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Tanker, sailor, soldier, fly.

Another time, we choppered out to a village to snatch a war-crimes suspect and on arrival found the geezer dead as a doornail, obviously executed by one of the others five factions in the tangled civil war. Logically this discovery should have meant the relevant task was ticked off our 'To Do' list, but no, it stubbornly remained unticked. Were we meant to search the corpse or report the death to the base CO? Neither action did the trick.

Campaign progress can also be frustrated by crashes - the kind that happen when the game decides it doesn't like a particular save-game (rare but annoying), and the kind that happen when your halfwit helo chauffeur decides he's going to fly his bird straight into an electricity pylon or a pine tree (more common). AI motorists and pilots are as clumsy as they were in ArmA. You have to separate men from their vehicles, and stick a weapon in their hands to see any signs of IQ improvement. The much-vaunted Micro AI manifests itself in combatants sensibly keen on cover and generous with suppressive fire. Now, if only BIS could get bots to fully exploit buildings, play possum occasionally, and perform the odd banzai charge.

Half the joy of a BIS game is rummaging through the mountain of kill kit. The best way to trial aircraft, AFVs or firearms remains the fantastically friendly, amazingly powerful editor. A few clicks and you're flying a V-22 Osprey through a wall of flak, infiltrating an enemy base as a wild boar (civilians and animals are playable), or watching the dogfight to end all dogfights. Armoury mode makes you works a little harder for your hardware fun. Success in mini-challenges gradually unlocks the full range of gadgets and units. Complete an obstacle course, eliminate an enemy patrol, shoot a set number of clay pigeons... it's OpFlash the way PopCap would do it. A few of the tasks are criminally silly (I'm thinking specifically of the one where you play a poacher-avoiding rooster) but in a game as gritty and gruelling as ArmA II a bit of levity doesn't hurt.

And make no mistake, ArmA II has grit and gruel by the lorry-load. Where other shooty games DHL targets to your door, this one makes you search high and low for them (most of the campaign is spent travelling hopefully rather than arriving). Where other FPSs keep your crosshairs rock-steady and your view unobstructed, here bad posture, tiredness, fear and foliage transform gunnery from a science into a dark art. It's the difference between playing COD4 on your desktop rig at home, and playing it on a laptop while running through a wet forest being chased by Alsatians. Initially exasperating, massively satisfying once you get the hang of it.

. Time to steal a car, bus, lorry, tractor, motorbike, mountain bike, jeep, tank, or sturdy goat.

That unapologetic realism, combined with high headcounts, huge maps, and splendid opportunities for joint ops, means ArmA II is sure to replace its predecessor as the MP weapon of choice for the discerning infantry simmer. For those passionate about vehicular verisimilitude, there are fewer reasons for loyalty. While the planes and armour all look the part and are mostly a doddle to operate, under the skin the modelling hasn't moved on since OpFlash days. Tanks with hitpoints that can be whittled down by sustained small-arms fire, vehicles with no 3D interiors, aircraft that come without even crude representations of radar... if ArmA 3 doesn't address some of these shortcomings then the natives may start getting restless.

And if the inevitable third episode doesn't overhaul the obtuse interface there's also going to be trouble. Veterans will have no difficulty finding what they need amongst the mass of icon-shunning order menus, but newcomers are likely to have some sticky, frustrating moments. The fact that the number keys aren't used to select weapons or team members says a lot about the game's wilfully idiosyncratic approach to control.

Time is yomping on and I still haven't talked of Warfare (a skirmish mode that blends soldiering with RTS base building) the single mission supply (slim but containing gems), or the fact that ArmA II is already being leapt on by an army of talented vehicle-crafting, behaviour-tweaking, mission-authoring modders. I've yet to mention how thrilling it is to skim stunning spruce forests in speeding choppers and gaze down at raging random engagements. There's a thousand more things I could say to justify my hearty recommendation of this incomparably rich war sim. Ultimately though all you really need to bear in mind is the words of that RCEFOFTT:

"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."

8 / 10

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