America's Army 3 Preview: Army of One... Plus Two

America's Army first splashed onto the scene in the summer of 2002, garnering most of its attention because it was a free game aimed getting people more interested in the U.S. Army, specifically joining it.

Now, seven years later, the game seems to be coming into its own as more a game than a recruitment tool.

What It Is
America's Army 3 is the latest iteration of the video game marketing tool developed by the U.S. Army. This latest version of the first-person shooter was built using the Unreal Engine 3 and is packed with more graphic and audio fidelity as well as overhauled stat-tracking, customization and plenty of new bells and whistles. And it's free.

What We Saw
I played a couple of matches with three of the developers in a single level of the first-person shooter on The Bridge level. The matches were two versus two and consisted of me dying... lots. I did manage to bag one of them when they tried to sneak up behind me and punk me with a rifle butt to the head.

How Far Along Is it?
I played a beta build of the game, which is slated to come out sometime this year. The developers pointed out that they were still working on polish and things like collision detection.

What Needs Improvement?
Collision Detection: This build is still far from done. While the mechanics are all there, the graphics tend to jitter around too much and collision detection is still quite an issue, with soldiers jutting out a odd angles when crouching near or lying on cover or rubble.

Vaulting: You can only vault objects if you get a running start. Understandable for higher hindrances, but a knee-high fence or rubble shouldn't require backtracking to pick up the speed to get over something.

Ladders: Hopefully this is an issue with collision, because trying to latch onto and then climb up a ladder was a mess, often leading to you scampering against a wall before you could get started or falling from a few feet up.

Polish: The graphics don't pop as much as I'd like. There's still some work needed to make the game compare favorably to the likes of Gears of War 2 or the latest Call of Duty games.

What Needs to Stay the Same?
The Sound: The America Army 3's development team went to extraordinary levels to capture realistic sound. And not just gun shots, but far more importantly the accurate noise of a round passing near your head. You can tell, while playing the game, just how close someone is getting to hitting you just by the sound of the bullet passing by. From pops, to whizzes, the realistic sound effects adds another layer to tactics and makes suppressive fire all the more effective.

Healing: While you can go through training courses to improve your ability to heal other players on the battlefield, all players automatically have some ability to do so. But it's not an easy thing to do. To heal an incapacitated player you need to read check their injuries and select the correct treatment among the four listed to heal them. Once they are up and on their feet you need to heal them a second time to reduce the damage done by injuries. Shots to the chest or arms, for instance, slow reloading, while shots to the legs or lower body, slow a player down.

Realism: This is a shooter made by people who work for the Army, you can bet that they get the details, the minutia dead-on. Weapons are accurately modeled after the real thing. The movements are captured from real soldiers, the situations, while all taking place in a fictitious war in a fictitious country, are all based on real tactics. In that sense it doesn't get any more real.

Detailed Scoring System: In the original game you only had to worry about honor, building it to rank up. In this latest version the game tracks seven different Army values and uses all of them to award points which go toward ranking. When players stick together, those points are shared out between them. On top of the scoring and ranking system, the game now also supports achievements, badges and ribbons.

Damage Modeling: This latest Amercia's Army breaks the human body down into 16 sections, each of which can take damage and cause different harm to a player. Bullets are tracked in real time and can deflect as they go through different surfaces, they can also ricochet realistically causing injuries. Grenades, when they explode, not only spew ricocheting fragments, but also can kill or stun by sheer concussion.

Movement: Player movement is based on their load out, the more they carry the slower they move. Soldiers can slide into a dive from a run, slide to a crouch. They can lean standing, squatting or laying and, finally, they can melee attack with their rifle.

Pre-Battle Management: Before every encounter players are dropped into a top-down map where they can use markers and routes to discuss tactics and assign tactics, pushing gamers to think more about movement than about running and gunning.

Final Thoughts
Aside from some of the cosmetic issues, America's Army 3 is shaping up to be quite a solid shooter. The developers listened to their fans and tried to create a game that answered all of the issues of their first two outings. Add the amazing sound, the details of ricochet too the versatile Unreal Engine 3 graphics and you have a game with enormous potential.