Arma 3 E3 hands-on preview: 8 important questions answered


The same group of questions tend to pop up whenever I mention or write about Arma 3. Will it set my GPU aflame? Is the AI any better? If I'm an everyday FPS player, will the controls give me cholera?

Instead of writing a standard preview, I wanted to directly address these big concerns. I asked Twitter to give me Qs, and I've provided 1,400 words of As based on my hands-on.

Which improvements over Arma 2 did you notice immediately? ( @keenanw )

Scale and terrain detail. Creative Director Ivan Buchta gave me an exclusive look at Limnos by hopping around different points Arma 3's editor. It's more beautiful and authentic than any developer- or player-made island I've seen in Arma.

Myrina, its largest city, is easily two or two and a half times the area of Chernogorsk (Arma 2's largest city). But it's not just “more objects;" the variety of structures and the detail they're granted makes the terrain feel much more developed and authentic. Buchta showed me an enterable airport terminal, a cemetery, a power plant, school playground, high school athletics track, a beach with colored umbrellas stuck into the sand, and a basketball court at night, lit by floodlights.

Exploring Limnos is going to be a joy. I can't wait to fight in these areas; structures instantly appeared and felt less static, and less like cardboard facsimiles, as they sometimes do in A2. 80-90 percent of the buildings I saw were enterable.

Another instantly noticeable difference was lighting. The night section of the demo showed a few soldiers idling under a full moon with chemlights, a campfire, and other light sources around. The exception to this is the nightvision, which other than being a little less neon than A2's pale green filter, still doesn't really resemble authentic nightvision.

What hardware were they running it on and how smooth did it play? ( @erockbart )

Very, very smoothly. A frame counter wasn't visible, so don't interpret this as scientific, but I felt I was running at 50-60+ frames throughout the demo. Bohemia was running a Core i7 at 3.2 GHz and a single GTX 580. Not low-end equipment, certainly, but I wouldn't call that exotic, either. I encountered one or two microscopic hitches while helicoptering, but the game behaved extremely well overall. There was no noticeable dip in framerate when I right-click zoomed in most situations, and gunfire/explosions had zero effect on performance. The largest mission I had probably had 20-25 enemy infantry (and an enemy vehicle) scattered across a kilometer or two, plus my six or seven-man squad.

How do the new animations affect close quarters combat? ( @craig_vg )

You heard it here: Arma 3 is balanced for double lean . The new stance animations operate as modifiers. Like Arma 2, you still hit Q or E to lean, X to crouch, and Z to go prone. But you can take an additional step left or right by hold Ctrl and hitting Q or E again. These adjustments are specific to each stance, so if you're crouched and hit Ctrl + W, you'll poke your head and upper body up a bit. If you're prone, you can twist to the right by hitting Ctrl + E.

There's at least one ridiculous animation, too: when you're prone, if you tap Ctrl + W, you go into this “last stand” kind of pose, you lie almost flat on your back, cradling the gun on your left forearm with the barrel pointed forward. And you can fire while doing this. It looks lazy and heroic and hilarious. I didn't experience too much CQC in the demo, but mostly I'd expect these commands to increase the viability of fighting from windows/openings. They definitely let me peek around corners without taking awkward, stuttering steps, as is often the case in A2. We'll finally have the movement flexibility to pop in and out of cover without being at a disadvantage.

Is the AI stupid? ( @keenanw )

From what was shown? Yeah. The battle scenarios being shown were pretty lightly scripted, but the AI felt like they had the same brains of A2: Operation Arrowhead's soldiers. When engaged, they either ran perpendicular to me or dropped prone where they were and returned fire.

Enemies did a couple of unexpected, semi-smart things, though: I slowed down in a light helicopter (an equivalent of a Little Bird), and got shot out of the cockpit by a rifleman on the ground. I opened fire on a ground base and almost immediately started taking sustained grenade launcher fire from a ground vehicle (that seemed content to stay completely still)--when I crawled to the right. I got injured, reported “Injured” through the action menu, and a squadmate came to heal me within seconds. An infantry group (after splashing about six of them with grenades from a mounted gun), eventually destroyed one of my tires.

Did you get to do any underwater gameplay? ( @serow_man )

Yup. Bohemia was showing a five-minute showcase that I got to play. It's the same demonstration that we saw in this trailer last week.

Piloting the SDV felt like controlling an escape pod in space--Q and Z controlled ascend/descend, A and D turned the vessel. It was absolutely easy to drive; it's literally impossible to roll the thing because W and S don't roll the nose of the ship. The SDV maintains a flat orientation no matter what you do.

The underwater mission was essentially target practice. I floated forward in the SDV a bit, ejected, and swam with my flippers (while using Q and Z to ascend/descend), to a sunken ship. The enemy swimmers in the demo were just treading water. I fired at them with an SDAR, a fictional 6.65mm underwater rifle based on a real-world weapon. The gun made bubbly tracers as they burrowed through the sea, and it was neat to see.

The demo didn't really showcase how a player might use an SDV to quietly observe (with a periscope) or infiltrate a shore, and it's those expanded tactical options that I'm most curious about. Oh, a Blackhawk helicopter did fly overhead while I was underwater at that point. Oh my god, that was wonderful--imagine a shadowy silhouette whirring overhead, blurred by the sea.

How has the UI been improved? I found Arma 2 to have one of the most needlessly byzantine interfaces in recent memory. ( @hhjanes )

The action menu as we know it (using the scroll wheel to do everything from entering vehicles to grabbing ammo and phoning in airstrikes) is in tact. Bohemia says this system could still change, though.

What has been revamped, thank goodness, is player inventory. The version of the gear menu shown wasn't final, but . A left-side column of the menu represents what's on the ground, with the right ? of the screen separately showing what's on your person. That's already an improvement over having the items mixed together, as it is in A2. There's also discrete spaces that show the type of vest you're wearing and the type of backpack you're carrying, and their encumberance levels.

Removing a scope from a weapon (or reattaching it) was as simple as hitting G, double-clicking the scope, and hitting G again to close the menu. The response time of the inventory was much better, too. I didn't have to wait a full second for a magazine or weapon to transfer.

Are there smooth transitions when switching stances? ( @heartborne )

Yup. In first and third person, the new soldier animations have almost none of the rigidity of Arma 2's. They feel a little shorter, too...I didn't feel like I was waiting for a prone or crouch animation to terminate before inputting something else. I especially liked the stance adjustments.

Is the game more accessible than ARMA 2? For example would a Battlefield 3 player perhaps enjoy it? ( @serbusfish )

It's not a fundamentally different game, or anything, but weapon/player movement does feel a little more modern in terms of accessibility, the version I played had a toggleable acceleration setting that made turning with the mouse feel like a modern FPS. Arma typically has an “aiming deadzone” slider which can allow your arms move to independently from your player's body. It may not be cut, but I couldn't find this slider in the version I played.

One design change that'll contribute some accessibility is the addition of a camp hub that you visit between campaign missions. There's a few different things to do scattered around the camp, but the firing range was one of my favorites. It features pop-up targets that you can fire at with different weapons, but smartly, a picture-in-picture close-up of the target itself appears as you're shooting to provide feedback.

Evan Lahti
Global Editor-in-Chief

Evan's a hardcore FPS enthusiast who joined PC Gamer in 2008. After an era spent publishing reviews, news, and cover features, he now oversees editorial operations for PC Gamer worldwide, including setting policy, training, and editing stories written by the wider team. His most-played FPSes are CS:GO, Team Fortress 2, Team Fortress Classic, Rainbow Six Siege, and Arma 2. His first multiplayer FPS was Quake 2, played on serial LAN in his uncle's basement, the ideal conditions for instilling a lifelong fondness for fragging. Evan also leads production of the PC Gaming Show, the annual E3 showcase event dedicated to PC gaming.