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Christmas on a Disk

A Bleak Future

With the disappointing transformation of Ghost Recon into the realms of the linear, action oriented, gung-ho shooter, and the relatively lacklustre sales of the latest iterations in the Operation Flashpoint series, fans of realism in first-person shooters have been losing hope for the future of the genre. That is, those of us unfamiliar with the ArmA series. It is with great shame that I admit that the series has, much like a skilfully piloted F-22, flown completely under my radar. The series’ third instalment is nearing completion and is already gathering quite a following amongst ex-Ghost Recon enthusiasts and those of us fearing the eventual decline of realism into the farthest reaches of niche markets. There are many of us, and we are just begging for a chance to empty our wallets for a worthy cause. Is ArmA III what we have been waiting for?

The game takes place in the 2030’s during a war between NATO and Iranian forces. On the island of Limnos in the Aegean Sea, NATO forces have managed to halt the Iranian advance into Europe. As NATO forces retreat off the island, you, along with some of your fellow soldiers, are left behind with only the local resistance to fall back on. With them, you will fight to retake Limnos from Iranian hands. Albeit an interesting setting and plot, I find the persistent use of Middle Easterners as bad guys to be somewhat unoriginal; although in light of current events, a future where Russia, China, North-Korea, and a handful of Middle Eastern nations including Iran and Syria team up against the crumbling West may not be all that far-fetched.

Too Much Physics?

Every source I’ve checked, be they a competing website or a fan forum, raves about the game’s visuals. While I consider aesthetics to be secondary to a game’s script and the feel of its gameplay, the visuals of this particular game do cause the blood to start rushing to my nether regions. From what we have seen, the incredibly detailed environments and realistically modelled surrounding put the action in a setting almost indistinguishable from an actual war torn Mediterranean island. The interior of every vehicle is textured to near perfection and even the RPM gauge and speedometer react to player input and external physical forces. The game’s physics engine means that objects can be moved by ramming into them and the weight and power of the vehicle naturally influence the force if its impact.

The physics engine also allows for the ragdoll effect of fallen enemies, which I have always felt to be a double edged sword. Games that use ragdoll effects tend to overgeneralise their application and games that don’t become repetitive as their library of death animations is normally rather small. In my view, ragdoll effects are only appropriate in the case of a headshot because a person does not completely lose control of their entire nervous system by getting two in the chest. Having a soldier suddenly lose all rigidity in their body and clumsily lumping down on the ground after being shot in the shin can break the feeling of realism in a very awkward way, but in some cases it’s still better than seeing the same melodramatic “crawling on the ground, reaching their hand out before collapsing” animation for the sixteenth time in half an hour. A balance between the two types must be found and the library of animations needs to be quite expansive for the game to achieve the ultra-realism that ArmA III strives for.

The game features quite an impressive lighting system where everything from search lights to muzzle flashes plays a dramatic role in night-time combat. The flash of a muzzle not only lights up the barrel of your gun, but realistically reveals the ground you are standing on to enemy onlookers. Adding a suppressor to your weapon reduces the amount of light produced by the gun, but firing it still reveals your position. Coloured light also results in different effects on the weapon you carry. Green, orange, or violet florescent lights will produce a corresponding coloured tint on your entire character, adding a very interesting visual touch to night-time scenes.