Arma 3 “Tanks”: More Toys In The Sandbox

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Arma 3’s final expansion, “Tanks,” came out last week and I was able to check it out for a bit. I don’t think anyone else outside hardcore military simulation fans are talking about it so I thought I’d go into it a bit here. Despite my 450+ hours on the game, I definitely wouldn’t say I’m “in deep” with the MilSim crowd.

I remember seeing videos of some other hardcore tank simulator, but I have no idea how Arma 3’s “Tanks” compares to a single-purpose simulator like that. I imagine it’s not as in-depth since it’s a combined-arms game with a far broader spread of gameplay from on-foot to vehicles to aircraft. That being said, what’s in “Tanks” is still somewhat bewildering to someone like me.

“Tanks” adds a new short story campaign centered around armored vehicles, some other offline modes on the same subject I think, some new tank units, and fully-modeled interiors for all the game’s armored vehicles (tanks, APCs, etc.). That last addition is available to everyone who owns Arma 3 regardless of expansion ownership. I actually just messed around with the new tank stuff in some user-generated mod scenarios for a bit, but still got to experience a lot of what “Tanks” has to offer.

Arma 3 isn’t really just a game, but also a sort of toy chest of military hardware. Its robust map and mission editor lets people make all kinds of scenarios using what’s in the game and expansions, and there are also modes where you can freely play around with every weapon, vehicle, and other piece of equipment. This gives players a good opportunity to freely play around with what’s new whenever a big update comes around.

The biggest shock (and possibly the coolest thing) when playing after the update comes from the fully modeled tank interiors. Basically, they make Arma 3 look even more like the kind of PC game that symbolizes PC games to a lot of fans of more mainstream shooters like Battlefield or Call of Duty — unwieldy, intimidating, complex.

The image above should be a screenshot of one of these interiors. The main screen you’re looking at in the bottom center is actually a video feed of a camera or something you can rotate independent of the direction the tank is moving in. It acts similar to other in-game video feeds and rear-view mirrors Arma 3 has used since its initial launch, but this is the first time players have had to use one as the main way they view the world around them… and because of the way the graphics engine works this screen often runs at like five frames per second. Above that are little slits through which you can see the “actual”  game world in front of the tank. That’s just the view of the commander, who really just tells everybody else what to do (and can control a machine gun). The gunner who controls the main canon, can’t even see anything in some tanks. They just fire the canon whenever the commander tells them to. All that goes on top of Arma 3’s existing HUD elements. That includes the picture-in-picture window you can use the cycle through a mini-map, the view from a drone, a list of the status of your crew members, the radar, and probably some other stuff I don’t know about. Of course there’s also the toggled compass, wristwatch, and whatever else I forgot.

Controlling artillery canons gets even more interesting. Most shooters don’t even have artillery canons, which is one of the most interesting things about Arma 3 I’ve only begun to really get into. Y’know how Battlefield or Call of Duty might occasionally let you “paint” a target before artillery shells just spawn in the middle of the air to hit it? In Arma 3 there’s an actual artillery canon somewhere on the map, usually something like a couple miles away from its target, that has to fire these rounds which physically arc through the air to hit their target, usually taking between 30 seconds and a minute to do so. The confluence between this and actually controlling the canon is bizarre compared to the feedback loop shooters normally give players.

If you’re controlling the canon here you don’t even see the effects of your shots. You just fire into the air and then hear a distant boom half a minute later. Maybe you’ll know you hit an objective if you see that objective mark as complete in your journal. You might use the targeting computer, which just brings up the game’s map screen so you can click on a target before firing, at which point you see a line gradually extend from your canon’s position to the target. These military shooters put all this money into the most realistic graphics, but when using one of the most powerful weapons in the game all you get is this cold, clinical interface to illustrate the destruction you’re likely causing outside the game’s visual draw distance.

The new modeled interiors do nothing to change this. When in the driver’s seat of an artillery canon you’ll see a pretty standard tank driver’s seat, but the gunner only sees a simple cockpit containing a physical computer screen displaying the canon’s elevation and azimuth. Presumably another player in multiplayer would relay the proper coordinates to hit a target, and then confirm the effectiveness of the attack.

There’s a lot more I haven’t touched yet, most importantly tank-on-tank combat. “Tanks” also added Arma 3’s “Fire Control System” to tanks, which allows them to share lock-on data with other units like drones, jets, helicopters, missile launchers, and infantry with rocket launchers. Oh and players can customize tanks now.

I don’t think there’s any recent game on the market that emphasizes this “free toy chest” aspect as much as Arma 3 does.  Maybe Far Cry 5’s “Arcade” mode might turn into something significant in the future.

BULLETS:

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