Have you survived the glut of FPS games that have inundated this generation? Generic shooters have jaded some to a point that they only passively pay attention to a once revolutionary genre. Bohemia Interactive stands its ground, though, and delightfully denies the norm with their ArmA series. Gamers have a chance to revisit the ArmA universe with the recent release of the stand-alone expansion called ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead. The realistic military simulation fills a niche, but the final experience feels rushed and incomplete.
A short campaign mode provides a back-story for the action. Three years after ArmA II, some bad stuff is going down in the Green Sea region. Enemy forces have taken over a desert area in the fictional Takistan and it’s the US Army’s job to restore peace by eliminating enemy forces and freeing any possible POWs. Takistan is designed after parts of Afghanistan so expect a lot of dirt with minimal cover; instead, you’ll be presented with wide-open areas involving vehicle combat and long-ranged warfare.
Who knew that such a barren landscape could create scenes so visually appealing? The environment itself is a believably harsh enemy tempered slightly by the occasional wildlife that hops or glides past. Operation Arrowhead provides many “wow moments” both man-made and natural. Hanging onto a helicopter as you approach a drop zone gives you time to gaze out at the setting sun. The serenity is abruptly destroyed as an enemy tank explodes in the distance and bullet tracers graze the “little bird” helicopter you’re riding.
Each MK 17 assault rifle, Styker combat vehicle or CH-47F Chinook helicopter are painstakingly recreated in-game. Both air and ground vehicles “feel” right and carry a sense of weight that conveys a sense of momentum. If you drive that Stryker vehicle erratically, you’ll knock down signposts and weak walls. Destructible terrain and items are a wonderful feature, but they don't always make sense. Why can I destroy a stone wall with a Humvee but get stopped dead in my tracks while driving a tank when I clip a wooden pole tent?
If you have a screaming fast computer then turn up the graphics and enjoy the ride. However, the frame rate was so terribly inconsistent that at times it became nearly unplayable especially in areas populated by buildings. I’m a “computer guy” and squeeze every ounce of performance out of my PC but I struggled to get a smooth-playing experience. This is worth mentioning because Bohemia Interactive touted the “optimized engine” prior to release but I fail to see that reflected in the final product.
Problems also arise with character models and animation. It feels like I’m still playing a pre-release build when I hop out of a vehicle and see through my character’s head until his helmet loads. Or I’ll start a descent down a ladder and see my hands holding onto thin air in front of my face. I also found it nearly impossible to strafe (walk sideways) through a doorway. These are all forgivable but only serve to remind you it's just a game and detract from the realistic experience Operation Arrowhead is trying to create.
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