Review: ARMA: Cold War Assault

ARMA: Cold War Assault has had a rocky past, initially released by publisher Codemasters and developed by Bohemia Interactive under the name of Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis the two companies had a falling out and each went on their separate ways by the time Operation Flashpoint 2 was being developed. Codemasters went ahead and had another developer make Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising and Bohemia made Armed Assault, (ArmA in short). Operation Flashpoint 2 didn’t do as good as was hoped but nonetheless a sequel named Operation Flashpoint: Red River was developed. Meanwhile Bohemia went to work on the ArmA series and a military simulator called Virtual Battlespace (VBS) intended for the military market.

The largest map in Operation Flashpoint (or OFP for short) 144 square kilometers, and back in 2001 a map that large was really, really large. And don’t think that was just scaled down to size like most other open-world games. No, if you would build a bridge from one end of the map to the other (as most of it is sea) and walk the entirety of said bridge you would need at least a full day to walk that distance in real-time. The islands on these maps are downsized versions of the real-world islands they were based on, but crossing even the medium-sized islands on foot would take hours.

OFP has a Cold War theme, so there are plenty of military and civilian vehicles around. Ranging from bicycles to jet fighters and anything in between. Patrol boats, APCs, tanks, cars, buses, Cessnas and even a Sopwith Pup. Every vehicle you see in the game is playable.

The game featured five maps:

  • Malden, based on the Greek island of Lefkas
  • Nogova, based on the Greek island of Lesbos(?)
  • Kolgujev, named after an island in the Barentsz Sea, but based on real-world Tenerife
  • Everon, based on the Croatian island of Krk
  • Desert Island, flat island used for tutorials and intro/outro movies

The first four islands were islands that looked like people could actually live there with cities, villages, industrial buildings and military installations. I used to spend hours in the Mission Editor building missions, weapons and vehicle training but I often found myself just goofing around with the bewildering array of weapons and vehicles

But wait, a review of a 17-year-old PC game? Really? Yes: note the subtitle of my blog:

Model builder, IT nerd, Raspberry Pi herder, history buff

I love computers and games, and I love games that give you freedom even more. OFP was one of those games. And it was one of the reasons I started building plastic models.

Gameplay

Let’s say it’s a bit clunky, the game engine was designed for large, open worlds and isn’t really suited for Close Quarters Combat (CQB), and most of the buildings in-game aren’t accessible at all. You’ll interact with most of the world via a pop-up window, allowing you to set off bombs, reload, enter vehicles or set off a scripted event. The game lives on scripted events, and they’ll occasionally fail, often forcing you to retry (parts) of the mission. Another pitfall is the limited save option: you get exactly one save and that’s it. So you better press that save button where you’ll really need it. And with missions often lasting over 15-30 minutes and with lots of surprises that can be a difficult choice, often leaving you wishing for another save.

You don’t have a health bar, so you can’t magically take 120 mm shots to the face if you stumble upon a tank, although vehicles do have an invisible healthbar. Chuck enough hand grenades at a T-80 and it will be destroyed. Eventually. Just remember to bring enough ammo trucks loaded with hand grenades.. Speaking of weapons: there are enough, from revolvers to anti-tank weapons. You can use them all, grabbing them from weapons crates, vehicles or even fallen enemies or allies. Would you prefer to fight long-range engagements with just a Makarov pistol? You can! On most missions I found myself grabbing weapons because I either didn’t like the standard weapon or due to a lack of ammunition. This is especially important in the Resistance campaign, where you are the leader of the resistance. Fighting with a bunch of farmers and other civilians with barely any training or weapons you’ll need to scrounge up all the weapons and ammo you can. In that campaign you are limited to what you and your fellow fighters stole from the Russians in previous missions.

This is also where the AI falls a bit flat on its face. Because of the age of the game, the AI isn’t that great. I often ordered my AT soldiers to fire on a T-72 or BMP, only to find them moving in full view of the enemy towards said target. It went like this:

Me: 12 O’CLOCK, ENEMY T-72, 500 METERS
Me: 4, ENGAGE, ENEMY, T-72
4: ENGAGING
BOOM!
Me: 4, REPORT STATUS
… A few moments later…
Me: OH NO! 4, IS DOWN!

But at other times they do their job effectively. It’s just a matter of management, keeping in mind the limitations of the AI. Still, I was usually more comfortable using the AT/AA weapons myself instead of handing them over to my squad.

Storyline

The story is the regular “Russians invaded country X” Cold War theme, but it’s a small Island not far from Russia so it’s at least believable. One could say the annexation of the Crimea bears some similarity to this story. You’re a soldier in a platoon based on an island close to Everon, the main island of the events. When contact is lost with the Island and NATO forces in the area have no idea why, so they sent out someone to investigate and NATO will have to force the Russian troops back. You’ll do so as the aforementioned soldier in a squad but also as a tank commander, pilot and special forces operator. And in the Resistance campaign you become the unwilling, tired-of-war leader of the Resistance.

Graphics

The graphics are to today’s standards not the best, but the large open world made more than up for that. But I still was amazed by the graphics when I first started the game, 17 years ago.. Nowadays it looks like it could be made to run on a mobile device. For the time the game had pretty good photorealistic textures on most things, and it looked pretty nice on my 19″ CRT back in the days. On my 24″ TFT it’s looking a lot worse obviously.

Sound

Sound effects are probably OFP’s biggest weak point. The vehicles and weapons all sound a bit weird. The vehicles sound like your average in-game vehicle: like a lawn mower. But they are just good enough. But that didn’t matter most of the time because the soundtrack was great. A mix of classical music and rock music by the Australian band Seventh that fit the atmosphere of this game completely. Tense songs during tense moments, soothing music at the end of the missions. I even bought the official Operation Flashpoint soundtrack because the music could stand on its own. The entire CD is avalaible on YouTube (Note: This is not my video). But the voice acting in this game is surprisingly good and this too added to the atmosphere.

Conclusion

This is the godfather of all tactical shooters. The ARMA version on Steam sadly lacks the Red Hammer campaign where you play a Russian soldier because that campaign was made by Codemasters and not Bohemia, and Codemasters holds the rights to it. You can however install it from CD-ROM if you have access to the original.

Score

9/10

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