E3 2011: ARMA III Preview Impressions

In ARMA III, the sprawling military sim series heads to the Mediterranean.

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One of the best shooting games of E3 2011 is not one you would see at a big press conference. Instead, ARMA III was tucked away in Bohemia Interactive's South Hall booth, where it remained unseen by the crowds wowed by the hype of Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. Those are fine games, to be sure, but as PC gamers know, the ARMA series is something special. The games aren't first-person shooters as much as they are military simulators, and ARMA III looks to expand upon what made the first ARMA games so beloved. Major engine improvements, a 3D mission editor, and plenty more features are in store for this sequel, which will give you an extraordinary amount of flexibility in how to accomplish your goals.

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Bohemia's Ivan Buchta walked us through many of ARMA III's features as he showed off the game. The demo began with a paratrooper in free fall, which allowed Buchta to talk about the game's look and scope. ARMA III takes place on the Greek island of Limnos and encompasses 900 square kilometers of area in total. The island is painstakingly re-created to the last detail using actual geodata for its terrain and countless photographs. And indeed, one of the most striking aspects of the demo was how photo-realistic the game looked. Many developers tout photo-realism, but ARMA III doesn't resort to tricks like motion blur and lens flare to pretty things up. Buildings, pavement, and grass in this game look like they do in real life. The effect, in the air looking down onto the island, and on the ground itself, was remarkable.

Like its predecessors, ARMA III is focused on infantry combat. Improvements to the sequel include a better inventory system, as well as more equipment customization. Weapons can be modified with all sorts of different sights, markers, flashlights, suppressors, and so on. Buchta showed off several weapons by sniping some far-off soldiers and then hitting a nearby group of them with a grenade launcher. He then moved on to discuss vehicles. Physics and collision detection are being reworked to be even more authentic, and to prove his point, Buchta drove around in a camouflaged tank, ramming into barrels and other vehicles. The vehicles will be re-created down to the last detail, including fully working rear-view mirrors.

The infantry part of the demo showed off an industrial environment, but the island includes terrains of all types: desert, forest, farmland, mountains, and so on. To show off the diversity, Buchta hopped into a helicopter and showed off the stunning landscape and volumetric clouds, as well as the chopper's authentic-looking inside view. If you worry that such vistas will bring your computer to its knees, take note that Bohemia wants the game to run as smoothly as possible, while still aiming at a 6-kilometer draw distance. In ARMA III, you won't just stick to land and air, however: you will also be able to don a wetsuit and swim underwater, as well as man a fighting vessel and battle at sea. Buchta showed off the underwater scenery, which was amazing to behold. You can explore the sea bottom and admire the fish that swim by, or use a one-man underwater transport to quickly make your way to other portions of the island.

ARMA III will let enthusiasts modify the game as they wish using included 3D mod tools, but it will also ship with an extensive campaign and multiplayer options. Buchta showed off a battle in progress, the sky lighting up with artillery fire, while he snuck forward in the underbrush, surrounded by tanks ready to take on whatever challenges were ahead. Smoke rose in the distance, and the din of gunfire filled our ears. To give battles context, ARMA III will include a strong near-future story campaign, with multiple endings. You can play as a lone wolf, or as a commander type, or somewhere in between: the game lets you play your way, whatever that might mean to you. Assault, hide, collect, destroy, support, climb--do whatever you want. You can even kill civilians, though there are major consequences to such actions. You can still finish the campaign, but you may not be able to do so with the support of the locals in such a scenario.

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Like past ARMA games, ARMA III looks to be insanely ambitious. It covers a huge amount of territory and gives you countless ways to take down your foes. That it looks so real is just one of its many wonders, so whether you've played an ARMA game before or have never even heard of the series, this is one sprawling thrill ride you should be looking forward to. ARMA III is due for release in the fall of 2012.

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