ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead (PC)
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
To be released: Q2 2010
For players returning to ArmA II, one this hasn't changed is the openness of the world. ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead has been built to have absolutely no walls. In the three huge new maps in the faux nation of Takistan, the maps will go on forever. Missions will be laid out and planned, but you could theoretically walk on forever away from the drop zone. Levels are enormous, much larger than almost anything I have seen in a game before.
Besides the three new levels (and they are huge), there is updates to many of the previous weapons and vehicles players can use at their disposal. For example, new thermal imaging visors and an updated radar system has been included. Other new additions include the decoy flares for the aerial units and smoke deploys for ground units, and the addition of the unmanned little bird UAV helicopter. This is possibly the biggest new addition, as this little helicopter currently being developed and used in real-world combat offers some really fascinating opportunities.
For example, say players need to guide a helicopter into enemy region to take out a baddie. Since the helicopter will have to deal with anti-air and noise, it's a bad idea to rush in, shoot, then rush out. Instead, the helicopter can stay back a few kilometers, and send out the UAV. Much smaller and lighter, it's hard to be heard or seen, and can zoom just outside the enemy camp. By switching to thermal vision, the UAV can target lock elements of the camp, and the helicopter hovering kilometers away can launch missiles that will attack right there. It's amazing.
Graphically, it's all in the small details. While the game looks pretty great, it's the fact that each element in the game has its own thermal signature, so that idling engines in takes will be cooler than ones that have been moving, or that rifle barrels with be hotter after a few shots. Real attention to detail has been applied, and it can really be seen with how items interact with each other. There is real weight and power behind each weapon and vehicle. Also, buildings can now be destroyed, a feature fans have been asking for.
Finally, attention was made to making the game approachable to new players. A new 15 mission boot camp has been added to address the overwhelming amount of tools available to players, and this should hopefully guide players in a mission. Bohemian Interactive has never wanted to define how players can complete a mission, and it really is as open as you want it, but the extra guidance is a major help.
Also helpful is the inclusion of 4-player co-op. Unlike many other games, the co-op in ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead take control of different squads and troop roles. While one player is in the helicopter, the other will be with a delta team, and others will be doing something else. It's cool, and should be helpful practice for the multiplayer missions.
And multiplayer promises to be just as intense as the single player. With a fully customizable create a missions, players can drag and drop troop elements into the field, with enemy emplacements, music, lighting, and more in developing the multiplayer modes. It's an incredibly deep and customizable tool set for players who want to create their own ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead game missions without modding the game. Considering over 50 players can play in multiplayer modes, knowing what's what will mean a lot.
Modding, however, is in full support for ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead. With a studio built by many former modders, Bohemia Interactive not only supports mods, but they have built in-game support for mods. Instead of juggling files and organizing everything, ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead has a built in menu for toggling mods, and opening a game with a freshly downloaded mod is as simple as double clicking the PBO file. ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead is viewed as a platform, and it looks like the fairly strong modding community is making sure there is plenty of new content coming up.
Unfortunately, much of this new content is not going to be cross compatible, so if you have the initial ArmA II, you'll want to get the expansion.
Also helping players out with the game and the modding is “The Armory”. Acting as a sort of encyclopedia for the game, every weapon, vehicle, and item is explained in-depth. Even more, players will be able to play with each item in a sort of open field, getting a feel for how everything works, and random missions will pop up in this mode, giving players more experience and time with the weapons. For a game this open and in-depth, having a mode to work through all the small elements of a tool is very helpful.
I'm coming away impressed with the title, as this is a lot of new content with an expansion pack. It seems Bohemia Interactive has worked hard to create an update that will hopefully appeal to new players to the game. While the game is still daunting and oppressive, new players will find the difficulty to be better designed and more fun, and the hardcore fans of this lesser known series will enjoy the new tools at their disposal. Even better, there will be a combo pack offering both ArmA II and ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead combined for only $10 more than a stand alone release. While not for everyone, ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead is promising to be a better designed and more approachable title.