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ArmA: Combat Operations

Score: 77%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 32 (Online)
Genre: Shooter/ Strategy/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

For all intents and purposes, ArmA: Combat Operations could be considered the sequel to Operation Flashpoint, which combined realistic strategy with what looks like a FPS. ArmA features many of the same mechanics as a typical war-themed shooter, though with a greater emphasis on realism, which is either a great thing or not-so-great thing depending on how you look at it.

ArmA's visuals are good and fit the game, though they really don't stand up to other games currently available on the PC. At the same time, ArmA's scale earns it leeway. Environments are huge and filled with small details that sell the realistic feel. Areas rarely feel like they were planned out - at least when compared to more linear shooters. One of the few downsides is that the visuals are inconsistent. Some characters and vehicles look great, while others don't. Obviously the game looks its best with all of the visual bells and whistles turned up, though this creates some framerate issues.

Voice acting is generally good, at least during story sequences. Radio chatter doesn't sound great, mainly because it was obviously pieced together using separate pieces. Other than the spotty radio chatter, everything else sounds great. ArmA is one of the few games on the market where you really get the impact of bullets hitting around you or whizzing past your head. All audio is positional, which helps when trying to determine where you should go next or where the action is. Background gunfire isn't just for effect, but a signal that a battle is going on nearby.


ArmA: Combat Operations places you on the island nation of Sahrani as a U.S. soldier who is part of a detachment training the army in pro-West South Sahrani. As your group is pulling out of the country, the regime in the Northern part of the island attacks its neighbors to the South, trapping your group right in the middle.

Rather than following a series of limited, small "levels," ArmA's missions present you with large swaths of land to complete combat operations in, giving the game an immense sense of scope. Missions come in two types: Primary and Auxiliary. Primary missions are the main mission you must perform in order to progress the story. Auxiliary missions, on the other hand, are secondary missions that influence your Primary goal. For example, if your Primary goal is to defend a village, your Auxiliary mission may be to ambush the enemy's convoy and cut off their supply route, making their assault more difficult.

Mission design is ArmA's strongest feature. The scenarios are massive and, while they sometimes boil down to generic goals like defend and attack, the scale makes you feel like you really are part of a giant military operation rather than a game. The only caveat made to realism is that you can pilot just about any vehicle you come across. Again, vehicles stick to the same level of realism as the rest of the game, so don't expect cars to hold up like tanks in battle.

Online play is another of ArmA's strong suits. Servers are massive and feature competitive and co-op play. As with most online games, your level of enjoyment is directly related to the group you play with. In a good game, you'll find everyone working together and covering even some of the smaller parts like driving troop transports. Unfortunately, in the process of finding a good play group, I had to go through several games where everyone wanted to be the hero.


ArmA: Combat Operations is frustratingly hard. Even on lower difficulty levels, victories are hard fought. Given ArmA's emphasis on realism, a number of different elements are factored in, including ballistics, fatigue and bullet deflection. Because of this, ArmA requires a completely different mentality than other shooters, including the "realistic" Tom Clancy games. You have to be much more careful about when you shoot and where you shoot from. Enemies are constantly on the move and almost always fire from cover. This is a tactic you also need to learn since the A.I. will quickly draw a bead on you if you are out of cover for more than a couple of seconds.

ArmA features a save point feature that takes some of the edge off the game's difficulty level. A system of checkpoints is in place to keep you from having to repeat large parts of your mission. You also have access to one save slot, which you can use at any time. Limiting the slots to one opens up some freedom and keeps the game approachable while also keeping the game's tension intact.

Game Mechanics:

From the start, anyone who enjoyed Operation Flashpoint will enjoy ArmA. Both games are virtually identical in how they play. At first, this seems like a good thing, though at the same time it does put up a bit of a barrier for new players. The controls are laid-out well, though they also feel incredibly clunky. The biggest difference is that your mouse controls are tied to your arm movements, so rather than just seeing the front of your gun, you will actually see your arms as you aim at things on the screen. When aiming low, this isn't an issue, but when you go for higher targets your arms will obstruct your view, adding unnecessary frustration. Moving targets are already hard to hit, so having to fight the aiming controls is an unwelcome addition.

Looking around is also a bit awkward. Rather than having the "free view" to quickly look around the screen, the camera is tied to a small window in the center of the screen. While moving the mouse within this box, the camera doesn't move. If you want to look around, you first need to clear the box, which is disorienting.

If you don't have one already, you might want to invest in a flight stick for piloting planes and helicopters. Flying aircraft is fun, though most of the action takes place on the ground, so you won't see as much action. Even with a flight stick, helicopter controls are still finicky and take some adjustment.

While on foot, you are usually accompanied by a squad of troops. You can order them around with a set of commands, though the command system is a little more complex than the one-click, context sensitive ones used in other squad-based games. Generally, squad A.I. is competent and troops will usually react to situations. Still, streamlined controls would have helped a lot.

ArmA: Combat Operations is not for everyone. The attention to realistic details is amazing, which will please hardcore military buffs. At the same time, the aspects of the game that will appeal to this fanbase will turn off more action-oriented shooter fans.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows XP/2000; 2.5 Ghz processor; 512 MB RAM; 128 MB VRAM; Direct X 9; Broadband Connection

Test System:

Windows Vista; 1.6 GHz Dual-Core processor; 2 Gig RAM; DVD drive; 120 GB HDD; GeForce Go7600; Direct X 10; Broadband Connection

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Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated