Zeus sets us a series of deadly war games in Arma 3: Apex

We battle it out in a series of sporting-style challenges across Tanoa.

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 303. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US. 

Set on the jungle islands of Tanoa, our first ever Arma 3 Sports Day will put the team through five brutal trials of skill and fortitude. These challenges, orchestrated by the almighty deity Zeus (well, Andy), will test essential skills such as marksmanship, driving, avoiding lightning bolts, and hiding from a helicopter in a bush. The challengers won’t know what each event involves until the chaos begins, and the mischievous Zeus will keep things interesting by throwing a few surprises into the mix, usually involving sheep. Who will be the champion?

Meet the team

Andy Kelly (Zeus) I’ve played a lot of Arma 3 and am well-versed in Zeus mode, particularly spawning sheep.

Samuel Roberts I’ve only played Arma 3 once, for a feature, and had to be taught how to climb over things again.

Chris Thursten I’ve played a bit of Arma 3, but needed to replay some of the campaign to get up to speed.

Phil Savage What’s the crouch button? What’s the get in car button? It’s been a while since I last Arma’d.

Tom Senior I’ve never really played Arma either. This hardcore war sim can’t be that hard, right?

Death Karts

THE RULES

Race three laps, avoiding obstacles, mortar strikes, and other dangers. The challenger in first place, or the last man standing, wins.

Andy: I don’t know why Arma 3 has go-kart DLC. There’s something absurd about a soldier decked out in full military gear skidding around in a tiny car. Which was the inspiration for my first event, Death Karts. The guys have to make three laps of the runway, which I’ve littered with wrecked vehicles and sheep. I’ll also be flinging lightning bolts and maybe the occasional mortar strike, just to spice things up. 

Phil: We set off. I dodge tanks, rusted boats and other detritus (is that a sheep?), and, as I approach the halfway point of the first lap, I’m in the lead. The shouting from nearby desks suggests that I might be the only one left moving. Then I explode. Er, Andy, what was that? 

Andy: Yeah. Death Karts was maybe a little too deadly. Rather than exciting obstacles to avoid, the mortar strikes were just annoyingly powerful. Halfway through the first lap, everyone’s either dead or their karts are broken. So I decide to start again minus the artillery. And because it’s taken us 40 minutes to get to this point, I decide that one lap is enough. Now it’s time for Slightly Less Deadly Karts. Go! 

Chris: I’m lagging behind Sam as we reach the end of the runway for the first time, but then he clips the side of one of our own ruined karts, does a forward flip, and dies. I thread a safer course, by which I mean I run over his head. I’m clear in the lead: Phil’s lost his kart by this point, and Tom died early. But then I hear gunfire: Tom sprints back onto the track from the respawn point, takes aim, and kills me. Nobody wins. 

Tom: Welcome to the senseless horror of Death Karts, Chris. If I can’t win, everybody dies. 

Samuel: My death was sudden and embarrassing. 

Phil: Technically I’m alive, but I have no wheels. I can move, but slowly, and always to the right. If we had a few hours, I might make it a few metres down the road. We don’t, though, so instead we persuade Andy to give us another go. 

Tom: I am officially disqualified from earning any points because of my previous unsportsmanlike behaviour. In my despair I crash into a downed helicopter and explode.

Chris: I manage a pretty clean run on our final attempt at this, pulling ahead and staying there because I know that you can hold down Shift to make cars go faster. Nobody else knows this, and I do not tell them until after I’ve crossed the finish line. I savour my gold medal, even though it comes with the silvery tang of betrayal. Mmmm. 

Phil: What! I press Shift and, sure enough, I get a burst of speed. I would be annoyed, but the revelation allows me to overtake Samuel for second place. 

Samuel: I’m just grateful to make it round the track, which I do. I’m furious that Chris didn’t share this detail, but hopefully karma will get him back in a coming event.

Winner: Chris
2nd: Phil
3rd: Samuel

Bird of Prey

THE RULES

Challengers are trapped in a mountain base while Zeus attacks in a helicopter. Last man standing wins.

Andy: Comms Alpha is a military outpost on the precarious edge of a dormant volcano. I’ll be assaulting it in an Mi-48 Kajman attack chopper. There are a few buildings for the guys to hide in, but I’ll be able to flatten them with my missiles. I spawn the Kajman a few miles away then slowly make my way towards the base. I wish there was an option to play ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. 

Tom: Ah, the cowardice challenge—I’ve got this. At one end of the base there’s a huge building shaped like a golf ball. I’m certain Andy won’t be able to resist destroying that first. In fact, I think buildings are generally a death sentence here so I pick a largeish bush on the outskirts of the base, lie on my stomach and unceremoniously roll into the roots as far as I can. In first-person view I can see a wall. From third-person I can only see leaves. I’m not moving. 

Andy: I realise how bad I am at flying helicopters. Precise Gatling gun fire is out of the equation, so I just pummel the base with rockets and hope for the best. Of course I destroy the giant golf ball first.

Phil: Unbeknownst to me, I’ve hidden in the same bush as Tom. As Andy rains hellfire down upon the buildings, I wedge myself further into my leafy sanctuary. This is a good plan! Suddenly, unexpectedly, I’m dead. I ask Andy if my movement had tipped him off. It turns out no. The downside to lying in the grass as an attack helicopter flies overhead is that there’s nothing to protect you from a stray rocket. Writing that sentence down after the fact, it sounds really obvious. 

Samuel: I get in the nearest building, because it’s so obvious I don’t think Andy will search there first. I see the smoke as Andy destroys the building next to me—this is like a survival horror game where the monster is a chopper. It’s genuinely tense. Andy clips me with ricocheting bullets but I heal myself as he restocks. 

Chris: I’ve got a plan. We can’t shoot each other, or Andy, but there’s more to a Arma character than guns. I hide in a building with a window overlooking Tom’s bush. I suspect he’s safe down there, so as Andy passes over I ready a red smoke grenade and attempt to throw it down at him. It bounces off the inside of the window and goes off at my feet. Shit. Red smoke billowing from the window I’m at, I flee and enact plan B: hide from Andy by running directly beneath him. This does not work because helicopters are faster than people. As he fires aimlessly at the containers I’m hiding behind, I take a hit. I just about manage to heal and sprint away. 

Tom: There is a lot of scary noise, but all I can see is the bush I’m in. Save me, sweet bush.

Chris: I hide in one of the perimeter huts for a while but Andy gets dangerously close, so I move to one of the bushes on the far side of the base from Tom. It’s there that I get clipped by a stray round, crippling my ability to sprint. I’m not going to last long like this. I’ve got one last shot at revealing Tom: I’ve got to find Phil’s body. I walk-crawl across the base, hiding in the ruins Andy has left in his wake. Miraculously, I make it from one side to the other in the gaps between several passes. There, in the bushes, I find Phil’s bloody corpse. I loot it for grenades and turn, locating Tom by the faint squadmate indicator on my HUD. I throw first the red smoke and then the white smoke towards him. All I need to do now is wait. I take cover next to Phil... and am promptly shot to death as Andy strafes towards Tom’s position. 

Tom: I had no idea that Chris did this until I saw the replay later. It’s a fitting act of revenge. We’re all square, so I’m sure this will be the end of it. Yes, very sure. 

Samuel: It turns out the building I hid in was impossible to destroy, which is Andy’s fault. So I win.

Winner: Samuel
2nd: Tom
3rd: Chris

Deep trouble

THE RULES

Race from the tip of Nani to Muaceba on water scooters, avoiding Zeus’s lightning bolts. The first person to reach the shore wins.

Andy: A simple race next. The guys have to drive a pair of ‘water scooters’ (basically non-copyright-infringing Jet Skis) from the tip of one landmass to another. I can’t place obstacles on the water, so this’ll be a lot less nerve-racking than Death Karts. Although I will be spicing things up with the occasional lightning bolt. And I also set the weather to stormy to make it too easy for them. 

Challengers are trapped in a mountain base while Zeus attacks in a helicopter. Last man standing wins.

Phil: We point ourselves at the target and go! And keep going. I don’t mean to criticise—you’re doing great work here, Andy—but where exactly is the trouble in this event?

Turns out Deep Trouble is light on actual trouble, but it is deep.

Andy: Yeah, turns out Deep Trouble is very light on actual trouble. Although it is deep! It’s basically very difficult to make a straight race across some water exciting, even when chucking lightning bolts around. So consider this a nice break before the drama ramps up again. It might have been more fun if the water scooter controls weren’t terrible. There’s a lot of things Arma does badly, including the handling of various non-military vehicles, but I won’t hold that against Bohemia. They probably didn’t expect some idiots to use their game to stage a Jet Ski race. 

Chris: I should not have gloated about the power of the Shift button. Use of the Shift button is all that separates winners from losers in this game of riding a Jet Ski in a straight line, and I do not win.

Samuel: I win! Probably because I had slightly more luck with the waves than the others did, or I guess I cheated and left the starting line half a second early. That event was... uneventful. 

Andy: Zeus screwed this one up, but you try using an engine designed for military simulation to create a comedy sports day. I should have called in a few mortar strikes.

Winner: Samuel
2nd: Chris
3rd:  Tom

Shoot to kill

THE RULES

Zeus runs between shipping containers. Challengers have to kill him as quickly as possible from a sniping spot. Shortest time wins.

Andy: And now for a test of marksmanship. I ask the guys to climb to the top of an enormous cargo crane at the Blue Pearl docks. It looks out over a long row of shipping containers, which I’ll be zigzagging through. Each challenger will take it in turns to kill me. I was originally going to have them all firing simultaneously, but it was too difficult to determine who killed me. So this way works a lot better. 

Tom: I’m up first. I make sure I’m crouched, because that improves the stability of your aim in Arma. Then I make sure I’m shuffled up close enough to the safety rail for my weapon’s bipod to deploy. That should make aiming even easier. There are tense moments as I look down the range, then I spot a tiny figure booking it across open ground. I fire wildly. Dust kicks up behind the tiny dude as my bullets hit the dirt. This must be terrifying for Andy. 

Andy: Being under fire in Arma 3 is genuinely scary. I hear the whistle and crack of Tom’s bullets around me, but I manage a few laps of the containers without getting hit. My guy keeps running out of breath and slowing down, because this is Arma and simulation governs everything. Eventually I keel over and die.

Tom: Andy’s simulated asthma attack is the only reason I’m accidentally able to eventually take him down. Turns out a bipod and good combat posture are useless if you get a massive giggling fit halfway through the challenge. 

Phil: My turn. I’m initially thrown when Andy adds a slight variation on his route, and later when Tom crawls onto the edge of the crane in an attempt to put me off. Soon, though, Andy is back on course and Tom is plummeting off the crane to his death. It takes a couple of loops, but I bring Andy down in what I hope was a respectable time. 

Andy: I was sticking roughly to the same route, but throwing in a few curveballs to keep things exciting. Fair? Not entirely, but this ain’t the Olympics. If I was in charge of that it’d be a nightmare, and absolutely covered in sheep.

Chris: I feel pretty confident about this: I know the ‘hold breath’ key. As the others take their turns I daydream about lining up the perfect shot and dropping Andy with a single round, but I’ll settle for a nice clean kill. It starts well: I tag Andy on his first pass, but the next two are a wash. I finally down him shortly after, about ten seconds faster than Phil and Tom. But I’m no Deadshot: that honour goes to the biggest fan of C-list Batman villains in the office. 

Samuel: It feels like it takes me forever to even hit Andy, but when I finally connect he’s down in seconds. It doesn’t feel like I’ve won... but somehow I have, by just a few seconds. Now who’s Deadshot, Chris?

Winner: Samuel (00:48:660
2nd: Chris (00:50:70)
3rd: Phil (01:09:81)

Battle Royale

THE RULES

A fight to the death on a small island. Challengers have a minute to select a starting point. The last man standing is the winner.

Andy: And now for the grand finale. Ile Sainte-Marie is one of the smallest islands in Tanoa. The perfect arena for a fight to the death. There’s a large rocky outcrop in the middle surrounded by thick jungle, which should give the team plenty of hiding spots. I give them a minute before the round starts to choose a starting position, then the chaos begins. The last man standing wins, and there are no rules. I’ll also be randomly spawning civilians and animals, just so I have something to do. 

Tom: The island is heavily forested, and foliage has betrayed me once already in this challenge. If I wander into the trees, spotting other players will be a matter of luck, so I come up with a different plan. I run until I’m out of sight of the others, then I wade into the sea and start to circle the island. I keep my head just above the water so I can see. 

Chris: Tom and I had the same plan, it seems. I know this because I can see him poking out of the sea, just down the shoreline from me. We look at each other awkwardly as Andy gives the ‘go’ command, but I’ve got time to bring up my sights and drop him with a single shot. It turns out there was a crucial difference in our positions: his gun was under the water, but mine wasn’t.


Tom: Idea good; execution bad. I’m rubbish at soldiering. 

Phil: I, like Iron Maiden before me, run to the hills. This may be a mistake. For some reason, I’m running out of stamina really quickly, even when walking at a normal pace. I think I may be over-encumbered. That’ll teach me for stealing some of Chris’s rockets out of his backpack. 

Chris: I stalk away from the shore towards the undergrowth and soon spot Phil coming down the slope towards me, facing away. I manage to land a hit, at which point he scurries behind a tree. We trade shots for a while and then… an old man in a blue T-shirt runs past my gunsights. He runs around me in a circle, then stops in front of me. “Andy?” I say, stupidly. Of course it’s Andy. I hear the sound of an RPG and Andy explodes. 

Phil: Wait, that was Andy? In my panic, I fired on the first thing I saw moving, not stopping to wonder why it was dressed in a plain shirt and denim. I switch back to my rifle, but I’m exposed—I left the safety of the tree to get a clean rocket shot. I fire off a few bullets, but I’m an easy target, and quickly taken down. 

Samuel: With just me and Chris left, I suppose I’d better leave the outcrop of rocks I’ve been perched on while the others sorted each other out. I head towards Chris, who hasn’t spotted me yet—past the civilian’s dead body, which is unnerving. 

Chris: I loop around the hilltop. Sheep and chickens are spawning all around me and Andy makes a flock of birds erupt from the bushes at my position. It’s not subtle. I spot Sam in the distance, and fire. I miss and hide behind a tree. Time to take some notes out of Phil’s playbook. 

Samuel: I fire at Chris and miss. He turns toward me, there’s an explosion and Chris is dead! What happened? 

Chris: I ready my RPG and lean around the tree just a few inches. There is a sheep looking at me. I place Sam in my sights and pull the trigger before he can respond. 

...but here’s the thing. RPGs, right? They’ve got a big scope, and it sticks out substantially from the actual rocket-propelled-grenade part of the apparatus. The big tube that blows things up. What I am saying is that while I am pointing the scope out from behind the tree, I am in fact pointing my RPG at solid bark. I fire. I blow up. 

Samuel: In retrospect, I could have won this round without firing a bullet. Amazing scenes. I feel like luck has played a part in at least two of my victories, especially as someone who hasn’t even finished the tutorial. But the important thing is, I won.

Winner: Samuel
2nd: Chris
3rd: Phil

The final results

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