The Arma series has become a home to those of us looking for a realistic, tactical FPS experience, but reviewing Arma III at this stage is kind of like throwing a score on a preview. It isn't fully complete yet and it could go in any direction from this point. What makes Arma special is the community around it and the amount of user-generated content that gets made post release. Those who say that you're better off sticking with Arma II for now obviously don't remember how bugged it was when it hit the shelves. That being said, I did expect there to be more of a change from the beta we've been playing for months now.
The island of Altis is now playable and it is as enormous as advertised. It's really cool to have all that space to play with and the varied and beautiful landscape will sometimes distract you from the infinitely more important job of looking for movement in the grass, but it does mean that you'll often spawn several minutes away from the action during multiplayer matches, so for those of you who are too impatient to think that a cross country trek is worth the extremely satisfying hillside sniper position at the end, you might want to stick with playing on the smaller Stratis for now, which is still quite big.
The game focuses heavily on infantry combat and that is where it shines. However, is does offer up an impressive number of vehicles with which to traverse the vast distances on offer and to wreak havoc onto your enemies. Everything from civilian hatchbacks to heavily armoured tanks to transport helicopters and unmanned drones can be used and there are no cosmetic vehicles to be found. Some areas have wrecks of cars lying around which obviously are of no use to you and it can be very frustrating to find yourself in the middle of nowhere, walk into a town in search of a car and find the whole place devoid of anything useful. The vehicles are also delightfully fragile, which is not only realistic, but serves to keep the infantry focused gameplay balanced. You won't be any safer flying around in a helicopter than you are running around on the ground as heat seeking missiles traverse the distance between you and the launcher very fast, so if your reflexes aren't good enough, you're going to lose your tail rotor (if you're lucky), which will bring you down.
Yet more realism
There are more than enough weapons to keep you interested for a long time and the ability to customize them with a plethora of accessories is a nice touch which enables you to make your gun completely your own. Realistic ballistics and damage models make the game very engaging and disbelief is effortlessly suspended as the game world immerses you in a tactical combat simulator experience unlike any other. At the moment however, the game sets you loose on these huge islands with all the weapons and gear you'd expect in a 21st century invasion but virtually nothing to do with them. There are a few target practice drills you can go through, some showcases which serve to teach you how to use the equipment and vehicles in the game, but the single player campaign part simply says “coming soon”. I was under the impression that the reason players paid for the beta was to give the development team the time and funds necessary to buff the game out before launch, but what they've released is more in the neighbourhood of Arma III beta 1.2.
The few missions available online are of very varied quality and finding a really good online experience at the moment is a bit hit-and-miss. Luckily, however, Bohemia Interactive have a solid history of supporting modders in their efforts and it won't be long until the Arma III scene is teaming with creative content begging to be played. Worries have been voiced that those who bought Arma II just to play DayZ will wait for the stand-alone sequel to that extremely popular mod to be released, but I feel confident that a sizable portion of those players fell in love with the Arma franchise as a whole through their interaction with the community, and let's not forget that even if many players wait for DayZ, those who dream of making the next hit mod and getting hired by Bohemia to make their own stand-alone game will be throwing their creative minds at the Arma III development tool kit.
So much realism
As is to be expected with a game of this magnitude, a few bugs were experienced during our playtime. Getting stuck in doorways, structures merging into each other in the modes that offered base building, and helicopters losing control when someone sat in the co-pilot's seat were among the bugs experienced, but they will undoubtedly be dealt with post-haste. They are a little bit less forgivable, however, considering the length and nature of the beta period. The graphics are truly stunning, but you will need quite a powerful machine to truly enjoy it. I for one have a fairly average gaming rig and Battlefield III looks much better on my screen than Arma III does. Of course, BF III's maps and environments pale in comparison to what is on offer in Arma III, but it does raise the question of whether the graphics engine could have been better optimized.
Arma III is not just a game. Arma III is a language around which a tight-knit community forms to create the wondrous poetry that its mods and missions can be. Arma III is a gateway which creative individuals can use to show their brilliance to a like-minded audience. Arma III is the best representation of realistic warfare I've seen to date, and I for one can't wait to see what the community cooks up for it. For now, however, it is a bit too skinny for its breeches.
Powerful modding tools, realistic gameplay, stunning graphics if your machine can manage it
A few bugs, currently a bit bare-boned.