Arma 2 was 2009's highly ambitious tactical shooter sequel that offered realistic, military-style shooter action on huge, outdoor battlefields. Developer Bohemia Interactive is back for another engagement with the upcoming stand-alone add-on, Operation Arrowhead, which the studio refers to as "ARMA 2.5." This is an affectionate nickname given to an expansion that's got so much content it's almost a full-on sequel. (Don't worry--if you don't have Arma 2 yet, you can get both in a bundle called "Combined Operations," which will cost only $10 more than the original game.)
Operation Arrowhead will offer a brand new campaign told from the perspective of army forces (rather than marines) and a new gameworld (three new map types, specifically), which will resemble the rockier, more mountainous regions of Afghanistan. Aside from adding a ton of new content, the expansion will build on pretty much every aspect of the original Arma 2, including the aforementioned new campaign (which will be approximately two-thirds as long as that of Arma 2's) and about 10 single scenarios. There's also an enhanced version of the Armory mode that lets you try out every single one of the hundreds of weapons and vehicles available (including any other custom weapons or vehicles produced by the fan community that you've downloaded) by browsing for them in a single, easy-to-use interface. Interestingly, while you're experimenting with that nifty new rocket launcher or tank in Armory mode, you'll also have the chance to take on various minor challenges with that particular weapon or vehicle. Then, you'll be rewarded with points that you can use to unlock the armory's more sophisticated hardware.
All these new toys will help change the Arma 2 experience considerably. One demonstration mission we watched in action was a mission with a helicopter equipped with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that carried a mounted missile launcher. While our objective was to fly over a relatively flat plane and dispatch three different armor targets, each enemy vehicle was stationed at a heavily guarded installation equipped with antiair guns. Though there was nothing stopping us from flying our helicopter bravely into hostile airspace and potentially face a world of hurt, we instead opted to set the chopper in hover mode and deploy the UAV. It ran silently and remotely and was even equipped with Operation Arrowhead's brand new thermal imaging.
The expansion's thermal imaging technology goes beyond simple night-vision goggles by not only identifying heat signatures emitted both by warm-blooded soldiers and by vehicles, but also by detecting varying heat levels on different parts of vehicles. A tank that shows brightly means that the engine is all fired up, whereas a mostly cold vehicle with little or no heat signature probably has its engine turned off and will require precious seconds to hit the ignition and get moving. Unfortunately for our enemies, they had no clue our UAV was in position (the drone possesses a range of several meters), and we were safely able to launch volley after volley of missiles at each of our targets, efficiently and surgically neutralizing them before anyone was the wiser.
In addition to the single-player campaign, pack-in scenarios, a ton of armory challenges, and multiplayer, Operation Arrowhead will have expanded editing tools that let you not only create huge mission maps, but also let you create specific squad behaviors for any or all units you place. For instance, you can build a mission where the player spawns in near tanks, jeeps, and infantry squads placed under the player's control by simply clicking and dragging a command icon to link control of those units to the player character in the world. Operation Arrowhead's environments feature plenty of destructible terrain (including buildings that can be both entered by infantry units for cover and also blown to smithereens by cannon fire), so enthusiasts who love building custom content will have plenty of tools with all the content in Arrowhead alone, to say nothing of Arma 2's stuff as well. Operation Arrowhead is scheduled for a worldwide ship date of June 29.