ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead

Takistandalone.

Essential equipment for the survival-minded Takistani insurgent: AK-47, IED, IED transportation device (wheelbarrow), spade, foil firefighting suit. Without that last item Mr. Boom-Bastage is going to stick out like a sore thumb when up to nocturnal no-good. Thanks to the super-real thermal imaging that is one of this standalone expansion's most eye-catching features, doing dastardly things in the dark can actually be more dangerous than doing them in the daylight.

Instead of fudging FLIR tech with the help of a few greyscale filters, Bohemia Interactive has gone the whole hog, giving every unit in the game (including hogs) its own heat map. Exposed flesh shines like a lighthouse, as does wandering fauna.

With vehicles the effects are subtler. A truck or jeep parked up for some time is almost invisible. Once on the move, however, components like bonnets, wheels and axle boxes begin to give off a telltale glow. A helo hiding in a clearing may now be betrayed by its cooling rotor hub and exhaust ports, a sly hull-down tank by the shimmer of a hot gun barrel. Night battles - assuming you've got the fancy tech - just got that bit more interesting.

Obviously keen to show off the new system, the one campaign mission playable in our preview code puts a FLIR-equipped M110 sniper rifle in your hands, and sends you off to free hostages from a militia-held mining complex.

As ArmA or Operation Flashpoint missions go, it's not exactly stellar stuff. Short deserty ingress via Little Bird, charmless dialogue from comrades, brief firefight... everything but the twist at the end (details on request) feels awfully familiar. Fingers crossed the finished campaign will offer some fresher and longer excursions. Frankly, I'd be amazed if it didn't.

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FLIR takes all the fun out of hide-and-seek.

Bohemia is keeping details of the story mode close to its Czech czest at present, but all the signs are pointing to something more structured than ArmA II's ambitious but bug-riddled Red Harvest. We're still going to be devising our own tactics and fighting for Uncle Sam (surely it was someone else's turn?) but this time it will be in an army rather than a jarhead uniform, and the foot-slogging should be liberally sprinkled with vehicular action.

AFV aficionados are in for a treat, that's for sure. Though ArmA II workhorses like the LAV-25 and AAVP7A1 are sitting this one out, their places are taken by a swarm of sand-coloured substitutes. Strykers, an eight-wheeled IFV, come in six different flavours, the tracked Bradley in three.

In situations where speed is more important than security, you've now got a preposterous 10 Humvee variants to choose from. There's a SOV (the stripped-down spec-ops wagon) a GPK (the one where the top gunner gets a sniper-proof turret) a SCOW (the one with the remotely operated gun). The only version Bohemia has left out is the 99 (the one that sells ice-cream).

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"Tuesdays are 'hearts and minds' days. The rest of the week we blow s*** up."

There's novelty in the ranks of the Takistan Army too. They field a range of ageing Warsaw Pact kit including the BTR-60 troop carrier, T-55 tank, and - if the editor is any guide - even the odd World War II-era T-34. T-72s and SCUD missile launchers add some much needed menace to their armoury.

Asymmetry extends to air power. Moving, supplying and supporting coalition forces (small Czech and German contingents will fight alongside the Yanks) are an impressive array of modern whirlybirds. The lumbering twin-rotored Chinook debuts, along with the high tech AH-64D and spooky pilotless AH-6X. Why risk aircrew on a dangerous recon or wild weasel sortie when a remotely-controlled Little Bird could do the deed? They can even lase targets for a Hellfire-equipped Apaches as you can see on YouTube.

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