I’ve always felt like the ArmA games have been one good overhaul from being true world-beaters.
Let me explain. The ArmA games are, from a neutral perspective, hard as fuck. You need to memorise a ton of keyboard shortcuts, controls can be clunky, presentation is terrible and gameplay is utterly unforgiving. If you walk into these games from a regular first-person shooter you’ll be dead in seconds and won’t even know what hit you.
Persist with them like its fans have, though, and there’s a deeply rewarding experience beneath all that difficulty. Combat plays out with a realism and scope that other games can only dream of, and the creation tools given to players to craft their own missions and wars are incredible. Oh, and it helps that the games also look amazing on a decent PC.
In short, ArmA has always had the potential to be the point on the map where Call of Duty and Minecraft meet, then decide to spend the rest of their lives together as a brutally realistic military simulation.
ArmA 3, released in 2013, saw the series try and bridge that gap between old players and (potential) new ones by improving things like presentation, mission design and just generally smoothing as many rough edges as it could. It did a very good job, but didn’t quite get there, the end result being that ArmA 3 is a game that really only accommodates those willing to put the work in.
Apex, a new expansion for ArmA 3, is more of the same. There have been more attempts at cleaning the place up; voice acting is improved, campaign scripting is a little more functional and there’s a new front menu. But that’s about it; this is more about giving existing players a fancy set of new toys to play with, not an attempt to bring anyone interested in the idea of ArmA (if not the execution) into the fold.
Of this, it does a decent job. The main addition is an all-new location for the game, the 100m2 South Pacific nation of Tanoa, which swaps the deserts and woodlands of recent games for the jungles and beaches of the South Pacific. It’s a beautiful map, all palm trees and tropical sunsets, and the detail strewn across it makes it a far more interesting place to traverse than ArmA 3's Altis and Stratis.
There are two new factions, new gear, new uniforms, new weapons and ten new vehicles, which range from VTOLs to drones to civilian 4WDs.
Most interesting to me was a new co-op campaign, something that had been lacking from the base game. Allowing up to four players to take on Apex’s short story, it sounds good in theory, but once again ArmA’s campaign—despite the promise inherent in a game with this kind of scope—falls flat, with boring mission design and a lack of spit and polish.
One bright side I found, though, was that having not played ArmA 3 since it launched, when I died I no longer had to revert to a save game; the co-op nature of the game let me respawn back on the map instead, which cut down on a lot of the trudging that so sours other ArmA campaign experiences.
And that’s...about all you get with the expansion. It’s not cheap (it launched at around USD$35), so I guess it depends how much you’re into the whole ArmA multiplayer and creation scene as to whether this is worth a look (which is also probably a reason why user reviews are so divided on Steam).