I find myself at the bottom tip of a vast island, with a large squad of 10 soldiers by my side and under my command. As I take out my map to see where I am, and look at nearby locations, it’s clear that we have a long journey ahead of us through hostile territory to escape to safety.
We stand around for a few moments and discuss the most likely route to take. Should we follow the roads or the coastline? Do we go on foot or try to find vehicles in enemy military bases? Is there a button to bring up a compass; look down sights; switch to the grenade launcher?
Eventually, we decide to head up to the lighthouse and see what we can do from there, but before we’ve even walked 50 paces, an armoured personnel carrier rounds the side of the hill, races towards us and starts to gun us down.
Which one of us has the rocket launcher again? Oh, he’s dead already… Where’s his body? Can I grab the ro….
I just took a bullet to the chest and died.
With near to one-hit-kills and without respawns we would have lost within the space of 5 minutes, but fortunately this particular mission allows for them. Arma 3 is not a hospitable environment for those who don’t know what they’re doing. It’s not particularly welcoming, even if you do, and further than that, I don’t feel it’s ready to drop the Beta tag just yet.
In many ways the volume of content in the game is fantastic. There are now two beautiful islands for you to play on – Stratis and Altis – and there is a wealth of accurately reproduced military hardware to play with from assault rifles all the way up to helicopters and drones.
The addition of Altis in particular is quite an achievement, coming in at 270km² compared to Stratis’ 20km². It is absolutely huge and manages to hold a nice level of variety, from the large salt flats of the East to the mountainous region in the West. It will take you a long, long time to cross it, and you’ll likely need to stop for fuel, too.
However, the single player campaign isn’t coming to the game for a while yet – These are set to be released as free DLC starting within a month – which leaves you with 12 showcase missions, 10 training courses and 10 co-operative scenarios.
Some of these are quite small scale, and others huge, setting you the task of escaping one of the islands with your squad, but it feels very little considering scale of the playground that has been created. Thankfully there is a comprehensive mission editor – the complexities of which are admittedly baffling to me – and this hooks into Steam Workshop with a wealth of community content already available.
In terms of gameplay, I also feel that it’s too rigid a simulation. I think the best comparison I can come up with is Gran Turismo 5, as Arma 3’s in game command system is complicated, the control scheme spread across your entire keyboard, and the action so coldly calculated and brutally unforgiving. However, unlike Gran Turismo, it doesn’t try to ease you in or hold your hand with assists or simplifications.
Teaching is largely done via tooltips in the single player scenarios, but there’s so much to take in when you get to fly a helicopter, and it’s not like flying one is particularly easy in the first place. Having said that, the keyboard layout is actually well-suited towards flight control.
Another bugbear of mine is the lack of ability to mark enemies for yourself or your friends. Team-mates are more than happy to fire at any target, but when my own character is shouting out enemies depicted by tiny blobs of pixels which my own eyes can’t spot, it gets a bit much. Especially when these distant soldiers feel quite unerringly accurate at the extremes of their weapon’s range and with their anti-vehicle weaponry.
Thankfully there is an option to turn on Enemy TAG, which should mark enemies with a red dot, but I’ve found this to be unreliable at best. It’s also not turned on for any of the difficulty settings by default, and it was only after digging through that we found it.
And yet, through all of this aggravation and frustration at trying to fumble my way into the game, I feel now like I’m coming out the other side and am beginning to know roughly what I’m doing.
The game comes into its own when you’re playing co-operatively, and this combined with the community content is where the game will be at its best. Bringing your friends into the game, and being able to chat as you battle enemies and struggle with the Arma III’s quirks and limitations makes it all a lot more appealing.
That being the case, I don’t want to lay a score at the bottom of this article, and instead plan to come back to it soon. However, it is a game which delivers both excellence and flaws in abundance, and is harshly inaccessible as a consequence. In particular Arma III does little to ease players into the unforgiving web of game mechanics, and so I expect it is mainly an inviting prospect for fans of the series and this style of soldier simulation.