ArmA Combat: War Ain't Easy
We haven't heard much from developer Bohemia Interactive since the 2002 release of Operation Flashpoint. That game featured open battlefields, control of all sorts of vehicles and weapons, and an extremely realistic simulation of modern warfare. It was also difficult to play.
ArmA (which stands for Armed Assault) Combat Operations has all the same advantages and flaws of Flashpoint, but to greater degrees.
The plots of the two are nearly identical. In Flashpoint, you were a lone U.S. Army unit caught on a fictional island (that looked somewhat like Iceland) in the middle of a war; in ArmA, you are a unit caught on the fictional, somewhat tropical island of Sahrani. Basically you are there to train the royal forces of the south how to fight and are the last unit to pull out. Before you can leave, however, the evil Warsaw-pact-backed northern forces attack and quickly overwhelm the royals. It's up to you to hold the line until help arrives.
Unlike most shooter games, ArmA features a real battlefield. Every shot you hear, even ones in the distance, are actual combatants (human or computer-controlled), not just background noise. You start to wonder whose ticket just got punched every time you hear a shot or explosion. If the noise gets louder, the battle is approaching. Don't expect health packs and the like. If you get shot, you stand a good chance of dying on the spot.
In the first mission during a surprise attack, I was standing with my squad when a hidden machine gun opened fire, and I took two bullets in the leg. Unable to stand, I had to crawl bleeding to my next objective, which was 300 meters away through a suburban war zone. So much for my Rambo persona.
The controls for ArmA are almost as difficult as the game. Trying to remember the keys to control infantry, helicopters, boats, tanks and even issuing squad orders is the ultimate test of cerebral fitness, and most gamers probably will grow frustrated quickly. A flight stick is highly recommended for aircraft.
Graphically, ArmA is a mixed bag with good-looking vehicles and guns but lackluster terrain and doll-like people, especially up close.
Although difficult to play in single-player mode, ArmA is perfect for LAN parties, where as many as 100 people can link up and fight in realistic conditions.
-- John Breeden II
ArmA Combat Operations Mature; PC Windows 2000/XP ($40) Atari