"Don't knock it until you've tried it."
It's a cliché, I know, but it perfectly describes my experience with ARMA II: Operation Arrowhead. ARMA is the consumer counterpart of VBS, a real training tool used by armed forces around the world. Bohemia Interactive doesn’t want their product compared to other modern shooters on the market. This is a military simulation game with shooting, driving, strategy and tactics. All of these facets combined to create a reputation in my mind that scared me away from trying the game. I was concerned that it would be too hard or that there is no way it could actually be fun. I was wrong.
After installing the stand alone expansion pack, I took my time at working through boot camp. Since there are functions assigned to most of the keys on the keyboard, it was a little overwhelming at first. However, I was happy to find out that just about every movement I could make in the real world can be made in ARMA II. There’s the ability to sprint, crouch, go prone, hold your breath (for long-distance shots) as well as hopping over low walls or checking your compass and watch. It took some time to remember them all but it quickly blended into part of the experience.
Boot camp also teaches you to pilot a helicopter and UAV. While I didn’t need this education for the campaign level I played, I used these training exercises as mini-games. A helicopter can be tricky to manage; it’s made easier with the option to have the game “auto hover” for you while you take off and land. It was liberating to gain control of the skies and made me anxious to see how I could fly while under fire. After all of the time I spent in boot camp, it was time to put it into practice.
As a stand-alone expansion pack, Operation Arrowhead is set three years after the conflict in ARMA II. A flashpoint in the fictional Green Sea region sends the US Armed Forces to Takistan to restore peace and prevent further civilian casualties. The environment will look quite different to veteran players. Takistan is modeled after Central Asia, which means wide open areas with sparse vegetation. Also, Operation Arrowhead features the US Army, unlike ARMA II’s use of the US Marine Corps. Players will have the opportunity to fill various roles during the campaign in the US Army such as infantry, special operative, pilots and tank crew.
The mission available for the preview build I played was called Coltan Blues. Several civilians are being held captive in a mine and it’s my job to infiltrate, locate, and extract them safely. I took the role of Sgt. Terry Graves (aka “Gambler 1”) a Delta Force trooper leading three men into the mouth of the lion. I’ve got a medic in the group if things get messy, but hopefully the marksman and my skilled leadership will avoid problems. The communications officer will radio for extraction as soon as we’ve accomplished our mission.
I load in and am controlling Gambler 1 as the mission starts. I’m hanging out of the side of a helicopter giving a final briefing to my team. The pilot is hugging the hills to avoid detection because the Middle Eastern setting doesn’t provide a lot of trees or vegetation for cover. We are dropped off just north of the mine; we’re far enough away to plan our approach and (hopefully) scout enemy patrols. The draw distance is amazing. While I descend on the mine from a large hill, a town in the distance is getting attacked. Enemies are scrambling, tanks are exploding, and I’m nearly a mile away watching through the scope on my rifle.
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