Review: ArmA 3: Apex05 Aug 2016 0
Review: ArmA 3: Apex
Released 11 Jul 2016
ArmA 3 is a gargantuan toybox for military connoisseurs, as much a platform for the creation of diverse scenarios – from survival sandboxes to duelling tanks – as a game itself. ArmA 3: Apex, then, is a new compartment in that toybox. Slide out the drawer and you’ll be able to pick up and play with VTOLs, AK-12 assault rifles, Prowler light strike vehicles and sexy night vision goggles.
But it's more than just these new toys, however. If you’ve grown tired of the idyllic but sometimes war-torn fictional Greek archipelago created for the core game, then good news! There’s a whole new set of islands to explore in the stunning South Pacific locale of Tanoa. Bid farewell to the gentle rolling hills and seemingly infinite fields of Altis and Stratis, and prepare to spend a lot of time in the humid jungle and striking beaches of your new home.
Tanoa is undoubtedly the star of this DLC. Indeed, without the new 100 km2 playground, Apex would likely seem just a little bit empty, certainly not justifying its price tag. But you don’t need to worry about that, because the islands are huge and full of tactically interesting spots with diverse geography that runs the gamut from crumbling temple ruins to bustling ports.
Jungle warfare takes a bit of time to adapt to. When you’re crawling through the damp rainforest, you’re accompanied by a constant sense of dread. They could be anywhere, the part-guerilla, part-criminal outfit known as Syndikat. They could be a mere metre away. Your vision is so limited by the flora that safely dispatching the enemy from a distance becomes a luxury you won’t often have.
Tense, close-quarters combat is usually the name of the game. You’ll see your targets when you’re on top of them – if they don’t see you first. These prowling games of cat and mouse are surprisingly evocative of survival horror. Tense, vulnerable and desperate, they elevate the drama of ArmA 3’s simulation, offering up battles that don’t really happen back on the Greek islands.
All this difficult terrain matters for vehicles, as well. Even when attempting to navigate the Tanoan jungle on the back of a spry little ATV, it’s extremely difficult. It’s a bumpy ride, but more troublesome are the abundant trees and roots that you might be able to slip through on foot, but become walls when you’re in a vehicle. So you change your plans. You evolve. Maybe you ditch the ATV back at the foot path. Maybe you try to find a more vehicle-friendly route.
Tanoa is diverse as well though. It’s not all thick, dark jungles and enemies popping up when you least expect it. You can get your urban warfare fix and enjoy that exhilarating kick when you’re sprinting through large, open areas, praying that you’re faster than the enemy’s trigger finger. It’s the best of all possible worlds.
With all these fun new toys and an impressive setting, what do Bohemia Interactive do to showcase it all? They make a pretty awful campaign, that’s what. Apex’s 1-4 player campaign is a shambles, spinning a trite, recycled yarn that fails to show off a lot of the DLC’s most anticipated features. It’s thankfully short, but by the end I still felt absolutely exhausted.
First problem: it’s a co-op campaign that only pretends to work with one player. If you do ( for the love of god please don’t) decide to try it out solo, you have been warned. Playing on your own means literally playing on your own. You are the entirety of your squad, so don’t expect to get any NPC allies to boss around. This means tactics get flung out the window. You’ll have to stumble through the missions blind and just pray that you see your enemy before they see you.
That usually doesn’t happen, of course. So you die. And then you die again. You die a lot. But there’s never any impetus to improve or attempt a new strategy because death only means you have to watch a 25 second countdown and then you can choose to respawn at a checkpoint, which are many and generous. And when you respawn you get a fresh soldier in whatever role you choose, will all that ammo and gear intact.
It couldn’t feel less like ArmA if Bohemia Interactive were trying to push a new IP. At its best, ArmA 3 feels like a boots-on-the-ground wargame, where organisation and strategy are equally as important as quick reflexes and excellent spatial awareness. Apex’s campaign is far from ArmA 3 at its best.
Perhaps worse, or at least equally disappointing, is the quality of the actual missions. Some of them are fine – though hardly memorable – but the seven chapters are mostly humdrum affairs with straightforward objectives and not a lot to do aside from shooting a vast number of people.
Take the DLC’s second mission, for example. You liaise with another squad and plan to take down a convoy that will soon be rolling through your location. But when you get to the road, everything has been taken care of, and all you need to do is hide behind a rock and wait for the vehicles to arrive. When they do, there’s an explosion, a brief gunfight, and then you’re sent off alone (or with your co-op buddies) down a short footpath to a downed plane where you shoot more men. And that’s it. Maybe 15 minutes of activity, not counting deaths.
Enemy AI doesn’t make the experience any more pleasurable. On the standard difficulty, they are an inconsistent bunch, bouncing between savant-level soldiers to complete dolts, on a whim. Sometimes they’ll inexplicably spot you through multiple walls of foliage and strike with preternatural accuracy. But these same enemies are just as likely to let you walk right up to them, completely ignoring you.
ArmA 3’s sandbox nature does mean that some amusing surprises can still occur, however. I vividly recall a shoot-out in one of the early missions, around a lone building surrounded by trees. We’d taken out the guards, and silence descended over the battlefield, along with the early morning fog. I popped up from behind a truck I was using as cover, and slowly started to move toward to front door of the building. A crackle of gunfire signalled my demise. But where did it come from? I realise it after the fact: a single enemy hiding under the corpses of his allies. Sneaky devil.
With the Apex expansion, you’re really buying the tools and the toys, and you’re going to depend on modders and other players for your jollies. If you want to have an adventure in a VTOL or even just experience a proper, combined arms battle, you’re not going to find it in the campaign. Don't think of it as getting a fresh new experience, but rather an extension of the existing platform, with different scenery. If you’re comfortable with that you’ll find a great deal to keep you occupied here