Review: ArmA 3: Tanks DLC23 Apr 2018 0
Review: ArmA 3: Tanks DLC
Released 11 Apr 2018
One of the things that keeps me coming back to ArmA 3 is its stern-faced commitment to realism in an unchangeably goofy video game world. There’s something David Lynchian about the whole affair - you’re never quite sure whether the developers are completely earnest or if you’ve just gotten a wry wink at the absurdity of it all.
Take the latest Tanks DLC package. I’ll run through the vital statistics later, but there’s such a funny juxtaposition of an obsessively intense focus on simulating real-world military operations with the realization that a lot of what happens in the military isn’t any fun. While I was gleefully thundering around in my Rhino MGS, a tank destroyer introduced in this new pack, some incoming mortar fire blew out my front two passenger-side tires.
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The damage model is detailed enough so that this has a pretty severe impact on handling. But then I got out of the Rhino, clicked a prompt, and had the tires back in action in about 25 seconds total.
I realize it’s weird to complain that a game doesn’t make you wait two hours while you replace a couple flat tires. But ArmA’s realism focus naturally creates these funny moments where you can’t help but realize it’s still a video game. But that’s always been the case with ArmA - let’s get into what’s new with the Tanks DLC.
This being the Tanks DLC, obviously the first thing we want to look at is the tanks. And unfortunately, there’s only one: The T-140 Angara, which is visually reminiscent of the IDF’s Merkava 4 or the Russian T-14 Armata. The Angara has a bigger, 125mm long-range main cannon, with the usual coaxial-mounted 7.62mm gun and a heavy 12.7mm machine gun mounted above on its own independent swivel turret. It’s cool-looking, and a commander variant replaces the turret gun with a high tech 30mm autocannon.
This is all very nice, but practically speaking it’s a central casting version of an MBT. As the only main battle tank that's provided as part of the DLC, there never seemed to be an opportunity to use the Angara’s particular strengths against enemy armor during any of the also-provided scenario content. Disappointing, sure, but that’s not to say the Angara is alone - there’s also the Rhino MGS I mentioned above. This is an agile, eight-wheeled tank destroyer with a hefty 120mm main gun. It’s clearly a spin on a variant of the US Army’s Stryker, the M1128 MGS. Nowadays, the M1128 sports a more modest 105mm cannon, but an early prototype was scrapped when field testers discovered that a larger gun would cause enough recoil to tip the vehicle over if the transverse on the turret was 90 degrees. Fortunately, the Rhino doesn’t have to worry about transverse angles and recoil; it does, however, have video game physics to contend with. More on that later.
The third and final new vehicle in Tanks is the diminutive Nyx Armored Weapons Carrier (AWC), a single-occupant armor platform with four loadouts: anti-tank, anti-air, recon, and autocannon. It’s the Fiat 500 of the bunch, a tiny but feisty little tracked beast that’s enjoyable to drive primarily due to the absence of additional crew.
The Tanks DLC also comes with an armor showcase and a 'mini campaign', which itself is more a showcase for the new kit than anything to write home from Altis about. The armor showcase is a way to jump straight into a big operation, while the campaign gives you several stringed scenarios to get your feet wet with the new hardware. Both suffer from ArmA’s still-terrible NPC AI, which is even more frustrating when you must rely on NPC drivers and gunners. As a tank commander, I’d like to just be able to give my driver a grid coordinate and have him handle, you know, the driving. ArmA gives you that option, and you’re theoretically able to look at your map and plan moves while your computerized subordinates handle the usual tank crew stuff.
The trouble is, ArmA’s AI drivers are useless off-road. They’ll stop trying to get to the point you’ve designated as soon as they bump into an obstacle that doesn’t crumble before the might of a modern tank, and you’ll have to give them manual commands like “okay, so back up and turn a little bit.”
This is frustrating, certainly, but I can’t help but laugh to myself a little when it happens. I was a squishy public affairs soldier during my own time in the Army, but I worked with tankers and former tankers quite a bit, particularly while I was stationed at Fort Knox, formerly the Army’s 'Armor Center.' One sergeant I worked with had been a tanker before switching career fields, and he told me about how when he was a lowly driver, his tank commander had him paint a target on the back of his crewman’s helmet so the commander - sitting above and behind him - knew where to aim kicks when he screwed up. Armor crewmen were often referred to as DATs - “dumb ass tankers.”
What’s less forgivable about the single-player content is that the command AI is easily as bad. It’s following a script that, while interesting from a narrative perspective, isn’t filled in to anything resembling completion. You’re given incredibly vague orders that often conflict with each other, and then yelled at when you fail to realize you were supposed to be two miles away from what you thought you were supposed to be doing. ArmA says it wants you to play tactically and realistically, but the campaigns constantly berate you for failing to act suicidal.
Two tankers walk into a bar…
I’ve liked this new content, and it’s been a nice chance to drop back into ArmA 3. But as a product you can spend money on, I’m less bullish. Tank physics are bizarre, and I once sent the T-140 I was commanding into a gravity-defying aerial spin by nudging up against a small rock. I hate that my drivers refuse to accept commands if they’ve hit any obstacle, and if we’re off-road, they’ll tend to interpret my orders as “I dunno, head back to the starting point.”
As a piece of purchasable content, I have to recommend against ArmA 3’s Tanks DLC. There’s not enough new material, and if you’re playing ArmA 3 for the single-player, you’d be better off in the Steam Workshop.
The good news, though, is that the DLC as always comes with a gigantic platform update that benefits everyone who owns the game. You’ll notice now that the interiors of armored vehicles are fully rendered in 3D - although this is nice precisely once, and you promptly realize that peering through prismatic periscopes on a 27” monitor isn’t actually very “realistic.” There are new anti-tank weapons and crew uniforms as well.
But one thing that’s really bugged me this time around is the utter insufficiency of ArmA 3’s map. The lack of any topographic information is bad enough while planning infantry operations, and it’s only worse when you’re trying to plot courses for heavy vehicles whose ranges are around a kilometer. Topographics aren’t new technology - why can’t we see elevations on the damn map? Not having that makes deciphering orders during the campaign missions frustrating at best, and planning operations in the game’s sandbox downright impossible. The DLC’s new guided missiles only highlight this is more striking relief.
ArmA either is your game or it isn’t, and if it’s something you casually dabble in periodically, then the Tanks DLC probably isn’t worth your time. But if ArmA 3 is your jam, if linking up with friends and executing massive combined arms operations with your crew is how you spend weekends, then this is new hardware that will definitely make the usually infantry-focused action more interesting.