Even if you don't fancy exploring the somewhat scary world of scripting (necessary for serious mission design, but trickier than it should be thanks to the lack of an integrated manual/help system) much can be done with simple off-the-shelf editor features. When I'm feeling lazy I just slap down an ambient combat and 'sec-ops' generator and go enjoy the randomness. The former device periodically adds friendlies and foes to the battlespace, the latter generates a stream of optional side tasks such as POW rescues, escort duties, and arms cache searches. Any fool can create rich, unpredictable combat situations with gizmos like these.

Multiplayer has also been important in keeping my ArmA II relationship strong and spicy. While there's no shortage of shooters offering intense communal combat, none I know of can match this game's scope, variety and resonance. In modes like Domination and Warfare you aren't just scrapping for some paltry bridge or hamlet, you're fighting for entire regions and doing it alongside dozens of sentient soldiers.

Almost every session involves scurrying through a corner of vast, gorgeous Chernarus you haven't scurried through before, and witnessing scenes that feel reportage-real. War's cruel seesaw is beautifully evoked. One minute you're punching the air as friendly Harriers dump laser-guided death on a troublesome target in the village below, the next you're hugging the dirt as a fusillade of shots arrive from an unexpected quarter and comrades slump cursing to the ground.

2
British defence budget cuts are really starting to bite.

For more intimate MP engagements it's usually not difficult to find smaller co-op games with slots to fill. ArmA II handles low headcount covert ops as brilliantly as it handles massive company-sized combined-arms assaults, indeed in some of my sweetest memories I'm crouching nervously behind walls on rainy nights while chattering hostiles pass by oblivious on the other side, or laying hidden in treelines observing enemy positions through scopes or binoculars.

I even find myself visiting Chernarus in those small 10-minute-sized play windows that usually don't suit serious sims. While the armoury mode's skeet shooting, obstacle courses and hunting challenges became tiresome long ago, I still enjoy a quick dose of assassination, thievery or kill-house sharp-shooting. Trying to steal a guarded M1A1 tank armed only with a shotgun and smoke grenades, or perform a clinical hit with an RPG-7... that's entertainment.

With tempting unofficial and official expansions on the horizon, and a patch incorporating performance boosts, bug fixes, and a new mini-campaign due at the end of the month, I can't see myself deserting Bohemia Interactive's behemoth any time soon. Hell, if Silent Hunter 5 and Oleg Maddox's Storm of War: Battle of Britain fall short, I may even be back here this time next year praising the same sumptuous soldier sim.

Check out the Editor's blog to find out more about our Games of 2009.

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