Arma 3: Contact Review09 Sep 2019 0
Arma 3: Contact Review
Released 25 Jul 2019
I was as skeptical as anyone when the news showed up that the next Arma 3 expansion was going to be about aliens. "Oh no," I thought, "this always goes badly." And while the game's latest content pack, Contact, winds up being a fun kind of X-Files diversion into what can happen in single player, it's of limited use to anyone who thinks about Arma as a war simulator.
Look: I'll save you the trouble of reading the rest of this review. If you're hoping for weird alien technology that you can work into your warfighting scenarios, this package doesn't have it. For the purposes of general Arma play, what you get with this is basically a couple of robots, and that's about it. When we work this piece of DLC into our master list of "Arma Stuff You Must Have," Contact will rank very near the bottom. That being said, I liked this campaign a lot. Contact shows Bohemia and its partners at their most creative, although as ever this weird scenario does come down to a cold war popping off hot in a small regional area that is, strangely enough, cut off from the rest of the world's communications.
Here's the gist: You are Spc. Aiden Rudwell, a linguist-turned-drone operator on a field exercise near the Russian border in a fictional state called Livonia. You're in some comms unit working with local Livonian partners on a combined arms exercise that's definitely not supposed to annoy anyone on the other side of the wire.
Quickly things go pear shaped, thanks in no small part to a PFC you're friends with who was already on latrine duty and has global conspiracy theories on the brain. A routine drone training exercise results in an armed bomb landing within walking distance of your lookout point and, well, guess who gets to check it out?
This all takes place so you can get acquainted with your first bit of new equipment: There's the drone, yes, but what you'll be married to for this entire exercise is the Spectrum Device: A tool that can jam radio, pick up radio signals, and work out where those signals are coming from.
As the campaign progresses, you'll use the Spectrum Device to send spoof missions to enemy command and work out where enemy squads are working. It's not a bad piece of kit, on paper - you can spot-jam enemy communications - but it feels like you're carrying out the most basic of tasks.
Indeed, the campaign has you use this piece of equipment over and over - mainly to make sure the people at an area you want to go to aren't there when you get there. And that's all fine. But even when you get a new antenna for it that lets you 'communicate' with extraterrestrials, its use is strictly limited by the script of the story. Within that story, there are some admittedly clever bits, I should say. Using a recorded "move left" order from Livonian command on an enemy (look, it's complicated) squad prowling out in the woods at night feels very Cold War Kids, at least once I worked out what it was the game wanted me to do.
The other headline piece of tech that comes with this expansion is the ED-1 UGV, which is a tracked R/C car with an armature, probe, and camera on it. As you might expect, it's a fun little toy to mess around with at first, but it's only useful within the bounds of the story missions Contact sets up for it. Even then, what you're ultimately doing with it most of the time is 'go to location A to poke thing B.'
You could uncharitably say that about most Arma objectives, sure. And it's what Contact does to layer meaning onto those simple tasks that makes it a fun X-Files style diversion. It feels fresh, mostly because instead of shooting things most of the time you're waving a radio antenna around in the woods, trying not to get spotted. The missions open up a bit in the middle acts, and you can choose which order you want to take on objectives, but narratively they all boil down to a core of well-meaning military officers and scientists trusting the future of humanity to an E-4 and his ability to make his way through the woods with a radio jammer. Having spent some time as an E-4 myself, I don't like our odds.
Contact has some truly standout moments baked into the campaign (which I won't spoil), and you've certainly never seen in Arma before. Alien tech makes certain things spookily hover just above the ground sometimes, and the scenario writers were smart enough to keep the actual aliens themselves hidden from you. The rest relies on scary noises and lights in the woods combined with what your own brain makes up for the majority of its runtime. But as diverting as those moments are, it doesn't change the fact that the storyline is a bit hamfisted, and at best might have made for a middling two-episode X-Files arc. That's enough to keep me entertained for a few hours, and I suspect the same is true for quite a few Arma players. Thankfully the payoff, when you get it, is pretty grand.
However, that's not near enough to put this on any list of truly ‘essential’ Arma DLC, particularly when you realize that the hardware it introduces is effectively useless outside that scripted story campaign. The Spectrum Device is literally unusable anywhere outside Contact's story missions, and the UGV it brings in is effectively the same - unless modders want to start adding 'probe material at location X,Y' to their list of missions in Arma's sandbox.
A couple other notes worth mentioning: Contact brings with it a new landmass, Livonia, and that's certainly interesting enough. It's some hilly woodland featuring a radar base and steep terrain - it's nothing particularly dramatic, but it's certainly more land on which to do Arma things. I was, however, disappointed to find that Contact seemed to make Arma 3 perform even worse on recommended settings than it had before, and this was after I had installed a brand new RTX 2070 Super graphics card in my PC. This is a game that's feeling its age.
All that said, I hope it's pretty clear where Contact lands in the panoply of Arma 3 add-on content. From a wargamer's perspective it's probably the least essential piece of DLC Bohemia has ever put out for the game. But it's an entertaining and, by Arma standards, unique story experience that's worth playing through once, and that bit at least is characterized by Bohemia's pleasingly authentic ear for military dialogue and characters, even if it can be a bit uneven and cartoony at times.
But Contact is also Arma 3's most expensive piece of DLC, with a price tag that's higher than the massive and game-changing Apex expansion. Contact, sadly, makes almost no impact on the broader game and even at its highest moments never really justifies itself. It's a fun little story, and that's it - unlike almost any other piece of DLC, it doesn't make Arma 3 itself more interesting at all.