Arma 3 review

Evan Lahti at

Simulation isn’t the defining aspect of Arma. It’s scale.

The enormity of the map is the foundation for the experiences that distinguish Bohemia Interactive’s flagship franchise. It’s what makes radios, topographical maps, binoculars, and compasses practical equipment in an FPS. It’s what allows for kilometer-long headshots and coordinated convoy raids. It’s what makes using your eyes to spot hints of enemies--muzzle flashes, tracers, gunsmoke--as valuable as being a crack shot.

The scale of Arma 3 dwarfs everything in the genre, including Arma 2. Altis, a keyhole portion of which is seen in these screenshots, is a Mediterranean island-nation assembled from ruins, airports, coastal villages, solar power plants, military outposts, salt flats, and tank-friendly scrubland. It’s a variegated backyard for you to play war in, but what’s more significant is that Arma’s landscape finally has the technology it deserves.

Fictional and adapted contemporary weapons, vehicles, and equipment make up Arma 3's armory.

Arma 3 represents an aesthetic overhaul of the series. Unbelievable dynamic lighting, a volumetric cloud system, genuine vehicle physics, 3D weapon optics, ragdoll, noticeably improved weapon audio, and other grainy, eye-level details await scrutiny inside Arma 3’s macro elegance. The best improvement is the merciful cutting of Arma 2’s rigid, Tin-Man-without-oil combat animations, which makes infantry combat more responsive in your hands.

A half-year in paid pre-release has given Arma 3 time to gestate, but the final build is far from being a comprehensive reinvention of the series, and some long-standing blemishes that arise from its nature as a gargantuan simulation linger. Even on high-end hardware, my framerate dips under the spectacle of some multiplayer missions. Friendly AI units, though marginally better-behaved, still depend on the player to be their brains, an issue that’s circumvented by playing Arma the way God intended it: cooperatively.

A tank percusses the ground after firing.

Operation cooperation

With voice-connected friends and a good user-created mission, Arma 3 is an unparalleled war story generator. On Operation Fault Line with a gang of Steam pals, I had to drive a clumsy, eight-wheeled transport called a HEMTT across the map. To protect this elephantine truck we had a IFV-6c Panther, an APC with a mounted grenade launcher and 12.7mm MG. Minutes after leaving base, our tanky bodyguard eats a land mine, ruining its left track. As we get out to survey the damage, rockets streak across the valley. Everyone’s okay, but the Panther is immobilized.

Dumping the APC is the only option. We clump into the fragile HEMTT, burning diesel to get off the exposed ridge. Green tracers track the truck, eventually pricking some of my tires. The wheels don’t deflate enough to go flat, but the suspension slumps to the left. For the rest of the mission I have to drive lopsided, constantly counter-steering just to keep the truck on the gravel road. But everyone works together to keep our war bus on track--my teammates give turn instructions, read the map, and scan the road for more mines.

When we’re free of immediate danger, we send someone back to base to retrieve an ATV so that we have a forward scouting element. At one point we position two machinegunners with nightvision scopes at the lip of a valley to provide cover as we drive the HEMTT down an exposed valley, then taxi them back to us on the ATV. The sequence of events, the chatter, the wounds and kills we rack up, all developed because we happened to run over a mine and our tires got shot up.