Updated: April 27, 2012
Last autumn, Operation Flashpoint celebrated its tenth year of release. To mark the birthday of the best first person shooter ever created, Bohemia Interactive decided to offer all of its available Operation Flashpoint franchise games as one mega pack. For just fifty dollars, you could buy the original Operation Flashpoint, complete with Cold War Assault, Red Hammer and the Resistance campaigns, the so-called Game Of The Year (GOTY) gold pack, ArmA, ArmA II, ArmA Operation Arrowhead, and ArmA British Forces, plus some extras. It was too good a deal to pass on, so I cashed in my new year's present early and started playing.
Now, you have seen me write about Operation Flashpoint and ArmA II. But now I have a brand new computer that is rad in frames per second, plus many fresh hours of pimping both in singleplayer campaigns and multiplayer games with family and friends on privately hosted servers. Which means you are entitled to a new review, replete with high-definition screenshots, funny, weird and realistic moment, extra unnecessary commentary, and other cool things. After me, warriors.
What makes all Bohemia Interactive games unique is the no-nonsense approach to combat. The developers are all former soldiers, trained in the brutal, cheap-human-meat Soviet doctrine of fighting. This puts them apart from the city-grown goatee-sporting urbanites slash code monkeys of the soft gamers' world of the Silicon Valley, where the most realistic shooter asymptotically approaches Die Hard on a good day.
In my original ArmA II review, which only focused on the free version, I was dissatisfied with some of the elements. The big one was the eye focus thingie, designed to simulate realistic movement. The only problem is, in real life, your body moves while the reality remains mostly still. So the effect is not quite achieved, but you do get extra bonus points if you suffer from epilepsy. This is exacerbated if you have weaker computers with sub-adequate graphics cards that cannot handle all of the fancy details.
My initial review was done on the HP laptop with an Nvidia 320M GT card, offering a reasonable but not baby-ass-smooth experience. With the ultra-leet gaming rig I got meself last summer, things are looking much better. Part of the problem is resolved, but the focus blur remains. There's also the moronic side jump, which will happen whether you try to clear an obstacle or a grain of dirt. For people used to scope their sight pressing the V button on their keyboard, the original Operation Flashpoint shortcut, you will suffer many a stupid moment by halting your run to kazachok over a ladybug.
Still, you get really splendid graphics, amazing landscape that looks like Central Europe, for most part, except those labeled Takistan and Zargabad, which obviously are not located in said continent, and very good dynamics of the combined arms combat. Artificial intelligence is fairly smart, justifying its label.
There are several campaigns available in the game pack, and I can proudly say I never completed even one. The simple reason is, they are boring. You see, in the original Flashpoint game, you were a soldier and you did all them soldierly things, you fought, killed and died. You were engaged in massive battles, Soviet style, with tanks rolling and helicopters flying and whatnot. Only now and then did you have to engage in less interesting missions, like reconnaissance and some captivity. But the bulk of it was plain and simple fighting.
In ArmA II, they decided to add a social element - Facebook Soviet army style, if you will. The importance of interaction with the civilian population is critical to the mission success. So you must not shoot innocent people and you must talk to them, if you wish to get information. They all talk in Czech, which is funny, but no matter. Now, this civil thingie is overrated and overused.
You spend hours upon hours going around, talking to this and that local, trying to puzzle out where the evil enemy might be hiding. And if you get it wrong, you will spend yet more hours wandering idly about, never quite knowing the scripted if-then conditions bested you. I like the pastoral Bohemian forests and 50kph limit roads eaten by rains, snow and tank tracks, but when you have to do it in real time, holding W button pressed for 20 minutes, then things get a tiny unpleasant. The maps are huge, but please, I'm not a Google Maps van.
I found myself driving across huge maps with nothing happening. Nothing at all. Sometimes I would get so tired, I would lose concentration and get my Humvee hit someone or something, causing much alarm and whatnot, forcing me to go back and start all over again. And let's not forget the fuel station stops. Yes, you're playing the Czech version of Sherlock Holmes, driving around with your buddies, hunting for evil Ruskies.
Another aspect in the game is the supposed reality of war, which includes all kinds of war crimes. This, too, is overplayed. Not Modern Warfare airport bullshit, but still a little too corny. And if you happen to be wearing night vision goggles when you save a Russian woman from the evil guys, you'd better step away or she might bite you.
This same woman shows up later dressed in a skirt and retro shoes that are best described as Don Johnson trying Emir Kusturica gypsy dress of code. Let's not forget the all too revealing cleavage and the desperate look at me, I'm divorced and need an American hubby for my green card kind of moves. And later still, she's there with her friends, in tight sweatpants, plus some relatives, trying to free cousin Bilo from a house. Or something like that. The eternal Lada 2104 adds class to the scene.
And then she runs away from me when I offer her candies.
Anyhow, the Lada scene:
Multiplayer is the good part of the game. You can play anything you want, cooperative, deathmatch, team deathmatch, whatever you fancy strikes you. If you launch the game as Combined Operations, you will have all of the titles available, with most of the missions in Takistan and Zargabad as the British forces. Still, there's enough variety to get you engaged for a while, although I'd like more tanks, more artillery, more heavy boom boom. Or squeaky boom time as the British call it.
One of the missions I really liked is a generic desert encounter with enemies, sort of Bravo Two Zero style. You get your mates all lying in dirt, shooting at the enemy coming at you in overwhelming numbers. And there's an APC you knock down with a rocket. And then, every time you reload, you character announces this highly critical detail, just as professional soldiers do. Damn, I liked it. Speaking of childish fanboyism.
Night raids when you evacuate by helo are also quite nice.
Goofing around is also great. For instance, me and my bro would fire up this generic nighttime shoot-em-all mission, sneak into one of the BTRs waiting about and then commence slaughter. Likewise, team deathmatches in in very characteristic Central to Eastern European cities are among the best mission types you can have on your own, especially if have no friends and must use bots to keep you company. There's something nostalgic running through these towns with apparent semi-rural neglect and casual debris that only serves the purpose of muscling up your graphics card, especially when you have tons of crates strewn about, with every conceivable weapon stored in there.
You even get a gold-plated revolver. Yup. Thus the catchphrase the man with the golden gun gets a whole new meaning in this game. Who would have thought. But yes, you can have a good time in the multiplayer mode.
There are many cool things in the game. Attention to detail is quite good. Dead and wounded are depicted with remarkably realistic damage, so keep your children away until you can wean them from Rambo and hook them into the Spetsnaz school of tough. Not that you're in for the red pixels, right? Right.
You will also notice that when you're fighting at night or in low visibility conditions, thermal seekers come extremely handy. And the IR signatures are shown with great accuracy. For example, in a certain sniping mission, the heat radiating off a helicopter engine slowly faded as it cooled. Yup, some twenty minutes later, the engine bloom was indistinguishable from the fuselage metal. That's bonus points, in my lexicon.
In general, the thermal seekers distort the view in a flat, 2D image, as you'd expect. There's no depth to heat, you just get the color map, which creates somewhat eerie images. For instance, if there's an enemy soldier standing in front of a burning wreckage, you might think he's inside it, but they could be tens of meters apart, in the same line of sight.
Now, no game is complete without some lovely, unexpected bugs. If you've read my OFP goofing article, you will recall many merry a moment there. Lulzing is not in shortage in ArmA II, although you get a whole new palette of bugs. For example, if you happen to fly a C-130 into a hangar building, it will explode mid-fuselage first. Better yet, if you happen to nosedive your A-10 Warthog into a tower building, you might survive without a scratch.
Sometimes, when missions start, camps are dislocated [sic] into nearby rivers or sea, whatever you want to call them, so you end up with floating tents and dozens of Russian soldiers swimming oh so gracefully to the tune of rifle fire raining around them.
So here we are. You may ask me, was your fifty dollar investment worth it? The answer is, mostly yes. From the singleplayer campaigns perspective, no. Those happen to be a very big disappointment. The tight-packed action is gone, replaced with exploration and social interaction. I'm a soldier, dammit, not a psychologist. But the multiplayer is worth every penny, even with all the little glitches.
The game has lovely graphics, good dynamics, good artificial intelligence, and overall, offers the most realistic combat you'll get in any game, save its sacred predecessor. While Operation Flashpoint allowed rather equal exposure to infantry, armor and air units in a large, Soviet-style theater of war, ArmA focuses on small-arms combat in dissimilar situations, mostly against insurgents. This might irk you. I know it does irk me.
Some other things are inexcusably annoying, like the eye focus and side jump nonsense. Still, they do not detract too much from the core fun element of the game. Like I said, the multiplayer justifies the purchase, and you have hundreds of missions available online, if you want to boost your arsenal. Overall, 9/10, better than the last time, which is good. Soon, we'll have another ArmA review. Why, you may be asking. Well, I happen to have a little surprise for you, so you just wait there.