ArmA II splits our critical reasoning right down the middle, like it's been blown in two by a well-placed sniper shot.
On the one hand, you have a classicly hardcore PC military sim with more vehicles than you poke a LAW at, a wide open environment, and killer multiplayer. Then, on the other, you've got a deeply flawed and buggy codebase and enormous system requirements.
To put it bluntly, ArmA II is a game that's easy to love, but very hard to actually like.
The ArmA series comes from deep inside serious-sim territory. As wonderful a game as Call of Duty 4 is in many respects, ArmA II smacks it upside the head so hard with the realism stick that it may as well be Starfox. In ArmA, real ballistics are a harsh mistress to wannbe snipers, and even taking down unaware guards with your trusty M4 Carbine becomes a game of skill. This, combined with the vast open spaces of an entire island to play with (the fictitious Chernarus), means that Arma is as much a game requiring vast patience as it is intense skill.
And a really good rig - even our beefy 4870X2-powered NRG rigs struggled with this on reasonable settings.
The single-player campaign starts off with the usual beats: a US taskforce is heading into this Eastern European island to head off... well... some baddies. The early mission briefings are delivered with such leaden prose that it's kind of hard to pay attention. But, eventually, you're choppered out to your dropzone, and you can get down to some good small unit action - you start as a simple soldier, but you'll progress through various levels of command and control as the campaign progesses.
The first mission also highlights some of the game's other strengths - you're on the ground to call in a missile strike on a comms facility, but it turns out its within a populated village. SO what do you do? Well, personally, we went in to scope the situation and see if placing charges would do the trick, which in turn opened up another mission as we discovered a local doctor being held hostage. Again, it's up to you to free him or stick to mission parameters, but that kind of organically evolving mission (we could have easily missed the doc) really helps the old immersion levels.
What doesn't help the immersion levels are the aforementioned horrendous dialogue, and that's even assuming the correct dialogue files actually play...
At this point, we really have to admit that we didn't get much farther into the campaign. There's only so many times I can hear my squadmates call out "There. Is. A... MAN at... HOUSE."
Procedural dialogue FAIL.
But that's just one of many fails throughout the game - from dodgy ATI support, to random and often strange examples of vehicle physics, this game frustrates almost as much as it exhilarates. Just a quick scan of the official forums reveals legions of fans who, like Mulder, just want to believe in the game - if only they could play it.
But if you strip out the friendly AI by getting into a co-op mission with some mates, ArmA II can really deliver the goods. Few games have provided the level of tactical involvement - Operation Flashpoint, which was a Bohemia Interactive title before Codemasters took it over, comes to mind - and depth that ArmA offers. In fact, most of that entertainment comes from the intense discussions you'll have with your squadmates as you discuss how to tackle the evolving mission - the tense action and pyrotechnics of combat is just the icing on the cake.
Essentially, ArmA II is a game that you really need to meet halfway - it won't do all the entertaining by itself, and it asks a lot of commitment from gamers to get the best out of it. It's deep and often too complex, but it can be infinitely rewarding.
Note: A patch has been released since the writing of this review that we have been informed fixes a lot of issues. Some do remain, but the game has improved.