Arma III Review: The Incomplete Product
It's hard to think of Arma III as anything more than a tech demo. It feels skeletal, like the wood frame of a house under construction. You see where it's going, but you wouldn't want to live there yet. If you're ever played a game while in its early beta stages, that's what Arma III will feel like, except you didn't pay $60 for an early beta entry; you paid for a game the developer says is finished.
What is this game about? Who is this game for?
Arma III is a generic war shooter with very little point. I've heard that you get out of it what you put into it, as it does have an expansive sandbox appeal, but I don't think that argument carries much weight. This isn't Minecraft, it's a war simulator, and war always has a point. When the “war of two nondescript armies milling around shooting at each other for undeclared reasons” occurs, Arma III will be the most relevant game available.
As for its target audience, I'm not sure who that is. I didn't play Arma or Arma II, but I am a fan of the military FPS genre, and I don't know who should be interested in this game. I can only theorize that it appeals to one of two communities: the modding community and exclusionary war gamers.
Making an engine for other developers to exploit is absolutely fine. There are companies, like Id Software, that now do that exclusively. Bohemia Interactive isn't building an engine; they made a game, but it's a game whose purpose seems to hinge on what others will change it into.
There is no tutorial.
Arma III's current content is needlessly complicated and almost willfully unintuitive. The fact that there are no tutorials to guide you through this makes Arma III a headache-inducing experience. I recommend Ibuprofen.
The game eschews conventional PC first-person shooter controls in favor of its own configuration, which isn't a terrible idea, but the changes seem arbitrary at worst and needlessly experimental at best. Even if these control layouts were intentional changes to improve player control, failing to provide a tutorial is negligent and lazy. There is a text manual, but this isn't 1998. For a game this complicated, one that advertises its complex, multifaceted gameplay, there should be numerous tutorial scenarios present. As it is, the learning curve is so steep that new players will be frustrated and quit.
There are “Showcases” in Arma III that some could argue act as tutorials, but they lack any instructive elements. In reality, the showcases are exactly that: showcases that sell various aspects of the game. Each showcase begins with the nifty things it will be showing you, such as graphical elements and improvements to various aspects of the game. Then it dumps you into a mission with a thin premise where it may or may not give you on-screen waypoints to various uninteresting goals.
There is no single-player campaign.
Many similar military shooters are bought for their multilayer experience, and making a game with multiplayer focus isn't a bad thing. If Arma III had been explicitly made for multiplayer, we wouldn't be having this discussion, but there are sections marked “Campaigns” and “Scenarios” that are completely empty. There is future content promised as DLC, but that's simply unacceptable. People have complained that games have been purposefully cut down in content to sell future DLC, but Arma III is asking you to pay now and get nearly fifty percent of your game content at a later, undisclosed date.
The user interface is terrible. Seriously, seriously terrible.
One of two things occurred in the development of Arma III, either the UI developer was a rogue, creative individual experimenting with a bold, minimalistic new interface, or they had never played a video game before and decided to fly blind with zero research. It's either avant-garde or a complete failure to consider conventional design.
For example, when enemies are aware of the player, a giant white asterisk appears in the center of the screen. It took me some time to realize what it was indicating, but it still makes very little contextual sense. I imagine it indicates a footnote somewhere that says “Excitement to be added here at a later date.” It's a poor choice for something that should be indicating a threatening danger to the player.
The space bar is a contextual “use” key, but there are no on-screen messages to let you know what your use key will do, and if there are no usable actions in range, you will stop and reload. So instead of getting into the helicopter's gunner position, you might stand stock still and reload a completely full clip as the helicopter flies away. This is the most fundamental kind of problem you can have in a game, and it's far from the only one Arma III has. But I'm not going list them all because it's depressing.
Multiplayer: Locate Alt-F4 on your keyboard.
Here it is, the reason anyone is going to play this game for the foreseeable future: multiplayer.
I attempted to login into four servers listed in the multiplayer section. The first, and sadly best server was listed in nearby California and consisted of only Portuguese-speaking players. After failing to board several helicopters, I was finally lifted to somewhere and dropped off. The game then consisted of running around having no idea where to go. I followed another player for twenty minutes without committing a single action, so I disconnected. The following two attempts resulted in finding no one at all. In my last effort, I logged into a server only to be run over by a jeep, possibly driven by my enemy (I have no idea, as there is no discernible way to distinguish them). I respawned, only to be run over by the same person. I was unwilling to continue.
Verdict: Wait and See
Right now, Arma III is at a stage reserved for convention booths. You can come in, see what they intend to do, and maybe be interested in where they might take it. As it is, it's big and expansive, but it's not filled with anything interesting. There's nothing here to buy and I don't recommend paying $60 for the promise of better content. I don't personally know anyone who played Arma II for its core gameplay. Instead, they bought it to play mods like Day Z. With that in mind, I recommend waiting until the community builds an actual game out of Arma III. Hopefully, the price will have gone down. Buying it now just encourages lazy game design.
Score based on incomplete product