by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
Selling Alpha Access
Today's shooter market is dominated by action-focused, fast-paced games whose idea of realism is that hiding behind a rock is enough to get over a shot through the liver. Don't get me wrong, I love playing mindless shooters like the Call of Duty series and Homefront. They are great stress relievers after a rough day. Realistic, tactical shooters like Arma, however, are so much better when you have time to spare and are itching for a challenge to your intellect the likes of which those action-centric games cannot provide. Arma 3's Alpha code was released on Steam a couple of days ago and has proven to be quite popular, especially among die-hard fans of the series, which shows that the Minecraft-inspired business model of selling access to pre-release versions of a game to help fund its continued development works like a charm for games with a large following. After having some hands-on time with the game I can honestly say that I'm more than a little impressed.
The first thing that struck me when I was asked to preview the game was the wording in the e-mail we got. It said that the Alpha would feature the island of Stratis which is only 20 square kilometers in size. That is not small in game terms, but when you consider that the other island, Altis, which will be featured in the full release, is 270 square kilometers, it is peanuts. The terrain is interesting and the roughness of the island's terrain and its flora makes for very interesting tactical gameplay. Enemies can be everywhere and you'll more than likely be shot once or twice by someone you had no chance of seeing, which is why you'll need to out-think them, not just out-shoot them.
The Alpha features multiple weapons, vehicles, equipment, and helicopters, all of which already function very well. The series’ focus on realism truly shines through each and every aspect of its design. As with any game in the Alpha stage of development, some changes are expected and indeed necessary, but if this version is indicative of the quality of the final product, we are going to have a hell of an experience on our hands. The guns feel good, the vehicles function properly, and the helicopters are a blast to fly. If you choose to give the game a try, however, make sure to use a flight stick for the helos. It makes the experience so much more realistic.
The four showcases you get with the game serve to teach you how to play and introduce you to the new features it has to offer. Diving is one of those new features and it allows players to partake in sabotage missions and dive past enemy lines. Divers are a very important strategic asset as they can sabotage enemy equipment, capture undefended control points, perform sneak attacks, and generally wreck the enemies’ day.
Multiplayer is always a blast, but when the realism is cranked up, so are the stakes. One well-placed shot is enough to kill you and a shot to the extremities will make you bleed out if left untreated. Getting killed is really disappointing but you'll be left with nothing but respect for your enemy because he bested you on an even and realistic playing field. It is easy to understand how people can lose themselves in this game and why the community around it is so large and active.
Modding tools increase longevity
The series didn't become the phenomenal success it is until the DayZ mod was released for Arma 2, adding a zombie survival horror mod to a game that already had mods for every setting from World War II to future warplanes. Arma 3 features powerful modding tools and community support and it's only a matter of time until we see a flood of creativity appear on forums all across the internet.
The Arma series is a prime example of the reason I love PC games. You pay the same price as for a console game, often less, and for it you get not only the developer's own creativity and engineering, but the creativity of hundreds of talented artists and programmers from around the world who take the game and make it their own only to distribute it freely to anyone who owns the original game and shares their passion for it. That never happens with console games and it makes them much less valuable.
There is no question as to whether or not you should get Arma 3. You should definitely get Arma 3. The only question is whether you should invest in the Alpha right now or wait until the game is ready for release. The Alpha is very rough around the edges, but it's very playable and the multiplayer alone offers hours of excitement. This is definitely a project worth investing in and, as development progresses, it will only get more impressive.