Both Battlefield and Call of Duty are fantastically popular shooter series, however - if you strip away the gloss - at their heart they really are arcade games. They're a poor shadow of what combat is really like. Success is measured on how many kills you score and there is (typically) very little teamwork to speak of.
The Arma series, on the other hand, is about true combat simulation, where teamwork and objective taking is the key to being successful. Others games seek to thrill, whereas Arma is more about replicating reality. The question, though, is this: is it fun to play?
Arma III is an enormous game. The map spans some 290 square kilometers, covering two Mediterranean Islands with some 47 villages and towns. The game is set in the year 2025, and features both NATO and Iranian forces together with a third faction made up of local forces. You can play both in first and third person, while soldiers have a full range of movement - including crouch and prone positions.
The game sports some 40 different weapons and various miscellaneous soldier-y accoutrements, such as binoculars, mines, sites, flares, etc. There's 20 vehicles, including tanks and helicopters, and submersibles also feature - all of which are supported by a complex physics model to ensure they just don't look the part but drive as realistically as possible, too.
I know what you are thinking, this all sounds pretty much like any other arcade combat game - but it is in the playing that you begin to see the difference. What's evident from the get-go is that you are not alone. In fact, acting alone gets you killed pretty quickly. You are a member of a squad and as such you need to be an active member of that squad. You may not get the direct kills you're used to from playing other games, for example, but laying down suppressing fire and forcing enemies to the ground allows your squad mates to close in and take them out.
What is also very obvious in the first few minutes of playing is that the game is hard. If you don't use cover, get to high ground, or generally parade around like a duck in repose, you get killed. If you are lucky, it might be a flesh wound, but more often than not you'll end up dead.
What I also noted is that the firearm physics are realistic. OK, I am not the best shot in these sort of games, but if you want to take out somebody past 100 metres or so over open sights, you'd better be prepared to expend a lot of ammunition. Even at short distances, there's no guarantee. One memorable encounter saw me breast a small rise right in front of an enemy. I emptied all 16 rounds from my gun and it was not till the last one he went down. The reason being that I ran up the hill. I was out of breath and I could not keep my gun still.
Realism is also plain in the way the enemy blend into the surroundings. It can be very difficult to see who is shooting at you and, if they are prone, the first indication there is an enemy about is when the incoming rounds fly about your feet. If you have been brought up on the traditional arcade shooter then, like me, you will find the initial games quite frustrating. In my first mission I don't believe I saw any of the enemy, but I still managed to consume most of my ammo. I completed the mission, but only through the efforts of my squad mates.
You can customise your weapon load out to a high level of detail, including setting the optimal range for your weapon on the sights, and fill your pack with all sorts of useful goodies like night sights and anti-personal mines. Load yourself up too much, though, and you will find it difficult to keep up with your squad mates.
The game's built on the Real Virtuality Engine 4 (which is developed in-house at Bohemia Interactive.) The scenery is very detailed, right down to the occasional rabbit scurrying out behind a rock to test the tightness of your underwear. The night and lighting effects are very realistic, and there are also a lot of little touches that make the game interesting. I like that you have to open doors, and physically climb over an object (rather than bump into it and go automatically into climb mode) for example. Most of all, though, I liked how the terrain made so much difference to the gameplay. Getting down low and leaning out behind and object makes you almost an impossible target; sneaking up to the brow of a hill in the prone position can also be a real advantage (unless you have the sun behind your back.)
Controlling your character can be a bit like a memory game. There are heaps of buttons: in fact, a pack full of them. There are the standard movement keys, ones for leaning left and right, reloading, the map, going prone, crouching, throwing a grenade, your compass, your GPS, opening your pack, changing weapons, and a myriad of others. The realism in the game comes at the price of a very complex control setup.
Currently, the multiplayer aspect of the game is a bit light. There are not many games going on in this part of the globe while the bigger games out of Europe have ping times of around 250 for me. There are a lot of servers, but while I was playing there were not of lot of people. This will obviously get better as more people buy into the game, however it's something to consider for now. Players can also create a lot of their own content to share with the community - this is one of the strengths of the Arma series, with an active community making the game always fresh.
There is no doubt that Arma III is realistic. In fact, it is the best combat simulator on the market. Is it fun though? For me, I found it an exercise in frustration at times. Games need to entertain me, not frustrate me. That's not to say this is not a great experience for the fans of the series. The graphics and multiplayer aspects are fantastic, but at the risk of being controversial I think those looking for a game should think twice about this one. If, however, you are a frustrated soldier and want a real combat simulator, then strap on your chute and jump right in.