Marmite. They Say you either love it or you hate it. Armed Assault's a bit like that. Granted, you can't spread it on a granary doorstop or whip up a hearty beverage with it but it's the kind of game you'll either want to whisk away to Paris for a long weekend of loving gazes, fond caresses and an overpriced meal, or douse in gasoline and introduce to a box of matches.
Heres the thing. Armed Assault is all about recreating the realism of a real-life battlefield, and, as much as most shooters would have us believe, this doesn't involve standing two metres away from an enemy, opening fire and running backwards while shouting: "Die, die, die!"
Armed Assault is, if you like, the spiritual successor to Operation Flashpoint, that massively detailed, realistic, life-sappingly enthralling (though aesthetically challenged and buggy) tactical shooter from the boys at Bohemia Interactive. Which is exactly how you could sum up Armed Assault. But more on all of that a bit later.
First off, let's start with a bit of background. Armed Assault places you in command of a small band of US soldiers stationed on the fictional island of South Sahrani. It's a picturesque and idyllic place, where you spend your days training the local goat herders to fire guns, while dreaming of Sarah-Jane back home and trying to ignore the ominous portents of her burgeoning 'friendship' with John, her good-looking next-door neighbour whos funnier, wittier, richer and far more available than you are.
Of course, all that yearning soon becomes irrelevant as the armies of North Sahrani (aka the bad guys') suddenly invade - a real nuisance given that the majority of your comrades were shipped back to the US of A (or perhaps shunted to Iraq) only the week before.
The scene is thus set for a truly titanic, hugely tactical and, above all, realistic conflict, in which odds must be surmounted, valiant deeds done and enemies slaughtered in the name of peace, justice, commercialism, expansionism, capitalism, egalitarianism and a'host of other isms bandied about by politicians to justify blowing people up. Point is, theres a war on and someone's gotta fight it. And that someone is you, soldier.
The first thing that'll slap you round the chops and demand your undivided attention is the sheer size of each level. You can find yourself sitting for two or three minutes just gazing at the countryside rolling by as you're transported from one hotspot to the next in a humvee without even approaching the boundaries of the map. Dull? A matter of taste. Realistic? Undoubtedly. Of course, if you don't fancy sitting through these moments, you can speed the game up in order to get to the bloody bits, which is a nice touch.
At Arm's Length
Once you and your squad arrive at a hotspot, you'll quickly find that the ensuing action is unlike most other tactical shooters you've played. Even the ones that claim to be realistic.
Battles are usually fought at long-range, with your nearest target often little more than a dot on the horizon. This is something that will no doubt bore frag-loving Counter-Strike nuts to within an inch of their lives, but will delight hardcore combat aficionados more than a weekend spent in a muddy ditch with only an assault rifle and a box of trench rations for company. And if realism is your thing, youre going to absolutely go mad over the unforgiving damage system thatll have you reaching for the reload key after just a couple of close encounters with enemy lead. And thats on the easier of the two difficulty settings...
Luckily, Armed Assault's freeform levels are little short of breathtaking, both in terms of scope and the amount of options they provide. Routes from one waypoint to the next must be plotted on-the-fly, with even a tactical retreat turning into a considered affair as you're suddenly forced to change route to avoid your foes.
The landscapes teem with forests, hills, villages, bridges and a variety of other geographical and structural landmarks that can be utilised or avoided as you see fit. Leaves fall off trees, dust whips up into swirling clouds and water ripples in the breeze. Patches of foliage also provide cover for your squadmates, who suck in laboured gulps of air after a long yomp through theSahrani countryside and shout context-sensitive instructions and responses to one another.
Every level is a dynamic battlefield in the purest sense - an ever-evolving, constantly changing theatre of war in which enemy patrols roam and T-72 tanks kick up dust as they seek to gain a caterpillar track hold on your territory.
In fact, while we're on the subject of vehicles, there are literally dozens of them for you to drive and pilot. Whether it's an AH-1Z gunship or a nippy jeep, the diversity of the vehicle types is staggering, with each boasting unique handling, armour, turrets and firepower. However, don't expect to be slaloming through forests in a Black Hawk any time soon, as you'll need to put in some serious time behind the stick/wheel if you're going to even begin to master how these vehicles handle.
As if that wasn't enough for you, you can even steal a tractor from a field and use it to chug across the countryside like a vigilante farmer with a penchant for army surplus merchandise. Genius!
Another great option is the ability to call in artillery strikes to pound enemy strongholds before storming their positions. However, with the enemy also able to do the same to you, you'll need to be wary of much more than the odd stray bullet puncturing your flesh.
Vehicle combat blends seamlessly with troop warfare, with the best results often coming when you intelligently combine the two. In order to attain a better vantage point of the battlefield, you can enter a third-person tactical view, which allows you to command your forces slightly more easily than with the archaic and cack-handed menu command system - just one example of several poor interface decisions on Bohemia's part Even from this view, it's still a little too easy to leave yourself exposed while you issue orders in the heat of a firefight.
Now I know what you're thinking. How can you possibly feel like you're playing an important role in the war effort in a game as liber-realistic as this? Simple. Despite being just a lone soldier in an otherwise AI-controlled squad, you're often tasked with undertaking integral missions to aid the war effort such as taking out that key bridge that'll cut off the enemy's supply line, or leading a team of special forces in a raid to assassinate an enemy general.
While you may seem like just a cog in an otherwise gargantuan war machine, you're rarely left in any doubt that your actions can make a difference, which is quite a feat given the game's scope and hardcore approach. Realistic it might be, but Armed Assault is still aware that it needs to make you feel special from time to time, albeit in a very subtle way.
- So far then, I'd say it was all sounding rather promising. Well, apart from the clumsy interface of course. But let's not be too hasty, because there are several very good reasons why Armed Assault hasn't scored more highly. Want to hear what they are? Course you do...
Yes! Yes! Yes! No...
While Armed Assault may be a stunningly realistic rendition of warfare, it's also a stunningly unpolished one. For a start there's a creaking graphics engine, inaccessible and ugly briefing screens and some atrociously written chunks of text (though the cut-scene dialogue and acting are decent). Theres also occasionally suspect path-finding when the Al gets behind the wheel. erratic day/night transitiohs, often unclear player guidance and a smattering of inexplicable crash bugs which infect what's an otherwise masterful virtual combat experience.
Of course, the weaknesses are vastly outweighed by the positives, but had Bohemia put as much effort into presenting Armed Assault as it did into creating it, this could have been the complete package. It's almost akin to having a gourmet meal served up to you in a polystyrene box.
Ultimately, whether Armed Assault is a must-have tonic to sate your thirst for hardcore military action or a bitter and overly tactical chore comes down to your personal gaming taste. That, and to the extent youre prepared to turn a blind eye to the game's lack of sheen.
Love it or hate it though, you simply cant argue that Armed Assault is one hugely accomplished modem combat simulator. If that's what you're looking for, you won't be disappointed.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode