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Armed Assault 2 is a tough game to love, but love it I do. Ridiculously lofty in its ambitions and stubbornly determined to present the gritty realities of war, the bizarrely abbreviated ArmA 2 is not a game for the faint of heart or the short of patience. I can honestly say that ArmA 2 contains the most sublime portrayal of warfare I've ever experienced in a game. Unfortunately, its potential brilliance is severely hampered by crippling bugs and, in some instances, its own misguided aspirations.
Bohemia Interactive Studios have always been fully committed to developing the most authentic military simulator possible given the limitation that, well, dying in real life is pretty final. The trouble is that they already did this almost a decade ago with Operation Flashpoint and its subsequent expansions. Sometimes I rather wish BI Studios had left it at that. ArmA, the spiritual sequel to Operation Flashpoint, can rather generously be described as half-baked (and ungenerously described as complete rubbish).
Resultantly it was with some trepidation that I laced my boots, flicked the safety off my rifle and charged into the first mission of ArmA 2, a midnight reconnaissance mission in the civil war ravaged country of Chernarus. Needless to say, charging in was a stupid idea. The village my Special Forces team (named Razor) was ordered to reconnoitre turned out to be infested with jittery-fingered enemy soldiers and I was promptly gunned down from several places at once.
Dealing with civilians made me equally uncomfortable, sometimes having to choose between the wellbeing of entire villages and the safety of my own men.
Yes, ArmA 2 is as unflinchingly realistic as BI Studios' previous games. Yet the developers have given in to the fact that by-and-large we are not professionally trained soldiers, and have made a few concessions to the player. These include a simplified, context-sensitive command menu and, more vitally, a proper save system. The latter is nothing short of a godsend, for not only does the game aim for an accurate portrayal of contemporary warfare, it also strives to emulate the day-to-day business of being a soldier. This involves going on patrols, travelling large distances in an astonishing array of vehicles, and dealing with civilians, local militia groups and underground resistance fighters. In fact, there were extended periods in the game where I never raised my weapon at all.
For me, this role-playing element really added to the experience, particularly in missions that involved scouting for enemy campsites. Navigating through dense, quiet forests in full knowledge that enemy gunfire could suddenly erupt from any angle absolutely terrified me. Dealing with civilians made me equally uncomfortable, sometimes having to choose between the wellbeing of entire villages and the safety of my own men.
When the enemy finally did come knocking, having dealt with the locals and spent long periods silently trudging around the countryside made the action all the more special. In one instance, I spent a good half-hour tracking down a potential informant. Upon locating him in a small village named Novy Sobor he hurriedly warned us that an enemy platoon was approaching the village. Quickly we prepared our defences in a nearby building and managed to repel the attack. Triumphant, I went to question the informant, only to find him lying dead by the door. I was genuinely shocked, especially when, rather than restarting, the mission continued, offering an alternate method to gather the information I required.
The depiction of the effects of war on a population is surprisingly intricate, and the fighting is explosive and tactical in equal measure.
ArmA 2 is surprisingly open-ended in its objectives, which really gave me a sense of having an effect on the course of the war (for better or worse). In contrast, during large-scale battles, I sometimes felt utterly insignificant as artillery barrages thundered around me and bullets zipped past my shoulders, any one of which could result in my demise. Sadly, it was also during the more intense encounters that issues began to arise.
Aiming in ArmA 2 is a downright chore, with the mouse feeling depressingly sluggish even when I ramped the sensitivity up to maximum. The developers claimed the unresponsive aiming was part of the game's strive toward authenticity. This seems a dubious excuse to me. If authenticity is what BI want, surely pointing my weapon in the right direction shouldn't be a problem when I am supposed to be an expertly trained marksman. In my opinion, BI have become so concerned with the complexities of their game that they have failed to notice some very simple logical flaws in their own design.
Worse still, ArmA 2 suffers terribly from bugs, the worst of which I encountered halfway through the game during a convoy protection mission that incorporated a hidden time limit. As we left the safety of the campsite my squad suddenly became completely inert, refusing to obey my orders and thus rendering the rest of the mission unplayable. In fact, because of these problems, I have actually never completed the game.
This is a terrible shame, because when it works, ArmA 2 is astonishingly deep and complex. The depiction of the effects of war on a population is surprisingly intricate, and the fighting is explosive and tactical in equal measure. Strangely though, it's the less obvious things that made me fall in love with ArmA 2. In particular, the eerie, post-battle silence of Chernarus' sunlight-dappled forests that will remain in my memory for some time to come.
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