My ribs are in the sand. My eyes are pressed into an infrared scope. A Blackhawk helicopter thunders overhead, a pinwheeling silhouette against the sun. It's taking small arms fire—I can hear the pangs of bullets striking the Blackhawk's belly.
And then, a lucky shot pegs the pilot through the canopy. A green tracer streak hangs in the air, evidence of the bullet's trajectory—the chopper swerves, dead on the throttle, into the dust. A random rifleman with a simple AK-74 just took a multi-million-dollar piece of steel out of the sky through sheer luck. Anything can happen in ArmA 2'sunscripted, high-fidelity war playground. At its best, it's an engine for combat anecdotes like these—a box of real military equipment that operates with uncompromising authenticity, driven by your actions.
Operation Arrowhead simply adds more toys and tech to that sandbox: infrared optics, unmanned aerial drones, detachable backpacks, a heap of new firearms and vehicles, and a 230-square-kilometer, Afghanistanlike desert theater called Takistan to deploy them in.
The seven-mission campaign is a short but straightforward tour of OA's new content. You transition between three army roles: securing an airport as a Delta Force operator, smothering infantry with cannon fire as a Bradley armored vehicle commander and knocking out convoys as an Apache combat chopper pilot. But the best missions will come from ArmA 2's vast modding community. OA includes ArmA 2's mission editor tool, a blank slate for the wildest 150-plane dogfight, convoy ambush or sabotage skirmish you can think of. I made a mission where women in jogging suits, aided by a helicopter gunship, had to protect four cows from an all-out land assault by rocket-wielding insurgents. Online co-op is still far and away the best venue for these imaginative army escapades.
The new combat systems and weapons are technically impressive. Using an unmanned drone to launch a missile right into a terrorist's doorway from six kilometers away perfectly captures the thrill of coordination and execution. Eyeing an enemy patrol through an infrared sniper rifle makes you feel more like a modern warrior than Modern Warfare 2's Hollywood scenes.
But a reinforcement of content isn't whatArmA 2needed most. It's still a game whose technology is out of step with its massive scope. Larger firefights in urban areas can dip the framerate to single digits, even on the record-breaking $7,000 PC we reviewed on page 91. Friendly AI is a mindless mess when it comes to pathfinding (especially in vehicles), sometimes taking minutes to reach waypoints that are steps away.
A few of the new additions are incomplete, too. “Dialing in” your scope, for example, lets you adjust your aim on a long-range gun, but there's no animation associated with doing so—a number value simply changes on the screen. And the potentially exciting Scud missile launchers don't actually attack anything, they just launch their missiles straight up, apparently into orbit. Take that, ET.
These issues haunt the experience, but the bigger deterrent to newcomers will be ArmA 2's insatiable, buggy engine. You get the impression that Bohemia has released this expansion with the expectation that the ArmA 2 modding community will complete it. It will, of course.
Arrowhead's flaws are a byproduct of its massive ambition. Though they let some of the air out of the simulation, the unscripted, anything-canhappen warfare still makes Operation Arrowhead a ticket to one of the most unique, satisfying and immersive shooters on our platform.
Thermal optics and other combat toys make Operation Arrowhead the most realistic wargame sim available today.