Moo! I am a cow, wandering peacefully through a warzone. Splat! I am now a tank, running over that cow. Boom! I am now an armed insurgent with a rocket launcher, claiming revenge for my bovine brethren. This is Armed Assault II: military simulator as pure, instant fantasy. While an elaborate campaign and intrinsic co-op play are what will sell the game, it's the amazingly easy to use editor that will keep people playing. You can create a war in minutes, then immediately jump into it as a soldier, civilian or dumb animal of your choice. The editor is truly remarkable, and astoundingly accessible.
Which, if you know anything about ArmA II's heritage, totally flies in the face of what you might expect. Both the first Armed Assault and its predecessor Operation Flashpoint (developer Bohemia Interactive Software losing the rights to the name to publisher Codemasters, which is currently working on its own sequel) were treacherous, buggy and cold - redeemed by a super-passionate community that modded these clumsy caterpillars into incredible butterflies of war-wish fulfilment. With ArmA II, BIS clearly wants to make a game that does what's intended right out of the box, rather than simply providing a structure for fans to build upon themselves.
My hands-on time with ArmA II achieved two things. Number one, it proved that I still am and always have been terrible at piloting helicopters in videogames, and as such will probably never be elevated beyond comically inept sidekick when playing this game. Number two, unlike the wildly inaccessible ArmA, I can nonetheless imagine myself being able to play this on a regular basis. Eventually, anyway. There is an incredible amount to learn before you can master ArmA II - this is a game that involves FPS gunplay, squad tactics, ground and air vehicle piloting skills, a sort of RTS-like army-management system, and eventually setting up an autonomous wartime economy across a vast island. This is truly the maxi-game - the stuff of sweaty dreams for Flashpoint/ArmA veterans, but, let's be honest, a little daunting for newcomers.
So, this time around, there's a lot more emphasis on there being a way in. While a series of tutorials, in this build at least, appears a little too rushed, vague and buggy to really do the job they're supposed to, a sprawling, semi-linear campaign seems to offer the gradual learning curve necessary to wrestle such a many-armed beast to the ground. You kick off in the jackboots of the elite but grunt-level recon team Razor, in command of the lot of 'em but able to switch from jarhead to jarhead at will. It's careful, tactical combat, requiring precision gunplay and a whole lot of time crawling around on your belly - this isn't Call of Duty.
As the campaign strides on, you'll move from being given missions to choosing them, and eventually to doling them out to the rest of your army, once you've established a shifting front line that requires defence and forward motion across the length and breadth of the island.