Marmite. They say you either love it or you hate it. Armed Assault's a bit like that. Granted, you can't spread it on a granary doorstop or whip up a hearty beverage with it, but it's the kind of game you'll either want to whisk away to Paris for a long weekend of loving gazes, fond caresses and an overpriced meal, or douse in gasoline and introduce to a box of matches.
Here's the thing. Armed Assault is all about recreating the realism of a real-life battlefield, and, as much as most shooters would have us believe, this doesn't involve standing two metres away from an enemy, opening fire and running backwards while shouting: "Die, die, die!"
Armed Assault is, if you like, the spiritual successor to Operation Flashpoint, that massively detailed, realistic, life-sappingly enthralling (though aesthetically challenged and buggy) tactical shooter from the boys at Bohemia Interactive. Which is exactly how you could sum up Armed Assault. But more on all of that a bit later. First off, let's start with a bit of background. Armed Assault places you in command of a small band of US soldiers stationed on the fictional island of South Sahrani. It's a picturesque and idyllic place, where you spend your days training the local goat herders to fire guns, while dreaming of Sarah-Jane back home and trying to ignore the ominous portents of her burgeoning 'friendship' with John, her good-looking next-door neighbour who's funnier, wittier, richer and far more available than you are.
Of course, all that yearning soon becomes irrelevant as the armies of North Sahrani (aka 'the bad guys') suddenly invade - a real nuisance given that the majority of your comrades were shipped back to the US of A (or perhaps shunted to Iraq) only the week before.
The scene is thus set for a truly titanic, hugely tactical and, above all, realistic conflict, in which odds must be surmounted, valiant deeds done and enemies slaughtered in the name of peace, justice, commercialism, expansionism, capitalism, egalitarianism and a host of other isms bandied about by politicians to justify blowing people up. Point is, there's a war on and someone's gotta fight it. And that someone is you, soldier.
The first thing that'll slap you round the chops and demand your undivided attention is the sheer size of each level. You can find yourself sitting for two or three minutes just gazing at the countryside rolling by as you're transported from one hotspot to the next in a humvee without even approaching the boundaries of the map. Dull? A matter of taste. Realistic? Undoubtedly. Of course, if you don't fancy sitting through these moments, you can speed the game up in order to get to the bloody bits, which is a nice touch.
AT ARM'S LENGTH
Once you and your squad arrive at a hotspot, you'll quickly find that the ensuing action is unlike most other tactical shooters you've played. Even the ones that claim to be realistic.
Battles are usually fought at long-range, with your nearest target often little more than a dot on the horizon. This is something that will no doubt bore frag-loving Counter- Strike nuts to within an inch of their lives, but will delight hardcore combat aficionados more than a weekend spent in a muddy ditch with only an assault rifle and a box of trench rations for company. And if realism is your thing, you're going to absolutely go mad over the unforgiving damage system that'll have you reaching for the reload key after just a couple of close encounters with enemy lead. And that's on the easier of the two difficulty settings...