Arma 3

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds may have popularised the genre inspired by the Japanese movie, but it’s not the only battle royale game pitting players against each other in desperate fights to the death. Below are 11 games, modes and mods that you should check out if you can’t get enough of hunting your fellow man.

GAMES

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

Let’s get the current top dog out of the way first, shall we? PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG, is still in Early Access, but it’s already swallowed up the lives of millions of players. In each match, 100 survivors are air dropped into a bucolic Russian island, seemingly abandoned during or just after the Soviet era. It’s a huge place, but the play area is always shrinking, forcing players to race towards safety on foot or using cars, bikes and boats, all while trying to murder each other with a wide range of guns and melee weapons. It’s a game filled with long moments of quiet tension, punctuated by chaotic, nerve-racking battles.

H1Z1: King of the Kill

Another Early Access game, H1Z1: King of the Kill was spun out of Daybreak’s zombie survival game. The survival aspect became its own separate game, Just Survive, while the more competitive, PvP side of things became King of the Kill. Frenetic and fast-paced, it’s more of an arena shooter than a game like PUBG, so you won’t have to wait long to get into a gunfight. Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene was also a consultant on H1Z1 before making Battlegrounds.

Ark: Survival of the Fittest

Like H1Z1, Ark: Survival of the Fittest is another arena-style battle royale game, and is similarly a spin-off. Its hook, not surprisingly given its progenitor, is that there are dinosaurs and monsters to watch out for, as well as 71 human adversaries potentially hunting you down. Other elements from Survival Evolved have made it in, too, including riding and taming creatures, tribes and traps. Unfortunately, it’s struggled to retain its playerbase in the face of PUBG.

The Culling

If you prefer battle royales of the more intimate variety, there’s The Culling and its 8-player and 16-player blood-soaked arenas. Though it’s fast-paced, there’s still time to craft equipment and set traps. The central conceit is a big draw, too, set as the game is in a crazed game show for sadists. It’s been in Early Access since March 2016, and while it was popular initially, it looks like player numbers might be on the wane.

Last Man Standing

Budget PUBG is probably the clearest way to describe Last Man Standing. It’s set on an island with 100 players trying to kill each other, the play area is a big circle that shrinks over time, mods can be scavenged and attached to guns, it’s got loot crates—there’s a long list of similarities, but Last Man Standing is free. It’s not quite as polished as its premium counterpart, however.

GAME MODES

GTA Online, Motor Wars

GTA Online recently got a competitive mode called Motor Wars, which has some similarities to popular battle royale games: a shrinking kill box, arriving from the sky, then finding the best weapons possible on the ground. The key difference is that it's more focused around vehicle combat, and all the cars are marked on the map, as well as the players driving them. The shrinking kill space provides a similar amount of tension, though, and there's tons more potential in building on the idea, given the size of the map they've got to play with. Sam had fun with it, even though it has some flaws.

Fortnite

Epic has announced a new battle royale mode for their base-building romp, Fortnite. It’s due out this month and will see up to 100 players duking it out until there’s only one left. The mode was put together by Epic’s Unreal Tournament team, who were busy experimenting while Fortnite was in development. The scavenging and building from the game’s regular mode will also feature in this new one, so you’ll be able to create bases and fortifications to hole up in while you wait for everyone else to die. They’ll probably be doing the same, mind you.

Unturned

Unturned is a blocky, free-to-play zombie survival game, but it’s also got a battle royale arena mode. Players are spawned at random points on the map and must hunt each other down while a barrier closes in, damaging those outside it. It’s as straightforward as a battle royale can be, but there’s one odd wrinkle: you can’t damage people with your fists, so you’d better get a weapon as quickly as you can.

MODS

PlayerUnknown’s Battle Royale in Arma 2, Arma 3

Before PUBG, Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene created DayZ: Battle Royale, an offshoot of the original DayZ mod for Arma 2, inspired by the Japanese film. When players started leaving DayZ for the standalone Early Access version, Greene switched to developing Battle Royale in Arma 3. Later, it was licensed to Daybreak for H1Z1 and became the foundation for King of the Kill. A lot of Battlegrounds’ features started in PlayerUnknown’s Battle Royale, and Arma 3’s realistic aesthetic isn’t far of PUBG’s.

Rust: Battle Royale

Rust: Battle Royale is an unofficial mode for Facepunch Studio’s survival game, made by Intoxicated Gaming. Inspired by the Arma 3 Battle Royale mod, it combines the brutality of Rust—you even begin naked—with the race to be the final person left alive. All the survival and crafting elements have been torn out, with the focus being entirely on gearing up and murdering your fellow players in a map that becomes smaller and smaller as bombs start to fall.

Garry's Mod Battle Royale

Created last year, this Garry’s Mod game mode, like so many in this list, owes its creation to the Arma 3 mod, being a lightweight recreation of it designed by IC4RO so they could play it with their friends. Since then, however, it’s become popular, no doubt helped by the fact that Garry’s Mod is considerably cheaper than Arma 3 or Battlegrounds. 

Arma 3

Since launch, Arma 3 has grown its military simulation sandbox with a string of DLC expansions. While previous expansions focused on jets, helicopters, or long-range infantry mechanics, its newest focuses on a more sobering part of modern conflict: civilian casualties.

The Laws of War DLC, available now, adds a new campaign featuring workers attached to the International Development and Aid Project, or IDAP, a fictional non-governmental organization based on the International Committee of the Red Cross. The update also brings a lot of new vehicles and tools that will help players bring a more realistic, civilian-focused dimension to their Arma missions. 

The humanitarian faction is important because it unlocks a different kind of perspective on the battlefield.

Jay Crowe

“The humanitarian faction is important because it unlocks a different kind of perspective on the battlefield,” said Jay Crowe, creative director for Arma 3. “It's a viewpoint that has a specific role and mission, but one that's non-military. Four years on from Arma 3's original release, it challenges us as designers to create new kinds of gameplay, and enables us to present players with a new experience.” 

In the crosshairs

Unarmed civilians and vehicles have always been a part of the Arma universe, but they've usually been little more than decoration or as an added challenge for players: Go here, kill the bad guys, but remember to watch your fire. In Laws of War, players can step into the civilian role in a new way, with briefings and missions that don't involve direct combat.

By doing this, Bohemia brings the specific challenges of International Humanitarian Law directly into focus. For the first time, players can drop cluster-bombs on an area, knowing that these messy weapons (which are banned by international treaty) usually leave behind unexploded pieces that can kill civilians months or years after the war has ended. “All three of the new faction cluster bombs also leave behind unique [unexploded ordinance], so you can identify the faction behind a strike—unless it was a deliberate ruse,” said Joris-Jan Van ‘t Land, the project lead for this DLC. Leftover pieces of cluster bombs might go off when someone steps on or near them, while other pieces might detonate randomly minutes or hours after the bomb was dropped.

We encourage players to explore the idea that actions have consequences.

Jay Crowe

Players on the edge of losing a battle might be tempted to deploy these powerful weapons, but the DLC is also focused on what happens next. “We look more broadly at the convergence of International Humanitarian Law and the tactical decisions military and paramilitary forces make on the battlefield,” Crowe said. “Through that, we encourage players to explore the idea that actions have consequences.”

Clearing away old mines that threaten civilians long after the war has ended is also a big focus for the DLC. Detecting and disarming mines is a more involved process, and a chunk of the DLC’s singleplayer mini-campaign is played from the perspective of an explosives disposal technician.

Another part of International Humanitarian Law involves warning civilians about upcoming battles and major military movements, and the IDAP faction includes a leaflet-dropping drone for players to use. “[The leaflet-dropping drone] works together with other systems so, for example, a community creator could define their own leaflets, drop them in a custom scenario, and other players could pick them up and read them,” said Crowe. “Even if that does imply 'dick pic confetti', it—in an odd way—fits with our approach to the topic and our platform in general: players can engage with the basic ideas … and then use the feature however they like.”

Laws of War still follows what has become Bohemia’s standard practice for DLC. The update adds tweaks, fixes, and new content for all Arma 3 players to use, but you have to buy the DLC to play the mini-campaign or to design custom missions using the new cluster-bombs or IDAP units. 

The problems involving refugees, civilian casualties, and unexploded ordinance are still very real today, and that’s why Bohemia will be donating half of the revenue from Laws of War to the ICRC. “The ICRC have always stressed they do not want to limit player freedom or add artificial restrictions,” said Crowe. “We've really appreciated this pragmatic approach, and it clicks with the tone of voice we've tried to strike with this DLC.”

Arma 3 Laws of War is out now.

Arma 3

The Arma 3 project teased in March under the mysterious name of "Orange" has been unveiled as a new DLC package called Laws of War, set for release next month. Developer Bohemia Interactive said the new add-on "explores a different perspective on the battlefield" through the introduction of a new faction called the International Development and Aid Project, an NGO that specializes in rapid reaction to humanitarian disasters.

IDAP brings its own unique tools the battlefield, including a van that comes in multiple variants and liveries to fit a wide range of roles, a utility and demining drone, vests, bags, headgear, and facewear, the APERS mine dispenser system, and a "mini-campaign" called Remnants of War. 

"Take on the role of IDAP explosive specialist Nathan MacDade, who is tasked with identifying and deactivating mines after the war in the Republic of Altis & Stratis has ended," Bohemia explained in the announcement. "While you are being interviewed by an investigative journalist, you will uncover what happened in the town of Oreokastro, experiencing the events from the perspective of various sides, in recollections that span multiple periods of time." 

"The idea for the Laws of War package was very much inspired by our relationship with the International Committee of the Red Cross. This began with a presentation from the ICRC to the Arma 3 development team on the topic of International Humanitarian Law a few years ago," Laws of War project lead Joris-Jan van 't Land said. "Since then, we've always been interested in thinking of ways to better incorporate this vital yet also very complex aspect of war into the game. With this DLC, we hope to offer a balanced introduction to the laws of war, and their implications on the way that war is conducted."   

Arma 3: Laws of War is available for preorder now from Steam and Bohemia for ten percent off its regular $12/£9/€10 price, and is expected to be ready for release in early September. It will also continue the studio's relationship with the International Committee of the Red Cross: Just as it did with Arma Karts a few years ago, Bohemia will donate a portion of the proceeds from direct sales of the DLC to the ICRC. 

Arma 3

Malden, the original map from Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, has been reimagined in Arma 3 as part of a wave of new, free content released today. Off the back of the $10 Arma 3 Jets DLC last month, this is the biggest update to the military sim since last year's Apex expansion.

Available as DLC on Steam (if you own Arma 3, it's already been automatically added to your library), the 62 km2 map "re-uses many vanilla Arma 3 structures, vegetation, and similar assets," but "also includes additions such as colored buildings, vineyards, and barns." 

Indeed, as you can tell from old footage, Arma 3's "Malden 2035" isn't a 1:1 recreation that puts each tree and shrub in the same spot. It's more like Arma 3's skin, and the assets of its existing islands, superimposed onto the bones and geometry of the old slab of land. "In comparison to the original Malden, the number and names of the towns and villages, and all locations of hills, crossroads, gas stations, have remained the same," says Bohemia. Malden, like other Arma locations, is based on Lefkada, a Greek island.

Malden is bundled with a new, 10-player multiplayer mode called Combat Patrol that emphasizes "heavily randomized" combat against AI across different kinds of objectives. The mode is also available for all other existing Arma 3 maps.

Malden is also the play space for Argo, a standalone game that Bohemia describes as an "Arma-based hardcore tactical multiplayer first-person shooter in which players fight as mercenaries over the remnants of a crashed space station." Previously known as Project Argo, the game features three different competitive modes focused on territory control or objective capture.

Argo is "completely" free, but interestingly, a $10 "Supporter's Pack" is available for purchase on Steam, which grants the following bonuses:

  • Set of 13 exclusive animations for the MVP screen
  • Bundle of 23 unique apparel items, including facewear and headwear, and backpacks (these items are purely cosmetic and do not offer any gameplay benefits)
  • Highlighted name in the leaderboards
  • Access to premium servers that will be exclusively available for Argo Supporters
  • Controllable vehicles in Argo's Scenario Editor

The new stuff coincides with Operation Flashpoint's 16-year anniversary. Though Codemasters retains the rights to Operation Flashpoint, Bohemia carried its spirit forward with Arma: Armed Assault in 2007. 

Arma 3

Bohemia Interactive revealed today that the Arma 3: Jets DLC, which "will enhance the combined arms experience by adding three new air-superiority jets, an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), a new Showcase scenario, and more," will be released on May 16. And since jets aren't much good without someplace to park them, Bohemia is also going to throw in an aircraft carrier, absolutely free. 

The carrier—designation CVN-83, USS Freedom—will be given to everyone who owns Arma 3 as part of the platform update that will accompany the release of Jets. It can carry various sorts of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, supports catapult takeoffs and tailhook landings, and packs "functional autonomous defensive weapon systems." The only thing it can't do is actually cruise around on the water: "The ship is a static object that can be positioned across the map via the 3D Scenario Editor, but cannot be 'driven'," the studio said. 

The Jets premium DLC, which Bohemia showcased last month as part of its "Scanning the Horizon" year-ahead preview, will go for $12/£9/€10, although it's currently available for pre-purchase now on Steam or the Bohemia Store at a 10 percent discount. For that, you get the F/A-181 Black Wasp 2, To-201 Shikra, and A-149 Gryphon tactical fighters, the fifth-gen, all-weather Sentinel drone, and a new Showcase scenario that will enable air-to-air and air-to-ground combat with an "extended damage model," dynamic vehicle loadouts, and targeting enhancement. Jets is also available as part of the Arma 3 DLC Bundle 2, along with Tac-Ops, Tanks, and the mysterious "Orange." 

Arma 3

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 303. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US. 

Set on the jungle islands of Tanoa, our first ever Arma 3 Sports Day will put the team through five brutal trials of skill and fortitude. These challenges, orchestrated by the almighty deity Zeus (well, Andy), will test essential skills such as marksmanship, driving, avoiding lightning bolts, and hiding from a helicopter in a bush. The challengers won’t know what each event involves until the chaos begins, and the mischievous Zeus will keep things interesting by throwing a few surprises into the mix, usually involving sheep. Who will be the champion?

Meet the team

Andy Kelly (Zeus) I’ve played a lot of Arma 3 and am well-versed in Zeus mode, particularly spawning sheep.

Samuel Roberts I’ve only played Arma 3 once, for a feature, and had to be taught how to climb over things again.

Chris Thursten I’ve played a bit of Arma 3, but needed to replay some of the campaign to get up to speed.

Phil Savage What’s the crouch button? What’s the get in car button? It’s been a while since I last Arma’d.

Tom Senior I’ve never really played Arma either. This hardcore war sim can’t be that hard, right?

Death Karts

Andy: I don’t know why Arma 3 has go-kart DLC. There’s something absurd about a soldier decked out in full military gear skidding around in a tiny car. Which was the inspiration for my first event, Death Karts. The guys have to make three laps of the runway, which I’ve littered with wrecked vehicles and sheep. I’ll also be flinging lightning bolts and maybe the occasional mortar strike, just to spice things up. 

Phil: We set off. I dodge tanks, rusted boats and other detritus (is that a sheep?), and, as I approach the halfway point of the first lap, I’m in the lead. The shouting from nearby desks suggests that I might be the only one left moving. Then I explode. Er, Andy, what was that? 

Andy: Yeah. Death Karts was maybe a little too deadly. Rather than exciting obstacles to avoid, the mortar strikes were just annoyingly powerful. Halfway through the first lap, everyone’s either dead or their karts are broken. So I decide to start again minus the artillery. And because it’s taken us 40 minutes to get to this point, I decide that one lap is enough. Now it’s time for Slightly Less Deadly Karts. Go! 

Chris: I’m lagging behind Sam as we reach the end of the runway for the first time, but then he clips the side of one of our own ruined karts, does a forward flip, and dies. I thread a safer course, by which I mean I run over his head. I’m clear in the lead: Phil’s lost his kart by this point, and Tom died early. But then I hear gunfire: Tom sprints back onto the track from the respawn point, takes aim, and kills me. Nobody wins. 

Tom: Welcome to the senseless horror of Death Karts, Chris. If I can’t win, everybody dies. 

Samuel: My death was sudden and embarrassing. 

Phil: Technically I’m alive, but I have no wheels. I can move, but slowly, and always to the right. If we had a few hours, I might make it a few metres down the road. We don’t, though, so instead we persuade Andy to give us another go. 

Tom: I am officially disqualified from earning any points because of my previous unsportsmanlike behaviour. In my despair I crash into a downed helicopter and explode.

Chris: I manage a pretty clean run on our final attempt at this, pulling ahead and staying there because I know that you can hold down Shift to make cars go faster. Nobody else knows this, and I do not tell them until after I’ve crossed the finish line. I savour my gold medal, even though it comes with the silvery tang of betrayal. Mmmm. 

Phil: What! I press Shift and, sure enough, I get a burst of speed. I would be annoyed, but the revelation allows me to overtake Samuel for second place. 

Samuel: I’m just grateful to make it round the track, which I do. I’m furious that Chris didn’t share this detail, but hopefully karma will get him back in a coming event.

Winner: Chris2nd: Phil3rd: Samuel

Bird of Prey

Andy: Comms Alpha is a military outpost on the precarious edge of a dormant volcano. I’ll be assaulting it in an Mi-48 Kajman attack chopper. There are a few buildings for the guys to hide in, but I’ll be able to flatten them with my missiles. I spawn the Kajman a few miles away then slowly make my way towards the base. I wish there was an option to play ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. 

Tom: Ah, the cowardice challenge—I’ve got this. At one end of the base there’s a huge building shaped like a golf ball. I’m certain Andy won’t be able to resist destroying that first. In fact, I think buildings are generally a death sentence here so I pick a largeish bush on the outskirts of the base, lie on my stomach and unceremoniously roll into the roots as far as I can. In first-person view I can see a wall. From third-person I can only see leaves. I’m not moving. 

Andy: I realise how bad I am at flying helicopters. Precise Gatling gun fire is out of the equation, so I just pummel the base with rockets and hope for the best. Of course I destroy the giant golf ball first.

Phil: Unbeknownst to me, I’ve hidden in the same bush as Tom. As Andy rains hellfire down upon the buildings, I wedge myself further into my leafy sanctuary. This is a good plan! Suddenly, unexpectedly, I’m dead. I ask Andy if my movement had tipped him off. It turns out no. The downside to lying in the grass as an attack helicopter flies overhead is that there’s nothing to protect you from a stray rocket. Writing that sentence down after the fact, it sounds really obvious. 

Samuel: I get in the nearest building, because it’s so obvious I don’t think Andy will search there first. I see the smoke as Andy destroys the building next to me—this is like a survival horror game where the monster is a chopper. It’s genuinely tense. Andy clips me with ricocheting bullets but I heal myself as he restocks. 

Chris: I’ve got a plan. We can’t shoot each other, or Andy, but there’s more to a Arma character than guns. I hide in a building with a window overlooking Tom’s bush. I suspect he’s safe down there, so as Andy passes over I ready a red smoke grenade and attempt to throw it down at him. It bounces off the inside of the window and goes off at my feet. Shit. Red smoke billowing from the window I’m at, I flee and enact plan B: hide from Andy by running directly beneath him. This does not work because helicopters are faster than people. As he fires aimlessly at the containers I’m hiding behind, I take a hit. I just about manage to heal and sprint away. 

Tom: There is a lot of scary noise, but all I can see is the bush I’m in. Save me, sweet bush.

Chris: I hide in one of the perimeter huts for a while but Andy gets dangerously close, so I move to one of the bushes on the far side of the base from Tom. It’s there that I get clipped by a stray round, crippling my ability to sprint. I’m not going to last long like this. I’ve got one last shot at revealing Tom: I’ve got to find Phil’s body. I walk-crawl across the base, hiding in the ruins Andy has left in his wake. Miraculously, I make it from one side to the other in the gaps between several passes. There, in the bushes, I find Phil’s bloody corpse. I loot it for grenades and turn, locating Tom by the faint squadmate indicator on my HUD. I throw first the red smoke and then the white smoke towards him. All I need to do now is wait. I take cover next to Phil... and am promptly shot to death as Andy strafes towards Tom’s position. 

Tom: I had no idea that Chris did this until I saw the replay later. It’s a fitting act of revenge. We’re all square, so I’m sure this will be the end of it. Yes, very sure. 

Samuel: It turns out the building I hid in was impossible to destroy, which is Andy’s fault. So I win.

Winner: Samuel2nd: Tom3rd: Chris

Deep trouble

Andy: A simple race next. The guys have to drive a pair of ‘water scooters’ (basically non-copyright-infringing Jet Skis) from the tip of one landmass to another. I can’t place obstacles on the water, so this’ll be a lot less nerve-racking than Death Karts. Although I will be spicing things up with the occasional lightning bolt. And I also set the weather to stormy to make it too easy for them. 

Challengers are trapped in a mountain base while Zeus attacks in a helicopter. Last man standing wins.

Phil: We point ourselves at the target and go! And keep going. I don’t mean to criticise—you’re doing great work here, Andy—but where exactly is the trouble in this event?

Turns out Deep Trouble is light on actual trouble, but it is deep.

Andy: Yeah, turns out Deep Trouble is very light on actual trouble. Although it is deep! It’s basically very difficult to make a straight race across some water exciting, even when chucking lightning bolts around. So consider this a nice break before the drama ramps up again. It might have been more fun if the water scooter controls weren’t terrible. There’s a lot of things Arma does badly, including the handling of various non-military vehicles, but I won’t hold that against Bohemia. They probably didn’t expect some idiots to use their game to stage a Jet Ski race. 

Chris: I should not have gloated about the power of the Shift button. Use of the Shift button is all that separates winners from losers in this game of riding a Jet Ski in a straight line, and I do not win.

Samuel: I win! Probably because I had slightly more luck with the waves than the others did, or I guess I cheated and left the starting line half a second early. That event was... uneventful. 

Andy: Zeus screwed this one up, but you try using an engine designed for military simulation to create a comedy sports day. I should have called in a few mortar strikes.

Winner: Samuel2nd: Chris3rd:  Tom

Shoot to kill

Andy: And now for a test of marksmanship. I ask the guys to climb to the top of an enormous cargo crane at the Blue Pearl docks. It looks out over a long row of shipping containers, which I’ll be zigzagging through. Each challenger will take it in turns to kill me. I was originally going to have them all firing simultaneously, but it was too difficult to determine who killed me. So this way works a lot better. 

Tom: I’m up first. I make sure I’m crouched, because that improves the stability of your aim in Arma. Then I make sure I’m shuffled up close enough to the safety rail for my weapon’s bipod to deploy. That should make aiming even easier. There are tense moments as I look down the range, then I spot a tiny figure booking it across open ground. I fire wildly. Dust kicks up behind the tiny dude as my bullets hit the dirt. This must be terrifying for Andy. 

Andy: Being under fire in Arma 3 is genuinely scary. I hear the whistle and crack of Tom’s bullets around me, but I manage a few laps of the containers without getting hit. My guy keeps running out of breath and slowing down, because this is Arma and simulation governs everything. Eventually I keel over and die.

Tom: Andy’s simulated asthma attack is the only reason I’m accidentally able to eventually take him down. Turns out a bipod and good combat posture are useless if you get a massive giggling fit halfway through the challenge. 

Phil: My turn. I’m initially thrown when Andy adds a slight variation on his route, and later when Tom crawls onto the edge of the crane in an attempt to put me off. Soon, though, Andy is back on course and Tom is plummeting off the crane to his death. It takes a couple of loops, but I bring Andy down in what I hope was a respectable time. 

Andy: I was sticking roughly to the same route, but throwing in a few curveballs to keep things exciting. Fair? Not entirely, but this ain’t the Olympics. If I was in charge of that it’d be a nightmare, and absolutely covered in sheep.

Chris: I feel pretty confident about this: I know the ‘hold breath’ key. As the others take their turns I daydream about lining up the perfect shot and dropping Andy with a single round, but I’ll settle for a nice clean kill. It starts well: I tag Andy on his first pass, but the next two are a wash. I finally down him shortly after, about ten seconds faster than Phil and Tom. But I’m no Deadshot: that honour goes to the biggest fan of C-list Batman villains in the office. 

Samuel: It feels like it takes me forever to even hit Andy, but when I finally connect he’s down in seconds. It doesn’t feel like I’ve won... but somehow I have, by just a few seconds. Now who’s Deadshot, Chris?

Winner: Samuel (00:48:6602nd: Chris (00:50:70)3rd: Phil (01:09:81)

Battle Royale

Andy: And now for the grand finale. Ile Sainte-Marie is one of the smallest islands in Tanoa. The perfect arena for a fight to the death. There’s a large rocky outcrop in the middle surrounded by thick jungle, which should give the team plenty of hiding spots. I give them a minute before the round starts to choose a starting position, then the chaos begins. The last man standing wins, and there are no rules. I’ll also be randomly spawning civilians and animals, just so I have something to do. 

Tom: The island is heavily forested, and foliage has betrayed me once already in this challenge. If I wander into the trees, spotting other players will be a matter of luck, so I come up with a different plan. I run until I’m out of sight of the others, then I wade into the sea and start to circle the island. I keep my head just above the water so I can see. 

Chris: Tom and I had the same plan, it seems. I know this because I can see him poking out of the sea, just down the shoreline from me. We look at each other awkwardly as Andy gives the ‘go’ command, but I’ve got time to bring up my sights and drop him with a single shot. It turns out there was a crucial difference in our positions: his gun was under the water, but mine wasn’t.

Tom: Idea good; execution bad. I’m rubbish at soldiering. 

Phil: I, like Iron Maiden before me, run to the hills. This may be a mistake. For some reason, I’m running out of stamina really quickly, even when walking at a normal pace. I think I may be over-encumbered. That’ll teach me for stealing some of Chris’s rockets out of his backpack. 

Chris: I stalk away from the shore towards the undergrowth and soon spot Phil coming down the slope towards me, facing away. I manage to land a hit, at which point he scurries behind a tree. We trade shots for a while and then… an old man in a blue T-shirt runs past my gunsights. He runs around me in a circle, then stops in front of me. “Andy?” I say, stupidly. Of course it’s Andy. I hear the sound of an RPG and Andy explodes. 

Phil: Wait, that was Andy? In my panic, I fired on the first thing I saw moving, not stopping to wonder why it was dressed in a plain shirt and denim. I switch back to my rifle, but I’m exposed—I left the safety of the tree to get a clean rocket shot. I fire off a few bullets, but I’m an easy target, and quickly taken down. 

Samuel: With just me and Chris left, I suppose I’d better leave the outcrop of rocks I’ve been perched on while the others sorted each other out. I head towards Chris, who hasn’t spotted me yet—past the civilian’s dead body, which is unnerving. 

Chris: I loop around the hilltop. Sheep and chickens are spawning all around me and Andy makes a flock of birds erupt from the bushes at my position. It’s not subtle. I spot Sam in the distance, and fire. I miss and hide behind a tree. Time to take some notes out of Phil’s playbook. 

Samuel: I fire at Chris and miss. He turns toward me, there’s an explosion and Chris is dead! What happened? 

Chris: I ready my RPG and lean around the tree just a few inches. There is a sheep looking at me. I place Sam in my sights and pull the trigger before he can respond. 

...but here’s the thing. RPGs, right? They’ve got a big scope, and it sticks out substantially from the actual rocket-propelled-grenade part of the apparatus. The big tube that blows things up. What I am saying is that while I am pointing the scope out from behind the tree, I am in fact pointing my RPG at solid bark. I fire. I blow up. 

Samuel: In retrospect, I could have won this round without firing a bullet. Amazing scenes. I feel like luck has played a part in at least two of my victories, especially as someone who hasn’t even finished the tutorial. But the important thing is, I won.

Winner: Samuel2nd: Chris3rd: Phil

The final results

Arma 3

Arma has quietly become a very influential game.

Bohemia Interactive's military sim series has been around for 15 years (including its early life as Operation Flashpoint), but its best ideas are only now being borrowed by some of today's most popular multiplayer games: Ark: Survival Evolved, H1Z1: King of the Kill, Rust, or even low-key open-world co-op romp Ghost Recon Wildlands. Directly and indirectly, these massive-scale shooters build on Arma's legacy of fidelity, big maps, and its make-your-own-fun mentality.

Add PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds to that list. Born from the Arma mod Battle Royale (which became the basis for H1Z1: King of the Kill), Battlegrounds is the latest mutation of the emerging subgenre of the same name. Despite that relatively long period of gestation, Battlegrounds' launch last week wasn't without the expected Early Access bruises. Developer Bluehole seems to be on top of it, issuing its first patch yesterday, but the reward system has been having issues. Server performance has struggled here and there. And even on lower settings, my framerate plunges when I look at the biggest cities on the map. 

Still, Battlegrounds is the best game of its kind available, thanks in large part to its considerable Arma DNA.

Concentrated

Using your eyes to spot and track enemies is an essential skill.

If Arma's tea, Battlegrounds is espresso. Its format compresses the time and space you're accustomed to in sandbox FPSes, dropping you into a 64 km² map (much smaller than Arma 3's 270 km²) that perpetually shrinks in diameter. King of the Kill players know how this system works: a 'safe zone' is marked on the map a few minutes into the match, and all players have to scramble to get inside. Anyone caught outside takes damage over time. Every few minutes, a smaller zone within the previous zone appears, forcing anyone left alive closer together. A match takes 20 minutes at most.

Some core Arma mechanics are purposefully shrunk down, too. Your compass is a fixed part of the UI, not something you have to find, equip, then 'pull out' by hitting a key. Body positioning matters, but you don't have nine different infantry stances to fiddle with. Each gun shoots a different caliber of ammo, but it's an easy system to grasp.

In short: Battlegrounds isn't a simulation, but it retains plenty of Arma's spirit. Using your eyes to spot and track enemies is an essential skill, for example. When you see someone running across a field, there's this 'I know something you don't know' sensation—I can totally shoot this guy, he doesn't see me, you'll think. But like Arma and DayZ, it's usually not a matter of putting them under your crosshairs and jabbing the left mouse button. You want to wait until they're out in the open, when they're checking their inventory, when they're preoccupied and aloof. In these moments, I love the way Battlegrounds asks me to think critically and examine an enemy's body language, check which towns are nearby, or guess based on the state of the ever-changing safe zone what that enemy might do next.

Like Arma, too, you should play it with friends. Scrounging for loot is more satisfying when you're filling in each other's equipment gaps ("Anyone got any 7.62mm?") and announcing big finds over voice chat. Moments of leadership emerge: deciding when to jump out of the plane at the start, deciding which group of buildings to raid next, figuring out the right time to ditch a vehicle. Someone's got to make those calls, and I like that Battlegrounds makes me feel the disappointment when they go wrong alongside doses of GTA Online-style calamity.

Other than the performance imperfections and untenable gunshot sounds, I'm only curious, and slightly concerned, about how quickly Battlegrounds might age. Although it's a prettier, grittier, and more deliberate game than King of the Kill, those who've already put a ton of time into battle royale might eventually feel like Battlegrounds is a better-fitting set of pants. The Early Access offering is shallow: a map, essentially one mode, and the mildly satisfying lure of sick trenchcoats awaiting you in the loot system. It'll be interesting to see if the devs can keep pace with the game's burgeoning community.

Overall, Battlegrounds' approach to simplifying simulation-style systems and mechanics is successful. Many of my gaming friends who bounced off of Arma because they perceived it as too unwieldy are diving in, and those who haven't yet have been asking me enthusiastically about whether they should. I'm glad to have a short-form gateway game to sell them on the fun of FPS fidelity.

Arma 3

Bohemia Interactive's "Scanning the Horizon 2017" video offers a look at the studio's plans for the realistic military FPS Arma 3, including the upcoming Jets DLC, the Malden DLC that was announced last year, another one for Tanks, and something called Orange—named not for the infamous defoliant, but because it's being developed at Bohemia's new studio in Amsterdam.   

Orange is a "small development" that's "somewhere between Arma 3 Karts and Arma 3 Helicopters in size," Creative Director Jay Crowe said in the video. It will be properly announced later this year, but Crowe said it "explores a unique aspect of today's battlefield, a theme not often covered by other games," and will include "a couple of new vehicles, character clothing and gear, decorative objects, a mini-campaign, and more besides." 

The Jets DLC, being developed in partnership with Bravo Zero One Studios, will include three air superiority fighters, a drone, and some bonus content that Bohemia is keeping quiet about for now. It will support the new "extended damage model" and dynamic vehicle loadouts, but the "standout new feature," Crowe said, is the targeting enhancement, which is "built around adding greater depth to the simulation of radar and detection in Arma 3."   

Active radars give pilots the ability to detect multiple targets beyond the visual range, for instance, but the signals they send out also expose their position. Infrared sensors are passive but have a much more limited range, and are more susceptible to countermeasures. "Naturally, there's a lot more depth to this feature, and we plan to publish an op-rep soon to really dig into the details," Crowe said. "Overall, we see Jets DLC as really meaningful new gameplay [with] new choices that help balance the lethality of our advanced weapon systems in an authentic way." 

Jets will be premium DLC, but Malden, a "reimagining" of the Operation Flashpoint map of the same name, will be free for all plyaers. It will also include a new co-op multiplayer mode called Combat Patrol, which puts players together in infantry teams and confronts them with "heavily randomized" gameplay in selectable locales. More distantly, the Tanks DLC will add an "asymmetric package of armored vehicles" that will bring "new and improved gameplay to tracked and armored warfare." 

Arma 3 Jets is expected to be ready for release in May, and is available for preorder now at store.bistudio.com. Arma 3 Malden will be out on June 22, "Orange" is expected in the third quarter of 2017, Tac-Ops in the fourth quarter, and Tanks in the opening months of 2018.   

And now, because I like jets, more jets.

Arma 3

Bohemia Interactive's long-runnning Arma series stands out from the modern military shooter crowd through its dedication to authenticity. In fact, in 2013 we named Arma 3 our Simulation of the Year, quite a feat for an FPS. If that sounds like your bag, the Humble Arma Bundle offers one of the best prices ever for Arma 3 ($15), nevermind the fact that you're getting much more at that price.

For $1, you get Arma: Cold War Assault, a re-release of the 2001 shooter Operation Flashpoint, plus Arma Gold Edition and the turn-based strategy spinoff Arma Tactics. Beating the average price adds Arma 2, the British Armed Forces, Private Military Company, and Army of the Czech Republic add-ons, and the standalone expansion Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead.

Break the magic $15 mark and you'll also get the most recent additions to the series, Arma 3 and Arma 3 Karts, which was originally an April Fools' joke but was so well-received by fans that Bohemia went ahead and made it into real DLC.

The bundle also includes a link to the free prototype for Project Argo, a 5v5 competitive tactical FPS that was announced last year. You don't actually have to buy the bundle to get access, though, you can just click here and have at it.  

Arma 3 is still $40/£30/€35 on Steam (plus another two bucks if you want Karts, and why wouldn't you?), and the earlier games in the series aren't freebies either, so this is a pretty solid deal if you're at all interested in giving the series a go. The Humble Arma Bundle is live now and runs until March 14.

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PC Gamer

Arma 3 and its predecessors are model citizens for moddability. Bohemia's milsim is practically a platform more than a traditional game, a vehicle for 3D modelers and mission makers. In 2014 and 2015 the company ran Make Arma Not War, a yearlong contest meant to encourage modders to put stuff on Steam Workshop, which now contains tens of thousands of missions, tweaks, and objects for Arma 3.

Add to that pile these familiar bricks from Mondkalb, who's actually an animation lead at Bohemia Interactive Simulations, a separate group that makes VBS. Yesterday Mondkalb put "Operation Blockhead" on Steam Workshop, a mod that contains a handful of unique Lego civilians as well as some simple Lego bricks that you can insert into Arma's high-fidelity world. It's a modest mod, but the contrast between blocky men and Arma's photorealism is wonderfully weird:

Mondkalb says that his intention was "mostly to demonstrate how versatile the engine is." The mod is a fully independent character setup, including "original animations, ragdoll, weapons, clothes swapping, head and face textures, lip movement and of course hats." The plastic characters don't inherit all of Arma's mechanics—crouching and prone didn't seem to work when I tried it in the Eden Editor. I love the ragdoll effect on the characters, though.

Hopefully someone will take these assets and run with them. Lego Island fans—and I know you're out there—here's your cue to get to work on a total conversion set on Arma's 100 square-kilometer Tanoa terrain.

You can subscribe to Operation Blockhead on Steam Workshop or find it on Google Drive.

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