That means of creating more realistic training scenarios was found in the mission editor. Using the editor, it was a simple operation to set up a group of infantry, a squad of tanks, or any combination of disparate military elements to use for target practice. Make no mistake about this, though: they fought back, and they fought back well enough that my survival required that I pay close attention to what was going on. Just knowing where the targets were and how many of them were arrayed against me was not enough – it still required careful planning and execution to nail them all without getting blown away myself. That said, this eventually came to be my favorite way to play ArmA II for reasons I will get to a little later.
When it came time to practice the operation of weapons and vehicles without dealing with the risk of having other AI folks trying to kill me, I found the Armory to be useful. Well, mostly. I didn't feel that I gained much useful expertise from the time that I spent as a chicken. What I primarily used the Armory for was my futile attempts to configure the controls of the air vehicles to use my Saitek X52 throttle and joystick. In this I was quite unfortunately unsuccessful. The control configuration screen is, in my opinion, nearly useless for the task of setting flight controls with a joystick. Sadly, my inability to configure the controls to allow for realistic flight completely negated the inclusion of the multitudinous vehicles provided. I cannot (will not) fly a helicopter with a mouse and/or keyboard. As a pilot myself, that was a major disappointment.
Having discussed the high degree of realistic behavior in ArmA II, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Real Virtuality 3 engine used to power the game is used to provide the same levels of realistic behavior to training simulators used by various military units around the world. Beyond the tactical challenges, though, the engine provides for a rich graphical environment that comes as close to photo-realistic as I expect to see with the current performance level of consumer-grade hardware. Vehicles in particular are quite detailed and well textured. Open fields are gorgeous at a distance, but macro views of foliage will remind you that you're looking at a rendering vice the real thing. There's still room for a Real Virtuality 4 engine, but improvements in graphics will likely be incremental.
There's also quite a bit of room for improvement on the aspect known as the Dynamic Conversation System. This is a speech engine that creates on-the-fly communications from your squad mates and leadership. It is a feature that sent me on a desperate search for a way to turn it off. The resulting speech is highly robotic and quickly becomes as irritating as a Wal-Mart self-checkout machine with a speech impediment. “Move. Fifty. Feet. Forward.” “Engage. That. Man. In. Front.”
Me: “Please. Shut. Up!”
I also alluded previously to my preference for using the mission editor to create battle scenarios. I developed this preference due to the periodic frustrations that come from the campaign mode. Now admittedly, it is not the fault of the campaign mode if I can't figure out who I'm supposed to be following or what I'm supposed to be doing, but some degree of angst is attributable to the engine if it fails to recognize that a mission has been completed. I also found the scope of activities going on around me to cause some confusion when a task assigned to me by high command switched to 'Failed' or 'Completed' before I actually go there. It seemed more common that not to have simultaneous tasks that were widely geographically separated. When creating my own missions, I found it much easier to fully understand the fixed goals that I put in place and concentrate on the tactics of completing them.
In summary, I'd say that it is important to understand exactly what ArmA II is and what it is not. It is a very realistic simulation of a modern battlefield, including the complexity and difficulty that is incumbent with a large, open, and very active arena. It is not a run & gun, fast-paced, easily learned shooter. Those looking for the latter will be disappointed by the challenging learning curve and relatively slow action. Those looking for the former might be frustrated by some of the areas that could use a little polish, but will be pleased with the depth and breadth of the offering.
Bohemia Interactive's ArmA II provides an ultra-realistic military shooter for those that are up to the challenge. There are some rough spots, but those are adequately compensated for by the complex and realistic battle environment.
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