Previews

Armed Assault

Martin Korda gets his arse in the grass in an attempt to hold back the red tide

Those pesky Pinkos are at it once more. Having sent the Ruskies packing after they'd carpet-bombed a set of fictional islands with communist manifestos in Operation Flashpoint, the boys of the US forces are once again called upon to hold back the red tide in Armed Assault, a squad-based shooter which is already appearing so realistic, it'll have you picking shrapnel out of your backside.

Once again, the action takes place on a collection of neutral islands threatened by a communist invader. Stationed there to help train the locals, you're suddenly thrown into an unexpected conflict as enemy forces invade. "To begin with you'll just have a few soldiers and tanks, but as you move through the game you'll get reinforcements," explains Jiri Rydl, from the game's publisher Idea Games, acting as mouthpiece for Bohemia Interactive. "Early missions will be very defensive. After this, you'll move north in an attempt to push the enemy army back." Although the similarities to Operation Flashpoint are striking, Armed Assault is looking like it could be an even more epic and realistic experience than its illustrious predecessor.

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RURAL SPRAWL
For starters, each island will be considerably larger than before and will teem with forests, mountains, fields and hills, each replete with its very own tactical advantages. "You can either walk through a forest and use it as cover or bulldoze through it in a tank," explains Rydl, as he leads a squad of troops through densely packed trees and shrubs.
As he and his men stalk through the foliage, the dynamic weather engine kicks in. The sunlight wanes and flecks of rain begin snaking through the forest canopy. "If you play for hours, it'll even get dark," he beams. But while the effects themselves are a welcome addition, it's hard to ignore the fact that the game's engine is starting to show its age, despite a myriad of updates.

With visuals taking a back seat, Bohemia Interactive's primary motivation appears to be utter realism and epic scope - and they seem to be succeeding on both fronts. The game's arsenal of vehicles is staggering, with land, air and sea all admirably represented. "You can drive any vehicles, including civilian ones," says Rydl. "You can also pilot and drive Hummers, armoured vehicles, tanks, boats, jet fighters and choppers. You can even drive enemy vehicles if you can capture them."

ARMOUR ASSAULT
Bohemia are also keen to ensure the single-player campaign is as dynamic as the in-mission gameplay. By dividing the campaign into key and side missions, you'll be able to play an integral role in shaping the direction of the war. "There'll be around 20 missions, about 12 of which will be key missions. Then there'll be smaller, optional ones," explains Rydl. "These will be ten to 30-minute levels that could involve destroying a convoy of enemy tanks. If you succeed in these side missions, it'll help you in the main story-driven missions."

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With countless AI tweaks being added daily to ensure that your troops respond both quickly and intelligently to your orders (issued via a menu system akin to Operation Flashpoint's), Armed Assault's single-player campaign is looking like one über-realistic hombre.

ALL FOR ONE
But wait, there's more, because Bohemia isn't shirking its multiplayer responsibilities either, with co-op and massive multiplayer battles set to further bolster the game's already gargantuan scale. "There's no real limit for how many people can take
part in multiplayer games," boasts Rydl. "It all depends on the server. You can have 80 players and if one person drops out, their place is instantly taken by a computer-controlled player."

Throw in a Capture The Island mode - where all of an island's cities must be captured and held for a team to win, a task that could literally take days - and you're left with one package that could be more mouthwatering than reconstituted food rations after a hard day's yomp.

I won't lie to you: Armed Assault won't blow you away in the graphics department, but when it comes to realism and freeform gameplay, it could just blast you out of your seat if it delivers on its potential just like its illustrious predecessor. And when you've got a commie commander in your sights as a column of enemy tanks advances towards your position, that's all that's really going to matter.

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