ArmA isn't just a sophisticated first-person shooter, either, as you can command squads of infantry and vehicles. Waging a firefight and commanding your squad at the same time is awkward, though, as there are a mess of commands that you have to master. Even the act of shooting your rifle is not as intuitive as in most games because various controls are scattered all over the keyboard. When you're not running around on foot, you can be riding around in style, as you can jump into pretty much any vehicle in the game as a driver or a passenger. This includes civilian cars, Humvees, armored personnel carriers, tanks, helicopters, and even aircraft. The freedom to tear around the roads in an armored column or soar above in a Black Hawk is impressive, but the price of this is an overly complex control scheme and some very loose physics modeling.
All of this can be said about Operation Flashpoint, as well. And that's the problem, because there's very little evolution on display, not only in gameplay but also in technical terms. The jerky animations, the bumbling artificial intelligence, the stilted manner soldiers talk to one another (as if they were automated voice machines and not human beings), and the overly complicated controls from Operation Flashpoint are all here. While annoying back in 2001, these flaws are glaring in 2007, as technology, expectations, and competition have risen considerably since then. Watching your elite troops run around in a circle or get confused when trying to pass another vehicle on the road can ruin the illusion that the game works hard at establishing.
It also doesn't help that ArmA can be brutally frustrating, even at the easier difficulty setting. A successful mission is hard won in this game, as it most probably required numerous attempts and lots of teeth gnashing. Thankfully, the easier difficulty setting lets you save the game as much as you want, which is a huge improvement over Operation Flashpoint's one save per level. But even then you've occasionally got to overcome ridiculously difficult mission objectives, compounded by the fact that combat is so unforgiving that a single bullet can, and often will, ruin your day. It's so frustrating that it's far easier to simply skip the optional missions, as many of those have you venturing solo against difficult odds. What the game desperately needs is a much easier difficulty setting that's a lot more forgiving to new players and those learning the game, while those who want the realistic challenge can stick with the one-shot, one-kill gameplay.
At least ArmA's multiplayer component is both extensive and impressive. You can participate in a wide range of matches online, ranging from cooperative battles against computer opponents to team battles. There is a big hitch to things right now, though. Currently, North American and European players are playing on different versions of the game, which means that finding a match can be difficult due to version incompatibilities. That should change over the coming weeks and months because future versions of the game should let players everywhere sync together. Still, being in a cooperative game and relying on smart teammates as opposed to easily confused AI makes a huge difference, as players can really cooperate and coordinate with one another to feel like a well-oiled military machine. There's even a ranking system that allows veterans to use the more advanced vehicles, as well as a mission editor that lets you create your own custom missions. With that said, ArmA has a lot more competition in the multiplayer realm than Operation Flashpoint did, and ArmA's highly realistic gameplay may prove glacial to those that were weaned on the run-and-gun, over-the-top action of Battlefield 2.
The graphics engine does a great job of creating a virtual world.
The graphics engine doesn't feel all that different from Operation Flashpoint's. The main improvements come in the form of higher resolutions and sharper textures, but the underlying foundation remains pretty much the same. The result is a game that's nowhere near as impressive or as advanced as its competitors, but then again, those games don't attempt to create worlds anywhere near as large or as impressive as ArmA's. It helps to boost the graphics settings to maximum, though with everything maxed out, the frame rate still suffers on a fairly high-end system.
ArmA is a game that delivers mixed reactions because there are flashes of brilliance here, along with plenty of frustration. This is a game that appeals to those who like highly realistic simulations or difficult challenges--or to those with plenty of patience. But if you're looking for adrenaline thrills, you should look elsewhere. Bohemia Interactive should be commended for developing a shooter that's unlike almost anything out there, but at the same time, the company should have evolved the game to keep up with the times.