More chat and campaign colour doesn't mean Bohemia's forgotten about firefight fundamentals either. The new 'Micro AI' is looking and sounding fantastic. As Marek puts it: "In our previous titles the AI was designed primarily for larger scale combat in open fields. This time enemies are capable of finding cover with centimetre precision. They will use trees and buildings. They will lean and crouch-strafe. They will act as a team, one soldier providing suppressive fire, while the others advance."
Even if you duck out of sight you can expect storms of speculative lead to be sent in your direction. What's the point of that? Bullets that fail to find flesh can still cause fear. What was an incidental byproduct of combat in ArmA is now a potential killer. Rounds whistling past your head or kicking-up dirt at your feet cause your crosshairs to wander and spread. The lesson: "If you want to get home in one piece don't get pinned-down by a gang of angry slavs with AK-74s."
You'll have noticed that I haven't actually identified ArmA 2's foes yet. That's because it's not immediately obvious who the bad guys are. Unlike past outings where the bogeymen were the chaps with the Warsaw Pact gear, in this instalment things are far more complicated. Team Razor - your tight-knit Special Forces team - are part of a NATO force sent into Cernarus to keep various ethnic and nationalist faction from cleansing each other. Whose side you end up on depends a lot on the people you choose to kill and the things you choose to say during the course of the campaign. Character-switching (you can jump between Team Razor members) a branching plot, unscripted AI, and full co-op compatibility means that campaign should stand at least half a dozen play-throughs.
If you do exhaust the story there's always the peerless multiplayer - enhanced by new hand signals and the first aiding - to wallow in, or Warfare - the freeform territorial conquest mode that blends RTS base-building with familiar FPS soldiering. Added to ArmA via a patch, the latter is one of several fan-made mods adopted and refined by Bohemia for ArmA2. The new particle effects and HALO parachute insertions also started out as community ingenuity.
Frustratingly, there isn't time to toy with many of the 167 vehicles or 70+ weapons that will grace the game. Hind and Venom gunships are clattering around raining death during a couple of the demonstrations, but there's no sign of new exotica like the VTOL V-22 Osprey and F-35 Lightning. Playing Warfare, I'm squashed by an APC that may or may not have been one of the slew of new Russian troop taxis. Slightly worryingly, the day passes without any mention of tractors.
So, to recap: Bohemia likes cats, but isn't going all soppy on us. If you crave combat games that are plausible, atmospheric, and awash with tactical options, ArmA 2 should be at the very top of your list.
ArmA 2 is due out for PC in Q1 2009.