Unfinished Business is NME’s weekly column about the weird and wonderful world of Early Access games. This week, Rick Lane joins the Army for the sightseeing in Arma Reforger.
Let me start off by saying that I’m not going to tell you if you should buy Arma Reforger. The latest entry in the Arma series is not so much a game as it is a mixture of tech demo, actual demo, creative sandbox, and test-bed for Arma 4. Hence, spending 25 quid on it is very much a personal decision. Instead, I’m going to tell you why I bought Arma Reforger, which I can summarise in a single word – Everon.
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For those of you who don’t know, Everon is a fictional island that originally appeared in Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis. It’s basically a chunk of rural France floating around in the Atlantic, complete with rolling hills, coniferous forests, and quaint little villages. It was also massive. At a time when the idea of open-world games had barely come to pass, wandering around Everon’s seemingly endless landscape as the sun arced through the sky felt like a vision of the future.
Indeed, while I loved OpFlash’s excellent tactical FPS campaign, what I most enjoyed doing in OpFlash was plonking down a unit in the Mission Editor to explore the island. I’d take a walk through the woods at sundown and listen to the birdsong, drive from the small village of Le Moule up to the central town of Montignac (where the first major twist in OpFlash takes place). Or just climb up a hill and watch the landscape sweep away into the misty distance.
Everon is one of my favourite video-game spaces. When I heard that Arma Reforger was set in a remade version of Everon, rendered in the game’s brand new engine, I knew that I had to see it. So I grabbed the game, downloaded it, and took a little road trip.
Like Operation Flashpoint, Arma Reforger has a mission editor, only it is much more advanced and accessible than the toolset I used to tinker with twenty years ago. Based on Arma 3’s ‘Zeus’ tech, Reforger’s ‘Game Master’ system allows you to create, edit and play scenarios in real-time. You can plonk down units, give them orders, and either watch them battle it out, or join in the fight at ground level.
Initially, I didn’t need any of that. All I needed was a spawn point and a jeep, both of which I created in the town of Saint Pierre, at the tip of Everon’s southeast peninsula. It’s one of the largest urban areas in Everon, complete with an extensive harbour with towering shipping cranes. From the dockyard, you could also see my first destination teetering on a nearby peak, Montfort Castle, a ruined fortification where Everon’s partisans set up their headquarters in OpFlash’s Resistance expansion.
I hop into the Jeep, turn the key in the ignition, and begin driving. All of this is seamlessly animated, right down to your character shifting gears. Already, Reforger’s new engine feels like a big step up from Arma 3. Heading out of town, I drive the jeep halfway up the winding track that leads to the castle, then hike the rest of the way under the forest canopy. I do this mainly because there’s nothing quite like hiking through a forest in an Arma game. Bohemia captures the atmosphere and soundscape of a wooded area like no other developer I know.
Reaching the summit, I enter the castle and climb up to the ramparts. From here, there’s an exquisite panorama of Everon’s “Green Valley”, a patchwork glen lined by forested hillsides with a string of villages nestled in its hollow. It doesn’t look how I remember Everon looking, because I vividly recall how sparse and angular OpFlash’s geometry was. Instead, it looks how I imagined Everon looking when I was thirteen, the gaps now filled in for me by modern tech and artistry.
After taking in the view, I descend the mountain and return to my jeep. I drive through the Green Valley when I pass a barn on the right. Curious, I get out and approach, the telephone wire humming overhead. I discover the barn can be entered, as can the farmhouse higher up the hill. It seems like most if not all buildings in Reforger are accessible. As I descend, the barn creaks ominously at me, as if it knows I’m there. Even though there are no other AI character on the entire map, Everon’s ambience makes the place feel alive.
I climb back in the jeep and head toward Morton, a village nestled in a coastal inlet where Operation Flashpoint’s opening battle takes place. Halfway there, an idea springs into my head, and I decide to recreate that initial skirmish using the Game Master’s toolset. It’s only a small-scale affair, with maybe a platoon’s worth of soldiers on each side. I place a few squads of Soviets in Morton’s centre, and a few squads of US troops just over a rise outside the village. Concealed in the woods between the opposing forces, I order the US troops to move in.
About a minute later, the air crackles with the sound of gunfire as the US troops engage the Russians. I join the US in the assault, emerging from the woods and moving steadily toward the village. What’s instantly noticeable is how much more responsive Reforger feels compared to previous Arma games. Movement is slick, sprinting is fast, and aiming my weapon no longer feels like I’m trying to steer the Titanic away from the iceberg.
It’s also ferociously intense. You can hear bullets whizzing past, the snap of them hitting nearby terrain, tracers zipping through the air and ricocheting off the ground. Arma has always been good at this, but this is with only around twenty units in play. It’s a shame Reforger doesn’t have much in the way of armour or air units yet, as I imagine large-scale combined arms warfare being tremendous in this engine.
Nonetheless, as a taste of what Bohemia is working on for Arma 4, Reforger is very promising. I’m also more intrigued by it as an independent game than I was before I played it. Noodling around with the Game Master is great fun, and I imagine it’d be more fun with a few pals to build scenarios for. There’s also a large-scale multiplayer mode called Conflict, which seemed promising. The lack of bigger units is a problem though, as is the fact that you can’t order around AI units during play.
I hope Bohemia sticks with the eighties Cold War setting for Arma 4, building it as a bigger, bolder version of Operation Flashpoint. I’d love to see the studio build a new campaign around Everon, Malden, and perhaps a couple of new islands. But even if they don’t, I’m glad I got to see Everon given a fully modern makeover. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to deliver a truckload of troops to Lamentin.