ARMA III: This Is War

E3 2012: ARMA III looks gorgeous and untamed. And it makes you earn your victories, one bullet at a time.

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In an age of military-themed turkey shoots and hackneyed battlefield dialogue, we need games like Arma III more than ever. Like its predecessors, it isn't a shooter as we think of them: it's a war simulator in which you cover a vast expanse of land on foot and in vehicles. Land isn't your only means of travel, however. You can jump into a helicopter and admire its authentically crafted cockpit before soaring into the blue beyond. You can don scuba equipment, swim through the bubbling sea, and pilot a submarine to your destination.

We didn't see a lot of full-fledged gameplay during the ARMA III demonstration, but it's clear that Bohemia Interactive is trying to clean up its interface, spruce up the AI, and deliver a clean, well-optimized experience. There's no way to say this without sounding overly enthusiastic, but it must be said: the graphics engine is stunning at this stage. The series has always strived for visual authenticity, but this might be one of the most realistic-looking games we've ever seen. ARMA II's stiff animations and odd blurriness have given way to fluid soldier movement and crystal-clear textures.

Not that games are all about graphics, of course, but when you strive for authenticity, these touches can make all the difference. When diving into the reefs, you notice the way the sunlight plays on the surface above you and how the water reacts when a helicopter hovers overhead. Grass and bushes sway realistically, and light reflects as you expect it would, without filling the screen with excess glare and unnecessary blood splatter. The point of it all? To make you feel like you are there.

And boy are you ever there. When night falls, it's truly dark. You can position your own body in various ways to avoid damage while maximizing your own. Forget just leaning, going prone, and crouching: you can roll while prone, lean back on your elbows, and dip forward while in a crouch. In ARMA III, enemies take advantage of your vulnerabilities. You need to survey the landscape, don night-vision goggles when the situation calls for it, and avoid open areas that could make you vulnerable. But Bohemia Interactive doesn't just want its game to be hardcore: it also wants it to be more playable.

If you're an ARMA fan, don't freak out. The producers aren't trying to make the game more "accessible" per se; this isn't the next Call of Duty. Rather, it's about a better interface (onscreen indicators were cleaner than in the past, for instance) and making the controls as fluid as possible. The team has lots of time to optimize the game, certainly: ARMA won't be released until 2013. For more on how ARMA III strives to best its predecessors, watch the video at the top of this article. If anything else, it demonstrates the passion Bohemia Interactive brings to its wargames.

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