When it comes to realism, Arma 3 goes out of its way to bring a complete vision to its shooter model. Calling it a “shooter” may even be less accurate than the actual military simulation it is. A huge world coated in sun-kissed environments is the backdrop for an abundance of plausible content. Yet, the possibility only seldom comes to fruition and at the cost of user friendliness, which takes a turn for the worst in the game’s technical execution. Rarely has such a promising title hated its players to this extent.
Take a tour of the land.
It starts off promising enough, with an island setting filled with dried out vegetation, greener hilltops and urban settlements. Realism is sewn far into the textures, which offer versatile arrays of shapes and forms. Rock formations actually look like rocks, trees have mold spots and grounds shift in tone constantly. This is layered with a ton of post-processing elements, like light flares, to add more to the idyllic setting, yet never too much to feel like a saturated vacation picture. It shows just how extensive Arma’s eye for components goes, which is foreboding of the rest of the game.
Options are nearly limitless in this simulation. Those that enjoy freedom can just explore the humongous island, while others can take part in roleplaying games, where mundane life intersects with crime and punishment. Missions go anywhere from a simple takeover to the seizure of the entire island through careful tactical planning. These modes are set on one of the many multiplayer servers available, which can hold up to more than 80 players at a time. For an offline experience, Arma has a series of showcases that hold one of the many facets of the game. There’s a lot of ground to cover, from knowing how a squad gets deployed to operating a mission with drones. This section alone is probably good for a dozen hours or so. For a more straightforward approach, there are challenges on firing ranges, covering an assortment of weaponry.
Guess who shot first?
All this content, however, falls down on one vital point and that is the ability to control it. With the open attitude of the game also comes a complex series of controls, each necessary to proceed. Little of this detailed scheme is explained to its full extent, yet its mastery is immediately required. To make matters worse, the convoluted number of commands necessary is plagued by unresponsiveness, hidden bindings and hindering menus. Managing the tough love of the game along with these constant barriers to play it make anything beyond these issues less attractive, as there’s no point to a versatile product if it’s floundering. Only the select few that sit down and put in the hours to handle the breadth of rigid controls can move on to other things. Others are left behind in the fog. A rudimentary scheme can be achieved by ignoring fixed keys and the inability to use more complex commands, but naturally it will mean a lesser experience, as the game requires full control at all times.
Enjoy the view.
Still, even with a workable setup, Arma falters on other aspects of its ambition. Many of its game modes have a lot of potential, but don’t actually offer a lot of engaging activity. With the enormity of the island, much time is lost simply being in transition, checking position, checking again, moving some more and wandering off into more nothingness. In all but the most focused online modes, most of the shooter is more of a walking simulation than anything else. Its most thrilling moments are those when something happens to pop up, anything whatsoever. Discovering a vehicle might be joyous bliss or even a deserted town may finally distract from the minutes spend in brushes. Yet, not even then will there be much to do. If the game mode doesn’t specifically state that there are pinpointed action spots, there is no action in this game, just faffing about. Even then, life is restricted to only a small area of the entirety of the map. What a boring epiphany it is to awake from the splendor of the land to the deserted place it truly is.
Online modes are also constantly plagued by glitches that run rampant on all servers. Anything from menus blocking commands to flying vehicles, disappearing content and random death are the player’s trials through this highly erratic product. Often times, a game is only played up to the point where technical issues stack up to such an extent that it’s not worth the extra baggage to deal with them. Moreover, even in the best of settings, the instability of Arma itself triggers frequent crashes. It’s a mess.
Sure, a random flying car.
Luckily, users flock to take charge of this waking nightmare with a multitude of generated scenarios. Most stick to straightforward missions and many more still are poorly produced, but at least there is a community voted system to weed out the crap. There, at least, some focus and activity is guaranteed. Some sporadic event may even toy with the versatility of the game and provide an entirely different experience. Use of the editor is what saves this title from oblivion, until the developers come up with a campaign of their own, which is oddly pegged as “coming soon” at launch. Gamers are the ones stepping up where the developer isn’t. It’s admirable, but it shouldn’t be a game’s saving grace. That said, user-generated content is the best way to embark on this simulation, to see all its nooks and crannies, on land, in air and at sea. Setting up a custom adventure may take up a sizable amount of time, just to be able to play something worthwhile, but the tools are there and can yield great results.
Why shoot people when you can make Arma a racing game?
While Arma 3 brims with versatility, its complexity necks its overall potential with unmanageable controls, gross technical issues and a lack of focus. This military simulation is clearly overzealous and tries to bring an impressive and gorgeous world it was not yet ready to deliver. It may not like its users, but at least these players are trying to bridge the huge gap. That isn’t to the game’s credit; only to people’s ingenuity when it comes to dealing with a lousy hand.