Bohemia Interactive's ArmA III, a super-realistic modern combat simulation, is out today. I've been playing the retail release for over a week now, so under normal circumstances this is where a formal review of ArmA III would go. But with ArmA III, that just doesn't feel right.

Firstly because the game's not technically finished yet. The singleplayer campaign is missing, and will be made available as a free download later down the line. For series veterans that's not such a big deal, but given it's such a huge piece of content, and is important as a tutorial for newcomers, it's a big deal.

Secondly, and more importantly, I don't think I've played anywhere near enough of the game to even scratch its surface. I mean, I've played the singleplayer scenario missions. I've dabbled in multiplayer. I've wandered around the "showroom" areas, where you can drive every vehicle in the game. I've made my own missions. I've flown choppers, driven tanks, gone scuba diving. I've followed orders, made orders, killed men.

And died. Oh, how I've died. It feels like I've died one million times over. Given how brutal this game is, that's probably not far from the truth.

But ArmA III isn't like other shooters. It's a simulation. A sandbox game. A game-builder. The real meat of ArmA doesn't come from what ships on release day, it's what you're playing 12-24 months later, once people have made more awesome custom missions (though note: there are loads of good ones already available) and settled into how to best tackle the game's ridiculous, trademark large engagements.

So, no, I won't be "reviewing" ArmA III today. What I will do, though, is tell you what I think of what's there.

  • It looks gorgeous. No, really. The lighting effects probably steal the show, but the modelling on the vehicles and soldiers is excellent as well. This is a very, very pretty video game, and looks great even on lower-spec machines.
  • A big problem with the last few games in the series - and I'm including the original Operation Flashpoint in this - is that for all the ambition of the developers to create a truly life-like military simulation, the whole endeavour was let down by the stiff, wooden way the soldiers moved and were animated. That's been vastly improved. Everything looks a lot smoother, and for the player, everything moves a lot more smoothly as well.
  • Ditto for your interactions with things. Everything from driving a car to firing your gun has a little more weight to it, a little more heft. You'll feel more like a real human in a war zone, less like a floating gun platform.
  • The UI is still....hrm. Look, I know that it's remained largely unchanged because in some ways it's perfect, and for series veterans it's great that the communications system is the same. But it's still a nightmare to get your head around.
  • In fact, it's a shame the game as it stands is so hostile to newcomers. Again, I know, this is a niche game with an established fanbase, but there's so much in ArmA III that so many people would find so damn fun, if only they didn't have to study a textbook just to drive a tank.
  • The addition of undersea sections is a real "holy shit" moment. So is the scaleof the game's biggest island, Altis. I can only squeal softly at the thought of what enormous missions and battles both users and BI themselves can come up with for the playground they've built here.

I may revisit the game a few months down the line, when there's a campaign, more user missions and maybe even a decent tutorial, give it a more formal appraisal. Until then, all you need to know is this: ArmA III is a very serious war game that asks you to learn a lot of stuff in order to just move around and shoot at things. Then, once you get on top of all that, you can die from a single bullet.

Get your head around all that, though, and you'll find a recreation of combat that more theatrical games can't (presumably, I'm not in the army!) come close to.

Given that it's a pretty deep game, if you've got specific questions, drop em below and I'll do my best to answer them.