ArmA II

Tanker, sailor, soldier, fly.

Are you a time-poor career-focused go-getter? Does your busy modern lifestyle make it difficult to fit in activities like reciting Anglo-Saxon epic poetry, shaving mammoths, and reading lengthy game reviews? If the answer's 'yes' I've got just the thing for you. RCEFOFTTs are Reviews Constructed Entirely From Official Forum Thread Titles. They're brief; they're pithy; they melt in your mouth not in your hand. Here's one for ArmA II, the latest compendious soldier sim from Operation Flashpoint creator Bohemia Interactive Studio:

"Awesome moments. This is real war. Give the AI a medal! The campaign - absolutely incredible! So atmospheric. Landscape almost real. I killed a rabbit! Thank you so much BIS. Heaps of bugs. Buy this game."

BIS does indeed deserve our gratitude. In Chernarus, ArmA II's Georgia-meets-Yugoslavia-meets-Czechoslovakia setting, it's created a seamless battle venue bigger, more beautiful, and more believable than any you care to mention. In the game's staggeringly well-equipped armoury, it's provided dozens of ways to travel around that venue and slay its nastier inhabitants. And, perhaps most significantly of all, in Operation Harvest Red, it's created a single-player campaign that doesn't suck osel varlata. (Look it up in a Chernarussian phrasebook.)

Where the first game cast the player as an insignificant squaddy swept along leaf-like in a military maelstrom, the sequel takes its campaign lead from the far cosier Queen's Gambit add-on. This time you're somebody - Cooper, one of a five-man US Marine Corps recon unit important enough to have its own manly codename. Team Razor isn't the sort of outfit that spends its time guarding ammo dumps, distributing candy, or digging latrine ditches. They are the lads that are sent in to satchel-charge comms centres on the eve of US invasions of collapsing East European states, the people men with cigars and buzzcuts summon when they need a fleeing war criminal apprehended or a gang of dastardly gun-runners liquidated. These are men held in such high regard they even have their own personal reconnaissance UAV and on-call helicopter taxi.

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Z, S, Q, and E. My favourite keys in an ArmA II gunfight.

Sykes, Rodriguez, O'Hara, Cooper and Miles won't be winning any Most Rounded Game Character awards, but they do banter fairly fluently, and have sufficient skill, nous and firepower to make themselves useful in combat situations. Glancing left or right in the middle of a skirmish to see Sykesy lining up shots with his DMR sniper rifle or Rodriguezy blazing away with his chunky MK48 LMG, it's impossible not to feel a little glow of camaraderie. The sense of comradeship is magnified by the new first-aid system. Stop a bullet and often the only thing between you and an armchair in Valhalla is the timely intervention of a mate with a med-kit. Naturally, the lifesaving works both ways. There's nothing like darting from cover, grabbing a wounded buddy by the scruff of the neck and then hauling him back through a hail of lead, to make you feel good about yourself.

Not only does the campaign cast you in an attractively heroic (but not unbelievably so) role, and provide an intriguing plot, it allows you, later on at least, to write big chunks of your own script. Early outings involve some limited chin-scratching: do you want to escort this civilian to a safehouse in the woods, or help a pinned-down platoon eliminate a sniper? As the campaign matures, the freedom expands and semi-random encounters become increasingly common. Before you know it you're standing in a tent in a Forward Base listening to a commander deliver a speech that basically boils down to 'Why don't you guys spend a few days exploring the local countryside, quizzing locals, shooting insurgents, and joining in any random skirmishes you happen to come across?' It's Oblivion with assault rifles.

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The Osprey, named for its hovering ability rather than its fish catching prowess.

Or it would be if the NPCs were a little more talkative and the polish had been applied with a tad more elbow grease. Right now the creakiest aspect of the code is the campaign scripting. Play for a few hours and you'll almost certainly encounter a faulty trigger or a baffling impasse. Example: in my last session, me and the Razors were belting along a country road in a commandeered hatchback (our usual ride, a LAV-25, having been lost in an unfortunate contretemps with a T-72 tank) when we heard over the radio that a friendly helo had gone down nearby. Could we help rescue the survivors? You bet we could! But no sooner had I turned the car round a message came through saying the mission had ended in failure. Huh?

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