It sets itself out to be the ultimate army sim and succeeds but lack of different game modes hurts its overall FPS value
First off if your looking for a realistic army sim you wont find a better game out there than AA. The feel of loading your weapon, looking down the barrel of your gun, and the occasional shell shock all carry weight on the experience. For example, running, breathing, getting shot at, being to close to an explosion, getting wounded, all change how well you can aim your gun or maneuver on the battlefield. If a grenade goes off to close to you, you risk being temporarily deaf, wounded, and shocked making your battle effectiveness next to worthless until it wears off or your healed. If you get shot, you can only take a couple of bullets before you either die or begin to bleed to death. If you get grazed, you will know by your screen starting to tint red and your breathing will pick up pace. If you don't heal yourself after being grazed your aiming will be shaky until you do so. It is encouraged that you heal yourself as soon as possible even if it means you taking cover during a firefight and whipping out your med kit.
You have the ability to patch up some wounds if you (or your squad mate) gets grazed by a bullet or shrapnel (easily done by holding down the "A" button when the icon appears) but this healing skill limited and takes time to perform. The status of the heal is represented by a meter bar. If the act of healing is interrupted in any way, you have to start it again. Keep in mind you cannot shoot or move while your healing yourself or others and your still prone to get shot in the process leaving yourself fairly unprotected. If you take a lethal hit, you will either die or bleed to death. Bleeding to death gives your teammates a chance to heal you and bring you back into the battle. You cannot mend a sever wound on yourself (like you can with a minor wound) and have to rely on your teammates for medical assistance. If they do not assist you in a timely fashion, you will bleed to death and die.
This realism can be found in both the single player and Xbox Live portion of this game. The single player experience (and only single player experience) is simply a career mode. You will start off going thru an obstacle course, followed by gun training and squad team training. Eventually once you get passing scores on those activates you can advance onto simple battles as they unlock. These missions are separated by specialty classes like rifleman, grenadier, automatic rifleman, sniper, etc. You must score a set number of experience points to unlock each mission. Once a new specialty is unlocked you will have to train to use that (specialty weapon) first before you unlock missions using that specialty. For example, the sniper class requires you to pass a gun range test as well as a midnight observation and stealth obstacle course (which is fairly difficult). Once they are complete your sniper missions will be available. There is no difficulty setting to change in the "options" menu so if a mission is too hard for you to finish, your out of luck and too weak to become a solider in America's Army!
After you finish each training exercise or mission you will be awarded skill points. These skill points can be invested into attributes to build up your solider. Skills like leadership, observation, marksmanship, honor, lifesaving, stealth, etc are all skills that help you be a more efficient solider on the battlefield. It will take you a while to build up these skill points but that makes for a more detailed and involved experience giving you a reason to replay a level to improve your past scores and earn more skill points. Your success of your missions also contributes to your rank. As you advance thru the game you will be promoted thru the army's ranks giving you motivation to finish your missions to the best possible outcome. This is where the games single player replayablity value is because there are no "custom battle" or "skirmish" modes you might find on other military shooters.
You will find yourself replaying missions to better your skill points, rank, and overall mission grade. But replaying these missions are still fun in their own right. Even though they have open maps, the mission are still quite linear. Because this game stresses teamwork, you will not be able to separate from you commanding officer for long or risk failing the mission. Freelancing is not tolerated in the single player experience. You will be verbally warned if your too far away from your squad and your commanders icon will start blinking. If you don't catch up to them in time, the mission will end by "lost contact". Even if your trying to heal yourself or a fellow solider (which takes some time to do) and you fall back, you risk being plagued by this penalty. Because of uncontrollably selfish players you'll find online once and a while, the online game lacks this "lost contact" penalty while on Xbox Live when dealing with freelancers.
The AI doesn't seem to understand the "leave no solider behind" rule the game so often preaches. Sometimes your squad mates will just step over a wounded solider so its up to you to acknowledge this and heal them. I think this is more of a bug than anything else. Besides from that the AI (both friendly and enemy) are still quite decent and fair. Often times you will realize how bad of a shot the enemy can be but as the game progresses, the enemies will improve and never really compromises the realistic gameplay. They don't become "super enemies" all of the sudden. All along your fellow solider AI stays consistently smart for the most part causing you to mainly worry about your wellbeing and not covering their ass's all the time. Luckily the game has many invisible checkpoints and will often restart you from that point rather than replaying the entire level which can could get cumbersome if that was the case.
The multiplayer online is a very fun experience however. Players looking for a solid online military sim will not find a better experience anywhere else. You have to build up your online solider just the same as your single player solider. Your success in each battle will determine how many skill points and experience points you receive at the end. Each battle is botless, objective based missions giving you terms of victory you must attain for team success. First team to meet their objectives wins the round. You play 3 rounds and the best team to score 2 our of 3 victories wins the battle. Fear not, you can still not score a kill or be killed in a match and you still will score some points at the end of each round. Keeping with the realism theme, once you are shot and killed, your dead for the rest of the round. Sometimes the wounds are minor and you can heal yourself. Sometimes the wounds are severe and it will require one of your teammates to heal you. If they do not heal you in time, you will simply bleed to death and die. In a way, its almost like respawning but keep in mind this is a realistic shooter so if you do get healed (either by yourself or a teammate) your battle effectiveness will not be as good as how you started. Your aiming will be shakey, your breathing will pick up, and you might run a little slower.
As much as this game does a great job delivering a realistic shooter, it fails to give you plenty of customizable options and different game modes. Other FPS tactical shooters will give you multiple modes to play like capture the flag or team deathmatch. This game only offers you objective based battles and depending on the map that you select will determine what the battle objective will be. The game allows you to customize the profile picture of your solider too but in reality, everyone looks the same in the game. Facial features do not stand out whatsoever in actual gameplay so this is a lost cause already. The graphics in the game are clearly dated and detail is obviously held back to make for a smoother frame rate. Because the graphics are held back a tad does not really hurt this game too much. The gameplay and sound are very satisfying and the smooth frame rate is impressive even in a full 16 player game online. This might have a contribute of the graphics being lackluster. If that's the case, its worth it for a better overall game experience.
Like its PC brother, America's Army looks like (and plays like) a direct port to the Xbox adding a single player mode to the equation. Anyone liking the PC version should like the console version if you like playing tactical console shooters. If your happy with the PC version of this game just fine, you will find it to be a similar experience on the Xbox. The single player mode alone does not justify its full $50 retail value if you already enjoy the PC version. If your a PC AA fanboy and your buying the console version to play both single player and online play then your good to drop the cash for it. You will find more in depth training in the PC version that you will not find in the console release but for good reason. Too much in depth training like taking quizzes and sitting thru virtual class lectures (like in the PC game) would have slowed down this game too much for its own good on a console. The developers did a good job thinking that one thru.
Overall, this game set out to give the player an American Army simulator and it really delivers on multiple levels. You will comfortably find that this game does not feel like a recruiting tool first, then a game second. I repeat, AA is defiantly a game and is not to be meant to be taken as a solid recruiting tool. The lack of detailed graphics and different playable game modes defiantly hurt this games replayability and value. If your a hardcore realistic military shooter fan you should own this game. If you have your doubts and like realism but not at the sake to lack online game modes than maybe you should rent it. If your a run-n-gun type of FPS player and don't like tactical shooters, stay away from this game all together. America's Army is defiantly a game that was developed with a certain player in mind. In that sense, the game truly delivers a fun and worthwhile experience that tactical shooter fans will come to enjoy time and time again.