The mix of mission types, vehicles and campaigns had you playing a number of roles. You could be a Special Forces operative stealing documents in a stealthy night-time raid, or you could find yourself piloting an Apache AH-64 in an escort mission alongside a rumbling convoy of supply trucks. The binding element was an adherence to realism, and the end result not only attracted gamers and modders, but also drew the attention of militaries around the world – a version of OFP called VBS1 has been licensed to the US Marine Corps, and the Australian and New Zealand defence forces.
Bohemia Interactive’s return to mainstream gaming is Armed Assault, which is Operation Flashpoint 2 in all but name – that’s a nice way of saying that former publisher Codemasters has retained the rights to OFP.
All the hallmarks of the original are intact, from the believable campaign through to the stonkingly bad voice acting. The fictional island of Sahrani is the focus of the current flashpoint where, as a soldier in the US Army, you’re faced with an uprising from the Sahrani Liberation Army (SLA). The main campaign kicks off with a chaotic retreat from the overwhelming SLA forces from the North, where you’ll be spending the first few missions performing raids and sabotage missions to halt their progress.
The missions are tied together with long-winded cutscenes, often involving a nice long drive across the island. You’ll have to put up with high-school dialog and drama school voice acting, but it does help reinforce that the island is one coherent, living mass of terrain.
Even though the 400km2 island is big, it doesn’t feel like any half measures were taken in its design. Every town, hill and road looks like it’s meant to be there, and no matter where you go you’ll feel like every battle is on a crafted stage rather than a random mission generator.
Unfortunately, some of the missions shoot down any sense of realism that the island itself imparts. One mission, for example, has you running a solo sabotage job on a couple of enemy tanks in a night time raid. The camp is crawling with troops, and the first tank to explode is going to draw fire no matter how well concealed you are. But just to prove your superiors have a sense of humour, you’re given an unsilenced weapon to prevent you picking off troops from the top of that conveniently placed hill. Quite why BI thought this was either realistic or fun is a mystery, but the absurdity evidently became apparent – the latest patch introduced a silencer to the mission.
The other area where ArmA comes unstuck is the squad control interface. We haven’t seen it done particularly well in any game, but in the tense, chaotic missions of ArmA, a couple of stray bullets can ruin your squad and end the mission. The last thing you need is to be scrolling through menus to snap your team into action, particularly if you have the nightmare of mounting your squad in and out of vehicles.
The interface and patchy mission structure can understandably put you off playing more complex missions, but ArmA offers so much variety and customisation that you’ll find a hundred other things to keep you interested. The mission editor gives you full control over custom scenarios, providing you with the tools to create big or small missions quickly and comprehensively. You could, for instance, create a complex, sweeping battle over the island, or you could build a tight, tense scenario by simply dropping a squad inside a church on a hill, and have them fend off an assault.
Overall, there’s a sense that ArmA is still unfinished – as reinforced by the latest whopping 460MB patch. But the sheer scale and ambition has resulted in one of the most thorough tactical combat games since Operation Flashpoint. The inevitable improvements from BI, combined with OFP’s existing fanatic modding base, will undoubtedly create the ultimate warfare engine. This makes it more of an investment for the future, but while you wait for that moment of rapture, there’s still enough here to keep you going for months. Stick with it – big things are coming.
For: Satisfying world and mission structure, really real realism, modding potential.
Against: Squad control UI, crappy vehicle control, varying mission quality.
The all-new Operation Flashpoint is a worthy sucessor for super-hardcore FPS mil fans.
• Red Ant: www.armedassault.com
2GHz CPU; 1GB RAM; DirectX 9 graphics; 3GB HDD.