ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead – A Comprehensive Review

Since the breakout success of 2001’s Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, Bohemia Interactive have found themselves at the forefront of the military simulator genre. Building on the experience gained with their previous games, the developer has been able to present an increasingly authentic and realistic picture of modern combined-arms combat, and have even been involved in the development of fully-featured military simulators for the world’s militaries.

ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead is the latest game from Bohemia Interactive, set in the fictional country of Takistan. Task Force Knight, a detachment of the United States Army, has entered the country with the aim of deposing the previously USSR-backed socialist regime which has threatened the neighbouring country of Karzeghistan with the use of chemical weapons in an attempt to secure a vital piece of oil-rich land. The player takes control of four personnel in Task Force Knight, from a rifleman in the airborne infantry to an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot.

Operation Arrowhead is marketed as a stand-alone expansion to ARMA 2 which can also be integrated with the content of the original game. This seems to be a sensible marketing decision by Bohemia Interactive, allowing new players to immediately experience the new content without having to purchase both titles, while also enabling players of ARMA 2 to carry over their data from the original game into a more expansive package.

The changes which Operation Arrowhead makes to the game engine are more evolutionary than revolutionary, with new features such as the ability to adjust gun sights to compensate for bullet drop, a variety of new weapons, including several variants of the FN SCAR, and a fully-comprehensive simulation of thermal imaging sights taken from the VBS line of professional military simulators. Along with this, the game comes with three new maps from the country of Takistan, with far-stretching deserts, mountain ranges and compact urban terrain which present a substantially different sort of combat to the forested grasslands of Chernarus, and a sort of combat more reminiscent of current engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nearly all of the Takistani buildings are modelled inside and out, which grants an extra dimension to urban combat.

Unfortunately, the campaign isn’t really long enough to take full advantage of these little improvements in the game engine. With seven or eight missions, depending on your actions throughout the game, and none of them as substantial as some of the missions in ARMA 2, there isn’t enough time to really explore the new terrain of Takistan throughout the campaign. It’s hardly a large enough campaign to be spread out between four characters either. Overall, this seems to be a case of the same problem that has applied to all of Bohemia Interactive’s campaigns since ArmA: Armed Assault, with several intriguing and interesting elements to gameplay, but not enough focus or polish to be regarded as classics.

Fortunately, the campaign makes up only a small amount of the game, and there are plenty of places to really use that new terrain to its full potential. The simplistic-but-addictive Armoury mode allows the player to try out equipment and vehicles from the game, while the expansive Editor mode continues to grant players a powerful and useful tool. Indeed, between these two modes alone, there is the potential for dozens of hours of gameplay, and the multiplayer game remains hugely entertaining.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to long-time players of Bohemia Interactive’s games that Operation Arrowhead continues to present a realistic and authentic picture of modern warfare and combat, but despite the development team’s efforts, this still isn’t the most accessible game for new players. A rather idiosyncratic control system can occasionally frustrate, particularly when it comes to issuing commands, and a lot of key bindings may have to be reconfigured in order to keep the game in line with your personal preferences. An improved training mode does enhance the process of learning these difficult commands, but the complexity of the game may frustrate some players beyond the point that they may be used to.

The graphics of Operation Arrowhead remain exceptional, capturing all of the little details on soldiers’ equipment, vehicles and the terrain. Consequently, the game needs a fairly hefty machine in order to play properly, particularly at higher resolutions or higher view distances. While the game can be played with a less powerful machine, a slow frame rate can be dangerous in a game where a single shot can kill, and there are a few graphical glitches associated with slow graphics processing which become jarring when they occur in the middle of a firefight.

The sound recordings all work well, and despite not being as visceral or loud as they might be on an actual battlefield, Bohemia Interactive have done a good job of performing the difficult task of recording firearm sounds. They’re substantially better than the rather effete sounds found in the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Machine sounds are all well done, particularly when it comes to the aerial vehicles, and the effects of environment on the sounds continue to be portrayed accurately and usefully.

While Operation Arrowhead works well as a stand-alone package, it works even better when played in association with ARMA 2 in the Combined Operations package. Not only do you get the comprehensive features of both games, but you also get full access to the work of the extensive modding community. Most add-ons should work straight out of the box, while more expansive mods seem to only need a little bit of work to carry over to the Combined Operations package.

The ACE 2 team are among the groups of modders in the process of porting over their content for use in Operation Arrowhead.

Overall, ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead continues the ambitious and realistic action found in Bohemia Interactive’s other military simulators. The action is stunning, as are the graphics and the attention to detail, but the short campaign is a bit of a disappointment, and while there’s plenty of gameplay to be found elsewhere, it sometimes seems as if the game was expressly designed as a sandbox, leaving players to create their own content. The editor makes this very possible, but it may prove to be too much effort to those who are looking for a more cohesive playing experience.

Bottom Line: ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead is a very ambitious game, with plenty of potential gameplay, but requires a lot of effort to unlock its full potential.

Recommendation: This game is a must-have for fans of military simulators, or of Bohemia Interactive’s other games, but other gamers may want to try the demo before deciding whether this is something they want to plunge into.


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