As many of you will have noticed by now Armaholic was invited to join the Arma 2 press event in London by 505 Games which many of you have been following through the Arma 2 Twitter page.
Armaholic was represented by Rock-RKSL from the RKSL Studios and Foxhound. At the event we also met with barmyarmy, scripter of the Armed Assault Theatre of War tournament.
The preview you will read below has been written by Rock-RKSL, I only added some additional information and text and edited the general layout.
Well I could do this like a formal review with lots of snappy quotes and bite sized facts but I suspect you are all tired of short superficial reviews. So you are going to get the facts we know about and my own honest opinions.
I've been playing the OFP/ArmA series since 2001 and modding since 2003 so I like to think I do know the games quite well. Feel free to disagree with my opinions but this is just my perception of what we were shown.
Foxhound invited me along to ask the technical and modding related questions. I've read all the same things as most of you probably have and I admit I had some preconceptions given some of the comments from other reviewers and rumours floating around the community forums. But after listening to the initial demo and explanation given by James and Jan from Bohemia Interactive Studios I was impressed.
Forget the cynical and nay saying reviews. If you know Armed Assault and have played it properly before you will see Arma 2 is a huge improvement over Armed Assault. If you are reading this without ever playing Armed Assault then it may not sound like a greatest game of all time but I would seriously suggest you take a good look at ArmA2. Its not like any FPS or Tactical shooter out there. Its better.
My own system is pretty similar to the demo PC's but with 8gb of RAM and a EVGA8800GT-KO so I am quite confident that I have a feel for how ArmA2 will run on my own rig. One of the BIS guys did mention that he runs ArmA 2 on his E6400 (2.13GHz) and it runs far smoother than Armed Assault does. And based on what I've seen I don't have any concerns.
- Core2Duo 8400 @3Ghz (not overclocked)
- 3Gb of RAM
- Nvidia 9800GTX+ Graphics
The demo box video settings were:
- Visibility (View Distance) "3499 m"
- Quality Preference "Very High"
- Texture detail "High"
- Video memory "Very High"
- Antisotropic Filtering "High"
- Post Processing "High"
The Changes: What's new?
The game engine
I can only really talk about general things. There wasn't enough time to drag Jan Prazak (BIS) into a corner and make him answer every question I had but he was kind enough to answer quite a lot. You can see Armed Assaults engine in the game. Its familiar and from a modder's point of view its really not that different.
The biggest change is the engine optimisation. It isn't something that hits you immediately but its something you come to realise. In Armed Assault the object density was quite low to maintain performance. In ArmA 2 there is just so much more going on around you that you have to spend a moment to wonder if the PC you are playing on isn't hooked up to a server farm in the next room.
OK, so its not mind blowing ultra realistic graphics but the sheer number of moving grass objects, trees and detailed shaded/rendered objects is very impressive and while the demo PC was a good spec I was very impressed to see the engine could handle it easily.
Video, Effects and "The dreaded HDR"
I'm sure many Nvidia users will be overjoyed to hear we didn't see any evidence of the HDR bug. In fact BIS seem to have toned the HDR effect down quite a lot. I didn't get totally blinded once looking into the sky. I did see the effects just not on the scale that plagued so many people in Armed Assault. On the whole the rendering is a huge improvement compared to Armed Assault, however I have to admit there were some things I did notice that I didn't like about the game engine:
'Glowing Cows' - This is something someone posted about on the Official forums I think. Well its not just cows that glow. Pretty much anything white becomes almost luminescent with the Post processing set to high. Buildings, vehicles, walls etc. They don't always glow, its just when the light hits them in the right way. I'll be honest I've never been a fan of Post Processing and I tend to turn it off immediately but it did just feel a bit too over done. As I said, adjusting the settings does tone it down a bit but I confess; I did find it very annoying. If you don't like the effect you could just disable it in your graphics driver settings anyway. The upside of this is you will probably see and FPS boost too!
The environment is the first really obvious change. You can see it in the screenshots but moving around in the game really does make you realise just how much the engine has changed. The environment is far richer and more realistic than Sahrani. The grass, the vegetation and ambient wild life gives a more immersive feel to the game that Armed Assault just did not have. There is the obvious departure from the lush summer greens to the more autumnal browns and copper tones. It makes a surprising difference to the atmosphere and ambience. Everything seems darker and a bit more dangerous. Shadows appear deeper and the camouflage uniforms seem to blend in a lot easier.
Even the sky and clouds have received some attention. I didn't really test out the weather options at the time but climbing through 2000m in a X-35 was a pleasant surprise. Gone are the 2D cloud layers. The clouds are now soft irregular 3D shapes that you can easily fly through without FPS drop unlike some of the early ArmA/OFP weather mods of days gone by.
We spent some time testing the AI response in a small town, it took me a moment or two to realise but there seems to be far more detail in almost everything. The new hemispherical shading just seems to add more depth to objects. Its hard to explain but coming back to my PC this afternoon I loaded up Armed Assault and it felt empty. Its more of a feeling and that sounds pretty silly while I write this. But ArmA 2's engine somehow just feels more alive and far less artificial.
Again an obvious change: The interface. Its not exactly radical change but it was enough that both Foxhound and I were caught out by the lack of an action menu on the right hand side. After a brief embarrassing moment searching we found it on the left. The context menus are also relocated to the left middle of the screen but are now mouse clickable rather than just accessible via keypress.
The menu system isn't a hugely different from the Armed Assault system we are all used to, there are more options depending on your situation of course. The icons for action menu options pop up as usual, albeit with sometimes confusing new icons. And your team mates are now no longer faceless stick figures at the bottom of the screen either but actual shots of the characters. How that will translate into MP I don't know yet.
Lastly one feature that did please me was the "Interface Size" option in the video settings. This toggles the default large icons to a smaller and less intrusive size.
Following on from the interface changes, you now have the ability to control large groups of AI. The method we were shown was frankly one of the most impressive parts of the demo and there were lots of "WOW" moments.
If you are the commander (and have the rights to control other groups) it is possible to switch to a new command option. This replaces your current team icons with those of the other teams and sections under your command. The application we were shown was an armoured infantry assault on a town with Cobra support. The teams/assets were represented by the NATO standard icons. You can make your AI teams follow complex paths into an objective very easily now by "stacking" waypoints for each section to follow. You can then click on each waypoint (as you would in the mission editor) and assign criteria. eg speed/awareness etc to each point. You can even drag and edit these waypoints on the fly.
The implication of this is pretty easy to see. Its now possible for one player to dynamically and effectively command a large AI force with ease. Making the use of AI in both SP and MP missions far easier. The impact of the new command system will be huge. Suddenly ArmA 2 has some proper real time strategy (RTS) possibilities.
Capability: Game Logic Modules
This was another "WOW" moment. There has been much forum chatter about the screenshots showing AI dragging or carrying injured people from the battle field. All this capability is down to a library of Game Logics, each performing a set function. It was very briefly demonstrated but the pace of the demo didn't really allow for too many questions at that point. But the idea is to place the appropriate game logic, then link unit to the game logic. The AI will perform that action coded to the game logic e.g.:
Suppressive fire: Place the suppressive fire game logic in the area you want. Place an AI Machine Gunner and link it to the logic. Now when an OPFOR player or AI comes within range it will begin firing suppressive bursts in that area.
The AI medics, civilian population, wildlife and a good many other features are controlled by the same method. Its really nice to see aspects like this making it into the game engine. Previously these sorts of functions were only available via lengthy, complex and often problematic scripts. Now you get them all in easily placed MP friendly objects.
AI: Artificial idiocy or Intelligence
I suppose this is the most hotly anticipated area for a lot of people. Has it improved? Well I have to say "Yes!". How much has it improved is really hard to see without some serious testing.
Path finding - this has always been a key problem with the AI. They tended to get stuck on fences, behind buildings and refuse to walk down alleys. Now they seem to navigate around these obstacles with far more ease. It was repeated several times to us that Armed Assault AI were capable of knowing their own position to within a meters or so. ArmA 2 AI are now aware down to the centimeter. Its seems this capability is the key to the new AI's success.
Situational Awareness - Foxhound put the AI to a very simple test. He placed two ungrouped OPFOR soldiers on a road junction 30m from him, facing away with no awareness/combat triggers etc (the AI automatically covered different arcs). He then tried to creep up behind them. I think the best he managed was 20m away without some AI reaction. You could see their reaction to increased danger as first one unit got on his knees trying to locate the sound I was producing. Only when I crawled ahead he heard me, turned around and shot me. (Try it in Armed Assault and see how close you get). The other units did not respond in a split second however, there is still some delay.
Next he added a 2nd group at the other end of the street, made them 2 groups (using F2). As soon as a unit from one group was aware of him the other group also changed combat mode. This is another sign of improvement. They seem to 'communicate' where as before the AI used to behave like individuals unless given specific orders.
One interesting aspect was the obvious use of the FSM conditional scripting. Once Foxhound withdrew from the AI's line of sight they quickly went to covering arcs, while giving suppresive fire on his last know location, even using handgrenades. And once he revealed him self again they reacted very quickly. They seem far more alert, faster to respond if not more intelligent.
Peaking around the corner afterwards while the enemy was still covering different arcs did not result in the "magic split second headshot". It took them a few seconds to realize he peaked around the corner and than they engaged him.
Now for those hoping for or expecting fantastic AI they may well be disappointed. The differences aren't huge in scenarios like the above. But taken as a complete package there are some real and obvious improvements. Tie in the AI's new found awareness with the improved FSM scripting and the Game logic modules and you have the makings of some very impressive Player vs. AI missions if setup properly.
In the demo missions we were shown, you could clearly see the AI advancing tactically up the street using cover, using bounds and covering arcs. I really do believe that given the capabilities of the ArmA 2 engine we are all going to be finding it a lot harder to play your PVE missions. AI like this may even get me out of my helicopter and onto the ground again!
There are some "old" Armed Assault favourites: The Harrier, Cobra and a few others are back seemingly unchanged but even these look "shiny and new" in the new engine. We spent some time quickly running through menus and taking a look around the new content.
I'm not going to go into huge detail about what kit is in the game, you can see most of it on the official website and forums. The majority of the models now seem more detailed and realistic. I did try some small arms but not to the extent I could write a proper review. We're also told that the ballistic system has been improved and the data taken from real world sources. Its going to be interesting reading what the forums experts make of it.
I did notice that the anims for the weapons I did try were also a bit more natural than the stock ArmA1 options. They did seem to take a far more comfortable line in the 1st person view. But in a few cases you can see hands merging unnaturally with the fore stock of some weapons.
There are also some interesting new aircraft related changes. I'm told the flight models for both planes and helicopters are now completely reworked. Its not something I could really test or compare at the time. There just wasn't a joystick available to make a reasonable comparison with. I've never managed to fly properly using keyboard or mouse so until I can try it with my own sticks we'll have to wait and see.
On the aircraft front there are also some very welcome changes regarding weapons. A lot of the old restrictions have been lifted:
- Fixed wing aircraft are no longer limited to one proxy weapon type. So mixed loads can now be carried. This can be seen in published screenshots. I was also told that there weren't any restrictions over what can be carried so I assume asymmetric loadouts are now possible on any of the classes
- Aircraft now have chaff and flares by default
- Planes still "dive bomb" targets regardless of the weapons used.
- AI still occasionally misjudge their speed and angle of attack and just crash in to tall objects, trees and high ground.
Parachutes and HALO - This was also demonstrated. You don't actually have to wear a chute - at least the character we saw jumping didn't have one on - but freefall was a option. As are controllable chutes, you can now drop and fly your way into the targets with ease.
X-35B (It really isn't an F-35B) - I was specifically asked to look at this and comment about the VTOL. Simply put the VTOL is not really any different that the ArmA1 Harrier VTOL. The only difference from the Harrier is that the X-35B can lift vertically.
As for the model. (Apologies here BIS) I was really disappointed. After so much effort to make so much high quality realistic kit and vehicles they made the wrong plane. An X-35 prototype. I know that a few other people and myself have been mentioning this to BIS reps for a while now, years in fact. I know its not a huge thing. Its only one plane. And all the other comments people could say but I really did hope that they would replace it with a real F-35B.
Ships: Carrier and Destroyers
A lot of forum chatter has been focused on ships and especially the "aircraft carrier". Honestly this was another slightly disappointing area.
I can confirm there is an Wasp class amphibious assault ship (LPD) which does look very nicely done. The artwork and detail is impressive. You can land on it and do other cool stuff but I can also confirm that it is an object and not a movable ship.
After some searching we didn't actually find the LPD anywhere in the editor so I am forced to conclude its a Visitor placed object.
BarmyArmy and I did find a Aegis type Destroyer. It sank immediately. It just didn't want to float and probably was better looking under water. The model really did not show BIS' work off to a good standard and I have wonder about the wisdom of including it. Anyone with VBS2 may recognise it, it appears to be the same model. Its easily recognisable by the poorly modelled bow gun. The model wasn't up to the same standard as the LPD nor did it appear to be weapons capable.
The old favourite RHIB and other small craft were present as expected together with a variety of new craft. Both civ and military.
This promises to be another "game changing feature". Gone are the days of a shot in the leg killing you immediately. Now it seems you can just take your time to die. The injury system has had a massive revamp. We were told that you can now sustain varying levels of injuries ranging from minor wounds that can be fixed with basic first aid to wounds requiring you to be taken offsite to a field hospital. Combined with the ability to drag a wounded comrade to safety its an interesting feature set to add to ArmA2's impressive library.
In the interest of objective comment, I feel that I should say the system wasn't demonstrated to me, just explained. The AI I shot didn't really seem to get injured, they tended to die quickly at close range. I suspect the injury system will come into play at longer ranges than I was playing with at the time. But nonetheless if it works half as well as it was described to me then its going to add yet another compelling dimension to SP and MP games.
The editor itself is no different than Armed Assault in layout or function. The new engine capabilities and Game logic modules do make it easier to make far more impressive missions in a shorter time scale without having to resort to complex scripting so that should offset the pain of no Real Time Editor.
In the intro and walk through at the start of the session we were told about the various aspects of the game play, features etc. The RPG aspects were key features and a major selling point in the campaign. Don't get your rubber Gnome suit out of the closet just yet though. We aren't taking WOW or DnD type RPG. You wont have to create player profiles or roll dice of any kind. When BIS say "RPG" they mean that your behaviour towards the local AI and OPFOR affects the way they interact with you. You can actually interact with the civilian population, ask questions. Get intel and maybe get invited to tea with Grandma on Sunday. However, if you were to slaughter your way through the first mission you may find that in the later missions the locals would, at best ignore you. At worst arm themselves and fight against you.
It seems you need to tread carefully in Chernarus lest you find yourself being chased by a lynch mob!
During the question time a few insights in to the campaign were mentioned. One overwhelming objective is to keep your interpreter alive and well. Without him you wont be able to effectively communicate with the locals. And should you lose a member of your team your will have to restart that mission again! Interestingly there were hints of Warfare-esque aspects to the SP game with you having to capture and hold various areas and build up bases etc.
SF missions: Depending on how the mission progresses you might get the choice to play a side mission, for example to disable enemy armor to prevent those from reinforcing the enemy or having to free a captured person being held in a town.
The player is free to except those side mission or continue with his original assignment.
MP - PVP and PVE
For me a good game is one I can play with my mates. I'm not really into SP gaming anymore. ArmA 2 is shipping with MP features that Armed Assault did not have at release. An upgraded version of Warfare will be available out of the box. There were hints of possibly other missions/formats but details weren't forthcoming at the time. One interesting MP option was confirmed however. The rumoured option to play the SP campaign in conjunction with others in a full MP CoOp was confirmed. You can each take a role in Team Razor and play your way through the campaign cooperatively! A rather nice touch I thought.
The question of max number of players was brought up and answered. The max suggested number was 64 for stable and practical use. Much after that its assumed there will be issues with the netcode etc. However it was also said that a lot depends on the network lines and server at that sort of loads so there really is no set figure.
On the day we didn't have the option of MP testing. None of the machines were networked so we don't have any real info on servers netcode or anti cheat system I'm afraid.
Off the edge of the world
There has been some speculation about the main Chernarus "island". What lies to the north and western borders?
"There be land Jim lad!"
Well yeah its land. Right now its not entirely usable but its there. The current build we were shown - this will change apparently, what to we don't know - basically extrudes the border's terrain profile out into infinity. So if you have a hill straddling the border its profile will just continue off into the distance.
I have to say I wasn't impressed by this. There are a lot of words I could use to describe this "feature". Disappointing is a mild one, I'll stick with that for the moment. Jan (BIS) did go on to say that there was an effort under way to ensure it was textured and randomised but even so I felt it just left the north side of the island feeling unfinished.
VBS2 commands and Features
This is another popular topic of speculation. Have all the funky/advanced/useful features developed for VBS2 made it into ArmA 2? Simple answer: No.
Some of the more useful easy to port commands have made the leap according to rumour but don't expect every VBS2 feature to be available in ArmA 2.
There were several explanations for this. I really only caught the back end of one: BIS and BIA are both following different product development paths and the products have diverged so much now its not easy to swap features between the products. While they share common roots they aren't as interchangeable as some people believe.
Publishers - North America and Australia/NZ
Again one of the most popular questions I was asked to pose. Well its mostly good news. Mark from 505 confirmed to me that 505 Games would be publishing ArmA 2 in the Land Down Under. And the AU/NZ release date will be "weeks not months behind the European release"!
As for North America. There is no solid info. All the BIS and 505 guys said is that "discussions are preceding".
Keep an eye out on the forums for more information regarding this.
I was assured that ArmA1 modders wont have a huge learning curve to overcome to bring their own addons in to the ArmA2 game engine. Its going to take some config/model.cfg work and the majority of community made content should port over fairly easily. Of course this depends on how complex the addons are.
For those of us who develop heavy scripted systems however in light of some info released on the BIKI there maybe some awkward issues to face.
See the Forward Compatibility Section - http://community.bistudio.com/wiki/ArmA:_Editing#Forward_Compatibility
Even then I suspect it will be a case of the community finding news ways to work within the limits.
I also asked the obvious question. When do we get the tools! Unfortunately the 505 guys couldn't really answer that but they will not come together with the release of the 505 version.
The tools remain the sole domain of BIS.
This is purely speculation! - However short of a buldozer update to cope with the new upper poly limits and materials etc I suspect that the existing tools may just be fine for ArmA2. I have nothing to back that up. I'm just piecing together bits of information that I've been given about the ArmA 2 engine. It seems that the published tool sets may be adequate for ArmA 2. The game appears to use the same model and animation systems. And the engine changes are quite subtle so may not require a complete new tool set.
Islands - The issue of island creation may be a problem though. Jan told me that Chernarus was created in the new Visitor4 Island creation tool. Vis4 is an evolution of Vis3 but according to VBS2 news letters will not be available to public users. You would have to buy and extra VIS4/Support package to get access. Given the only real difference between the two apps is functionality, I think its safe to assume that VIS3 will be capable of creating islands for ArmA2. This is of course is speculation on my part but I wasn't given any definite "no" statements when I asked the questions. But looking at Chernarus with a modder's eye there are some changes in the environment that made me wonder if it all just config work or something dependant on new tools. Its hard to judge without all the facts.
There's a lot of good, not much bad and no really ugly.
There are a lot of impressive features in this game. Huge amounts of subtle detail really, I'm usually fairly cynical about marketing claims but ArmA2 is the first game in a long time that has actually made me say "wow" out loud and in public!
And for the first time since OFP: Resistance I am itching to play a campaign. I am impressed with the visuals, environment and the scale of what BIS have managed to achieve. And I am extremely excited by the modding possibilities of the new engine and commands.
There are some "bad bits", but that's mostly down to personal tastes. I confess I was a bit disappointed by the size of the main island 225 sq Km sounds a lot but it in reality its rather small at ~15km a side. Sahrani is much bigger. But the huge amount of the detail packed into those 225 sq Km is amazing. I confess I had hoped that BIS would give the aircraft a more extensive overhaul turning the ArmA franchise from a Infantry biased sim into something closer to a proper combined arms system but I am sure the community will work on that!
What do the developers think
We asked Jan how he felt about the upcoming 505 Games release knowing the release date was pushed forward. Specially since the dev's themselves stated not to long ago the "early" release from Armed Assault was a disappointment.
Jan was confident and without doubt this time BIS would release a game of which they are proud and confident and would fullfill what they promised the community. They did their best to not promise any features which would not be implemented in the game.
The team at BIS have been expanded on different departments with outside people as well as people working on only specific items for them to make sure Arma 2 would be a complete game at release. He gave us some numbers but those slipped my mind
Of course there is always things they would have liked to add before the release but now those might come in a future patch (or expansion).
What do we think
All in all I am very impressed. The new capabilities, the new hemispherical shaders and game play aspects make ArmA the best tactical shooter I've seen since BIS' original Operation Flashpoint appeared in 2001. I suppose the obvious questions to ask are "Do I recommend ArmA2 and would I spend my money on ArmA2?"
Simple answer: Yes! On both counts. Its the engine that ArmA1 should have had from the start. You can see the effort and thought that has gone into it. Pay the money, play the game and have fun. I am confident that this is going to kick the crap out of Flashpoint: Dragon Rising.
As all other community members till yesterday I had to read the info posted by other website, magazines and gaming communities to get an idea about Arma 2 and what it would give us.
However I was confident the product BIS would release would be up to our standards and yesterdays press event prooved that to me. Of course as you have been able to read above not everything is "all of the best" and I am sure at release there will be bugs and different things which people will not like. But that is where this great community steps in, there are so many people capable of making or changing just that what is being missed all BIS have to do is provide a solid base for the community to build on.
With Arma 2 they have done that to my opinion. You will be able to enjoy this game from the day you buy it while we know as soon as the community gets up to speed it will only get better!
As I said on Twitter, I can't wait to get my hands on this game, call the company I will be out of office for some time and play 24/7.
We would like to thank all people who made it possible for us to come to the press event as well as for the perfect location and service during the event.
James and Jan from Bohemia Interactive Studio
Mark from 505 Games
Dan from New Media Maze
Luck from Bastion
Rock-RKSL from the RKSL Studios (thanks for writting this awesome preview mate!)
barmyarmy from Armed Assault Theatre of War tournament (thanks for the good talk and guiding me inside London!)
And more who's name I sadly forgot but I have asked Dan to get me up to date with those!
As a follow up for this preview RKSL Rock decided to make a review of Arma 2 as well (of the German version) where he reviews every part of Arma 2, step by step. Below you can find the links to all reviews:
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