Note: As is discussed in this feature, ARMA III released as what could be considered an unfinished product. There was no single-player content besides the “showcases” that had been playable since the game’s buy-in alpha, and its multiplayer component was incredibly buggy. The only other content I could play were the handful of unofficial (albeit pretty well-crafted) user-created mods. I had no idea what kind of content the game’s developer would put out, and of course didn’t want to review the game based on user-created mods. That married with the fact that the game was likely rushed-out strictly to ensure it released before the other big shooters of the year, I decided to wait until the release of the first campaign episode to give my impressions. This article is only representative of the first campaign episode, and the version of the game available at the time of its release.
Military shooters are in no short supply, that much is for sure. But very few give you an idea of what genuine combat is like in the modern age. As exhilarating as it may be to watch play-out in one of the many blockbuster military shooters of late; the explosive, Hollywood-inspired combat sequences displayed just don’t happen. It’s fun, but for those looking for realism, it wont suffice. Real wars aren’t fought in small arenas, with soldiers running around tirelessly while toting rocket-launchers and crossbows fitted with explosive ammunition. Real war is much more complicated than that, and that’s one of the many things ARMA III is: complicated.
Just like its predecessors did before it, ARMA III casts widely accepted conventions to the wayside in favor of more complicated mechanics. Rather than taking the “less is more” route, ARMA III makes use of nearly every button on the keyboard. Although the game decidedly targets a particularly hardcore demographic, the control-scheme causes the game’s accessibility to plummet. But even more problematic is the way the game presents itself to newbies, and that’s because it, well… doesn’t.
While the throw-you-in-and-see-what-happens method of game introduction has proven to be interesting in more simple, action-oriented games; in ARMA where nearly every button on the keyboard serves a function, it’s not nearly as successful. Letting a puppy learn how to swim naturally by gently setting him in a shallow bathtub is one thing, but expecting him to learn plumbing by throwing him under your leaky kitchen sink is another. ARMA III offers very little in the way of direction when it comes to its archaic controls, and systems. To play the game with much success, you’ll be driven to browsing message boards and rummaging through the in-game control menu. That said, the game’s crafted for a very specific audience, one that’s already learned to work with the series’ complexity, and non-intuitiveness. But if the series wishes to generate new followers, a bit more guidance is a must.
The series, of course, couldn’t resort to adopting more widely-accepted forms of control and overall navigation. It would be counter the game’s missions-statement, as well as what fans of the series have grown to expect, and want. And while some commands like “step-over” having their own button are a bit silly, the game’s abundance of keyboard commands is mostly justified. With them, you have the power to take a exhaustive amount of stances, and you have access to most anything you need while remaining immersed in the game. Need to find out what direction you’re heading? There’s a button that prompts your digital soldier to pull out his compass. Need to know what time it is? The same can be done with a watch. Aside from the map and the inventory management screen, most anything you’d need is full accessible in-game, and rendered realistically on your person. This keeps the HUD minimal, and leaves more room for immersion. There have also been some control-related improvements to the game. For example, the very rigid, and robotic movement found in ARMA II has been replaced with very fluid, infinitely less-jarring movement, and the awfully sluggish mouse input has been brought up to speed to wonderful results.
Unfortunately, the game’s bugs further complicate things. For example, one of the game’s campaign missions had me and my AI squadmates traveling to the location of a downed helicopter with the objective of destroying it. Simple enough — or so I though. We got there, took out an enemy patrol unit, and things were going pretty smoothly. I was then ordered to plant a charge on the tattered helicopter, but was told not to detonate it until our unit had moved out of the blast-radius. So my squad and I began taking the trail back to base, but I noticed that everyone was moving very slowly. It was puzzling, but I didn’t think anything of it. After a few minutes of walking, I began to wonder why I hadn’t been given the go-ahead to detonate the charge. Of course, it wasn’t too long before I was told that I had failed the mission. I did the same thing several times over, and was met with the same results. It was puzzling, but then I decided that once my unit and I had created a decent gap between ourselves and the explosive, I’d detonate the charge without being given the order. When I did so, I was told that friendly fire would not be tolerated, and failed the mission. Confused, I once again started the mission, but stuck around the helicopter while my unit moved back. It turns out, the reason I wasn’t given the order, and the reason that my unit was walking so slowly, was because the medic of our unit was stuck. He wasn’t caught on any of the surrounding geometry, he just wouldn’t move.; and no amount of pushing or shoving could get him to follow our commanding officer. After minutes of trying to get him moving again, I finally had a plan that I thought might work. I had a grenade on hand, so I threw it in front of me, and stood just far enough away from it that the resulting explosion wouldn’t kill me, As a result I was injured slightly, but still in action. I then reported my injured status to my commanding officer, and he ordered our statue-like medic to heal me. After requesting assistance several more times, the medic finally began moving and I was able to complete the mission without issue. But the ordeal made the otherwise decent mission a long, frustrating experience; and similar bugs occurred throughout the game.
Luckily, despite the bugs, once players become fluent in the complex language that is ARMA, the game offers a pretty satisfying experience — at least to those who want a military simulator. The game has the capacity to house slow-moving, but strategically-open scenarios. Unfortunately, though, the latter is nowhere to be found in the first episode of the game’s campaign. While it’s certainly slow moving, it’s awfully restrictive and incredibly linear, especially when you consider that the game takes place across two very large islands. It makes sense from a story stand-point, somewhat, You play Ben Kerry, one of the final soldiers stationed on the island of Altis in a NATO peacekeeping operation. In this first episode, you aren’t a particularly high-ranking soldier. So a bulk of your time with the game is spent closely following your commanding officer, and following his every order… sound familiar? Linear first-person shooters aren’t a bad thing, but its odd to have a fully-functional open-world, only to be told exactly what path you need to take through it. It may be a realistic simulation of being a low-ranking soldier in the army, but from a gameplay perspective it just isn’t interesting. At the same time, while the voice-overs are decent, the game’s story just isn’t interesting, and tries to take you through paces already seen in other games of a similar setting, only with much less elegance.
On the other hand, there are some fantastic user-made mods for the game already, many of which allow you to take command of a squad. Freely tackling situations while allotting orders to squad-mates is surprisingly rewarding. Which, of course, make’s the game sound perfect for multiplayer, and it would be, if it were optimized a bit better.
Running on a moderately high-end gaming PC, I could in most cases get the game to play at or near 60fps (frames per-second) in single-player modes. There were several exceptions, though. Some would run well up to a certain point, and then dip down and lock to no higher than 25fps. More frustrating, though, is that there’s no consistency in the performance. Nothing on-screen would appear to be particularly demanding when the performance would so suddenly plummet. And once it plummeted, not even lowering the game to its lowest graphical preset would improve the framerate, which leads me to believe the issue lies within the game’s code. The multiplayer, on the other hand, never runs well. Whether the match had sixty players or zero, the game wouldn’t run any higher than 20fps regardless of video settings. And in intense firefights, 20fps just doesn’t cut it.
Note: I played on an AMD 8-Core Bulldozer 8150 alongside 8gb of RAM and a GTX 670. While perhaps not the rig of kings, you'd think it would get the job done. According to several sources of varying reliability, the multiplayer also gave high-end intel CPUs a fair amount of trouble. Regardless, this review is only representative of my time with the game on my own machine.If people are playing the multiplayer, I assume there are at least a few individuals who are able to run it moderately well.
While the game feels rushed in many ways, it has a good foundation. Were it less buggy, and were its multiplayer in a more functional state, I could easily see myself dumping hours upon hours into the game. The game’s modding community seems to be very strong, and very dedicated, which means there is some good content available for the game, but you’ll need to do some digging to find it. It’s hard to say what the future holds for the game, but perhaps updates will bring it up to snuff, but for now, it’s tricky to recommend in light of its many issues, and when the best missions available in the game were user-created. The game has a great deal of potential, and it plays well, but its many bugs (the fact that the multiplayer content is practically unplayable to many users) is hard to excuse. Releasing it as a “finished product” this early was a mistake; a mistake that the developer — and the game — will hopefully be able to recover from through extensive patching.
After a fair amount of thought, I've decided ARMA III wont be given a traditional score. This is primarily because there is a certain permanency to scores, and, hopefully, at least most of the game's issues are not permanent. It may not be so great right now, but ARMA III has all of the elements needed to become the definitive military-simulator. Unfortunately, though, its technical issues are holding it back. I'll be sure to update if patches resolve any of the game's issues, but for now, it's sort of tough to recommend.