In ArmA You Are Not The Only Hero


After finishing up (roughly) ArmA III’s main campaign, I feel I must observe possibly the last subject of peculiarity that separates this game’s singleplayer modes from those of others. Generally speaking, Bohemia Interactive’s military games constantly impress a feeling of smallness upon players, and some people can’t figure out if that’s good or bad.

If you read some reviews of ArmA III’s campaign from places like GameSpot or Rock Paper Shotgun, some note that its final chapter — titled “Win,” persistently makes the player feel like a tiny cog within a massive system. On one level or another this actually happens throughout the entirety of singleplayer ArmA II and ArmA III. Basically, there are many times where the player actually has very little impact on the flow of the game, and much of the time the game is often essentially running itself.

On the one hand, it’s a spectacle to behold as an achievement of video game technology, but on the other hand, how much are you really playing the game? In the ArmA III campaign’s final battles, you see dozens of non-player characters fighting each other in massive dynamic setups that play out differently each time you load the game. In the campaign’s first chapter you’re one guy taking unscripted orders from an AI squad leader, and you have one small role among many other characters. In the middle chapter when you command a squad you’re still just one guy in that squad. In Call of Duty other characters are just background scenery and ambience, but in ArmA they are indeed contributing to the fight. The problem with this is a lot of the time the AI in ArmA is quite capable of winning the battle on its own.

In my experience in ArmA III, having personally shot even five enemies over the course of a mission is a lot. There are usually many more, but most of them were taken out by my squad mates, or even other friendly squads in the area. This goes into overdrive during “Win” because you’re fighting alongside friendly tanks, helicopters, and bombers (although you’re often the one to call them in). At that stage it becomes an armor-level war, and as a single foot soldier there’s only so much you can do.

Where this feeling of smallness is most acute is in ArmA II’s final campaign mission. There, the game turns into a real-time strategy affair where if you don’t choose to command your side, you turn into just one unit in a gigantic systemic battle involving hundreds of NPCs. You really don’t even get to see most of the fighting even though it’s a real “game” that can be won or lost and not just ambience.

Towards the end of that battle I headed to the enemy side’s last stronghold where the friendly commander was making the final push, and realized how little impact my one squad had on the proceedings. All I could really do was watch in awe as each side threw a wave of APCs at the other.

To understand why this happens you probably need to understand that ArmA’s singleplayer content is really just an extension of its multiplayer. In its essence ArmA is supposed to be played by dozens of hundreds of players organizing against each other, each one indeed a small cog in the overall operation.

ArmA’s “Warfare” mode, which ArmA II’s final mission emulates, is supposed to be a hybrid between an RTS and a first person shooter, simulating an entire chain of command. Other games have tried to do something similar but not been very successful. I think it works in ArmA for two reasons: 1) Orders from on high aren’t received as actual strict orders, but more as objectives to be completed. When the commander sends orders down to squad leaders, he’s not telling them exactly how to move and act, but rather giving them suggestions and then trusting them to do their jobs. The same relationship exists between squad leaders and grunts. This is true both in multiplayer and singleplayer with the AI. 2) ArmA has nailed a particular audience instead of going for the mainstream. As I understand it much of that audience consists of actual military personnel who sometimes use ArmA to simulate exercises.

In light of this, playing singleplayer ArmA is kind of like playing a multiplayer game with bots, except Bohemia added a storyline. The bots are actually affecting the flow of the game, and even though you’re the only human involved, you’re not really the only “player.”


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