the Call of Duty series,  to the more cerebral strategic/tactical games like Full Spectrum Warrior where you don't shoot much at all, instead concentrating on squad tactics and leaving the dirty work to the computer controlled players. There are, of course, many games between those endpoints that layer various components together for a more hybrid approach. The Brothers in Arms series is a good example, with its squad leader mechanics smoothly dovetailed with actual fighting to provide a seamless merging of squad tactics with individual fighting.

With such a broad range of design elements available, game developers have to find their niche by focusing upon the needs of desires of their intended gamer audience. Those gamers looking for an intense, fast-paced battlefield rife with explosions and plenty of available targets are going to gravitate to the more cinematic offerings like Call of Duty, while those looking for more reality are going to be drawn to games such as Bohemia Interactive's ArmA II. ArmA II could be described as a tactical shooter that offers squad-level tactical command, strategic-level command, and individual-level down-in-the-trenches fighting in a realistic battlefield environment. All of this is available on a relatively massive, completely open scale that does not funnel the player through scripted paths and events. Nor is the player limited to action as a ground-pounding infantry grunt. A very diverse collection of vehicles is available, up to (down to?) and including farm tractors.

As you might imagine, this kind of depth and breadth to the military experience incurs a cost in complexity. ArmA II is not the kind of game that you can just sit down and play. Well, at least not with a great deal of success. There are a number of somewhat steep learning curves that a player must go through to get full, effective use out of the game. For example, as an individual soldier you will need to learn the various keyboard commands at your disposal. Some, such as the standard WASD movement commands, are similar enough to other games to pick up quickly. Other things such as weapons selection and configuration, require a little more time to become natural enough that you can perform them under pressure.

With the realistic health model providing absolutely no latitude for carelessness, negligence, or incompetence, there is no time to be fiddling around trying to find the correct key to select the weapon you need if you are in an enemy's sights. In fact, in my experience it is very likely that you will be dead before you ever even see the enemy if you aren't extremely careful. Again, realism can be a real bitch. A single shot from a soldier you never knew was there can bring a quick end to a mission, which can be very frustrating since the size of the physical environment is such that you may have been walking or running for a great deal of time before meeting your untimely end. Unlike some of the more forgiving games, you can't just cower behind a wall while your health recovers or pick up a mysteriously abandoned health pack and enjoy its instant recuperative properties. In ArmA II, if you get shot it is very likely to be your first and last time. So be careful!

Once the basics are mastered, realizing the full utility of ArmA II will require a lot of independent study and practice. An invaluable resource for learning advanced tactics, techniques, and procedures is the aptly named Dslyecxi's ArmA II Tactics, Techniques, & Procedures Guide available at the web site.

When (if?) you do find yourself in the laudable position of being the hunter rather than the hunted, you will have yet another opportunity to humble yourself in front of the altar of reality. The weapons are modeled to include trajectory effects and the guy holding the weapon (you!) doesn't hold a perfectly still aim. Even visibility can be an issue; facing towards the rising sun in the east in the morning will blind you and quickly give the tactical advantage to your target. There are quite a few factors to consider when maneuvering yourself and your troops into position for a battle. Because of this difficulty, I found it helpful to practice in less threatening or uncertain environments. I found two ways to do this: first, when I found myself in open fields and pastures, I practiced weapon operation by shooting cows. That had the salutary benefit of having a target that wouldn't shoot back, but that benefit soon became a detriment. I had to find a more advanced, interactive means to hone my skills.
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