PC Gamer

Among 2016's many gifts (I couldn't even limit my favorite games of the year to 10), it was the year that the best large-scale cooperative FPS got an awesome jungle.

Call Arma 3 a 'military simulation' if you want, but to me it's a platform for saying some military words with your buds as you wander over big, cool slabs of terrain to shoot AI targets. That terrain matters a lot, though—Arma's maps are the centerpieces for each game. They're the canvases that amateur mission makers use to create the nighttime recon missions, ambushes, tank fights, assassinations, and thousands of other scenarios that populate the Steam Workshop. Their contours, towns, regions, bridges, elevations, forestry, and other details are what give Arma's scenarios character.

When Bohemia added a South Pacific archipelago to Arma 3 this year, it made the game grittier. Anyone who played DayZ knows what it's like to get lost in Chernarus' forests, but that feeling pales in comparison to Tanoa's paranoia-inducing jungles. In places, Tanoa feels like you've stepped into Predator (there's an Easter egg to this effect, too). 

Its overgrowth neutralizes some of Arma 3’s fanciest gear in a way I really like: thermal goggles and remote-controlled drones kind of suck when you’re inside a dense tropical forest with short sight lines, and helicopters have a hard time landing or spotting anyone hiding in the stuff. If Arma 3 in 2013 was about near-future tech, Tanoa nudged it closer to late-'80s warfare, where you had to wade through waist-high grass and your hands dirty rather than score kills with a recoilless prototype rifle with 10 attachments on the rail.

Tanoa has a clearer, more likable personality than Arma's other terrains, partly because it's 'just' 100km2, compared to Altis' 270km2. Arma 3's original map is massive and variegated, and it must be one of the biggest handmade environments ever released for a multiplayer FPS. But after awhile, its Mediterranean sunniness wore on me. Strafing an idyllic beach town with machinegun fire feels a little weird.

I love Tanoa's identity and the atmosphere it lends Arma. Its 100 square kilometers of tropical terrain is a cover album of real-life locations like Lihir Island and Fiji: huge swathes of jungle beside a variegated mixture of plains, shoreline, and scrubland. Populating the archipelago are farms, refineries, mines, beachside villages, logging camps, ancient ruins, and a dead volcano, all ripe landmarks for Arma's scenario editor. Step into the forest in the afternoon, and you’ll hear birds and insects chattering. But at nighttime, it’s a different sound: unsettling owls and other nocturnal things punctuating a constant cricket hum. Thunderstorms drop piercing rain and sky bass, imbuing any mission with drama.

It's a setting that encourages scrappy, grounded encounters—a lot of the missions in Steam Workshop are raids on drug lord hideouts or a similar theme, taking advantage of two of the added factions, Syndikat (local drug dealers) and Gendarmarie (militarized police). Creeping around through shrubbery with guerrillas or spec ops alike feels perfectly natural.

We already have a pretty clear sense of what's coming to Arma 3 in 2017: a variety of paid and free DLC with a focus on combined arms (including a return of Malden, the original Arma's terrain), and ongoing platform improvements. Modders will continue to fill in the gaps, but as an incredible year in PC gaming comes to a close I remain excited about the simple fun and tension of crawling on my simulated stomach through tall grass in Tanoa.

PC Gamer

Our Large Pixel Collider wouldn't be much of a gaming supercomputer if we didn't throw the most demanding games at it. As we completed work on our holy artifact, we made a shortlist of games that would challenge its power. Among The Witcher 3, Elite Dangerous VR, and Total War: Warhammer we add Arma 3, a high-fidelity, sandbox military sim that's infamously CPU-demanding.

See how the LPC handles Arma 3's landscapes, firearms, and systems in the video above. Want to know what other hardware we're running on the LPC? Check our specs at pcgamer.com/LPC

PC Gamer

The company behind Arma 3 and DayZ today announced a pair of new games, and they're both playable now in an early form.

Ylands and Project Argo are products of a new part of the studio dedicated to experimental games called Bohemia Incubator. While Bohemia says that its core focus is on Arma, DayZ, and Take On, it sees Incubator as a chance to test concepts at a very early stage. "There are several reasons for wanting to release experimental games and involve players into their development process. First and foremost, it can help us test whether certain design concepts work or not (and if they're fun!). But it can also help guide the development of our technology and tools (such as our next engine, Enfusion), or supporting services, like networking solutions and online community platforms," reads an FAQ response on incubator.bistudio.com.

The new projects are very distinct. Ylands is a sandbox singleplayer and multiplayer building game built in the Unity engine that's intended for all ages. It's colorful and low-poly, but Bohemia says it's "powered by advanced simulations," in the spirit of its other, high-fidelity games. The trailer shows off a few different settings and biomes, from a Wild West town to an archaeological site, forest, farm, samurai battle arena, to a midnight castle siege. It's currently available in Bohemia's store for $10, or as a free, time-limited trial.

Project Argo.

Project Argo is an Arma 3 total conversion that transforms Bohemia's massive military sim into a five-on-five tactical game. Right now Argo has three modes: two are focused on controlling sectors or capture points, and another on attack-and-defend. "In each of the three game modes, players also have the option to capture a paradrop, which can dramatically change the tide of battle adding yet another tactical element to the confrontation," reads the Argo website. Maybe most interestingly, Argo will play out on a renovated version of Malden, the original terrain in the first Arma game. This in-development remake of Malden will be added to Arma 3 as free DLC in June 2017, per the Arma 3 roadmap. An open prototype version of Argo is available for the next three or four months.

Alongside its announcement, Bohemia disclaims that these and other Incubator projects aren't guaranteed a final release. "Bohemia Incubator might seem to be very similar to Steam Early Access, but we'd like to make clear that the Incubator games can be far more rough or experimental," CEO Marek Spanel says in the announcement video. "We may even decide to cancel or stop supporting an Incubator game. And this is also why players will often be able to test the games for free."

In my view, this is all about Bohemia setting itself up to build or discover the next DayZ. The Early Access survival game, which began as an Arma 2 mod, sold 3 million copies as of January 2015, and its success has also driven interest in Arma 3, which remains one of the most popular games on Steam. As it did with the Make Arma, Not War modding competition, Bohemia continues its search for new ideas inside and outside its milsim heritage.

PC Gamer

Escaping the buzz surrounding Pok mon Go is, at this point, nearly impossible. Its greatest strength isn't that it's a good game, but that Pok mon Go challenges us to view our neighborhoods differently. Through the lens of your phone, that convenience store you never visit is now a 'Pok Stop,' and that memorial you pass by on your way to work is a 'gym.' But you don't have to play Pok mon Go just to have that kind of shift in perspective PC games have been tinkering with real-world locations for a long time. From the comfort of my computer chair, I've spent weeks discovering the joys of hauling dangerous materials in my Renault semi-truck between Poland and England in Euro Truck Simulator 2.

There's the prevailing myth that video games are often just a form of escapism, but Euro Truck Simulator 2 suggests just the opposite. Instead of running away from the real world, I'm gaining a unique understanding of it. Through the windshield of that truck, I'm beginning to see the twisting highways of Europe in a whole new light. With all of the tools that developers have at their fingertips, it's no surprise that most would want to spend their time bringing imaginary landscapes to life. But the subtlety of the world we live in can be just as memorable as the impossible realities dreamed up as backdrops for video games.

Euro Truck Simulator 2 might not be a perfect recreation of Europe, but its adherence to realistic driving makes the experience feel no less real.

Euro Truck Simulator 2 certainly takes liberties in its recreation of Europe by decreasing its scale, but it has a masterful understanding of how something as mundane as a realistically modeled exit ramp can teach a lesson. Learning how to downshift through seven gears while simultaneously reducing speed and navigating an agonizingly tight turn has given me an appreciation for hauling a 20-ton trailer that I'd never have otherwise.

Real locations that inspire real understanding 

What's fascinating about Euro Truck Simulator 2 isn't the ways it can make a mundane activity like truck driving interesting, but the fact that time and time again I walk away with a new appreciation for a real-world activity that I might not have had otherwise. My dozens of hours spent hauling haven t given me the skills to operate an actual truck. But they have given me an understanding of the nuances of driving them that extends beyond what I consider as I pass semi-trucks on the highway and I'm much more sympathetic to when they're struggling to make it up a hill now, too.

More importantly, video games that play with our own reality offer us spaces to engage in a way we could never do otherwise. Anyone can remember how terrifying it was stepping behind the wheel and learning to drive for the first time because there were tangible consequences to making a mistake. My first accident in Euro Truck Simulator might not have cost someone their life, but that didn't stop me from blushing furiously and fighting the need to apologize to the other AI drivers. Sims like Euro Truck Simulator 2 excel at poking holes in the wall between real-world experiences and those we traditionally have in video games, but there's still lessons to be gleaned from games that don't aspire to simulate reality with the same determination.

Safely navigating terrain in DayZ is a skill that has parallels to the real world except for the zombies and murderous bandits of course.

The sprawling forests of Arma 2 and DayZ's Chernarus are modelled heavily after Bohemia Interactive's homeland, the Czech Republic, but there's a pretty good chance that you've never been there. Still, by taking a real world location and using it as the framework for a fictional country, Bohemia Interactive created a layer of authenticity that few other shooters can achieve. Instead of building an environment that caters to the kind of experiences the developers wanted players to have, both DayZ and Arma 2, like our own lives, feel like products of the environment they exist in. As you begin to understand the landscape of Chernarus, you also begin to adapt how you play. Once you've been sniped in the head in an open field a few times, you learn to see pastures and glades not as shortcuts but death sentences. You learn to stalk along the treeline to maintain cover. I'm a wee bit embarrassed to admit that I sometimes find myself instinctively doing the same thing when I go out hiking.

Video games that play with our own reality offer us spaces to engage in a way we could never do otherwise.

That silly habit I've developed also illustrates the way games that model real-life create situations that inform how we act in the real world and how we behave in a video game. DayZ, for example, doesn't have a magical user interface that shows you where to go. Instead you need to lean on your own awareness of your surroundings, landmarks, and, if you're lucky enough to find them, a compass and a paper map. Being able to navigate the forests of Chernarus is, in many ways, no different than being able to navigate a forest in the real world but with the added reassurance that making a wrong turn doesn't mean wandering into a hive of agitated zombies.

Of course, this has also inspired more than a few pilgrimages by dedicated fans to the parts of the Czech Republic that were used to create Chernarus. Aside from what playing in these environments can teach us, there's an undeniable allure to comparing the two, which in turn can give us a greater appreciation not only for the effort that went into building these worlds, but the real locations that inspired them. When it comes to a game like Tom Clancy's The Division, the greatest thing that it achieved was creating a Manhattan that felt authentic despite the state of chaos it had fell into.

Side by side comparisons of Lemnos, the real-world counterpart to Arma 3's fictional island of Altis. Photo credit: moxer95.

As video games get progressively better at realistically modeling our world and find increasingly more creative methods to interact with that world, they also create opportunities to discover new ways of understanding our own. Whether it's through the camera on your phone as you hunt for Pokemon, the windshield of a semi-trick, or a pair of binoculars as you scout through the woods of Chernarus, each one offers a unique perspective that can inform how we behave in real-life. The lens might change, but the truth stays the same: Our world and the ways it intersects with games has plenty left to teach us.

PC Gamer

The long-awaited Apex expansion for Arma 3 rolls out today, following its announcement at E3 last month. Apex grows pretty much every aspect of the game, with the addition of a huge, South Pacific-themed 100 km map called Tanoa, and a campaign supporting up to four players in cooperative play.

The campaign puts players in the role of a NATO CTRG special operator, sent to Tanoa on a humanitarian mission. Naturally enough, things go a bit pear-shaped and firearms come into the equation. These will be plentiful, too: Apex introduces 13 new weapons, in addition to ten new vehicles.

Most interesting is the island itself, which features a range of environments yet to be seen in an Arma game. According to Bohemia it is "home to lush tropical vegetation, unique landmarks, a rich history, and imposing man-made features of modern engineering". Landmarks you'll encounter include a sugar cane factory, shanty towns, an industrial port and, most excitingly, a bloody volcano.

Anyway, there's a launch trailer which demonstrates all these things in flashy visual language, and you can see that below:

PC Gamer

As part of the PC Gaming Show today, Bohemia Interactive confirmed a release date for Arma 3's first expansion, Apex, which will be out July 11. Apex adds a new 100 square km map the South Pacific archipelago Tanoa new weapons and vehicles, and a co-op campaign, among other things.

Everyone who's pre-ordered Apex will get access to a sneak preview that includes everything except the co-op campaign (accessed via a Steam beta branch for the game). Check out the swampy new trailer above.

PC Gamer

If the thought of playing Arma 3 has always appealed but you've never bitten the bullet, here's a nice opportunity: the FPS war sim is free to play on Steam this weekend. That means you can download it and play until late on Sunday for zero dollars, but if you like what you see, it's currently 50% off until May 17 (that's $19.99).

Meanwhile, the Apex Edition of the game which bundles all DLC is available for $48.99. Is it worth your time, though? Bloody oath it is, according to Evan. It's "a significant step forward for the king of military simulation," he wrote in his review.

PC Gamer

Modders, rejoice! Arma 3 scenarios are now easier than ever to produce. The Eden editor has emerged from a long beta into general release, giving you the ability to edit in 3D and, you know, see what your tinkering does before you commit.

For purists, Eden preserves the top-down functionality of the old editor, and better still, it preserves the functionality of old scenarios: everything is backwards-compatible. One of the more amusing changes is the addition of Undo/Redo buttons, which really didn't exist before, just like the asset search and filtering functionality that has been included. If you want to get meta, the Eden editor itself can be modded with custom plugins.

The Eden update brings with it a new server browser embedded directly in the launcher, meaning no more main menu to get into a game and, more significantly, fewer limitations imposed by the engine itself. Filter options are more expansive as a result. It'll offer to automatically install missing mods as you join custom servers too.

Arma's authentic audio has been enriched thanks to new distance-based samples of guns being shot and objects exploding, supported by a multi-channel amplitude panner for when you really want to feel the PTSD setting in.

Finally, what might be my top understated patch note of all time: "Font Process information more quickly with a new, easier-to-read in-game font." It's all in the details.

The entire changelog can be found here.

PC Gamer

On this week's mod Roundup, a more informative HUD arrives for Skyrim and wearable backpacks appear in Fallout 4. Meanwhile, The Witcher 3 gets a beautiful texture makeover, and Arma 3 becomes host to an alien virus in a mod that echos John Carpenter's classic horror film "The Thing."

Here are the most promising mods we've seen this week.

Wearable Backpack, for Fallout 4

Download link

If you're looking for an immersive way to improve your carry weight in Fallout 4 (without strapping on a hulking set of power armor), here's a nice little mod that adds a wearable backpack. Backpacks are always a highly requested mod in Bethesda RPGs: they makes you feel like a real traveler, a drifter, a vagabond. This one is no exception.

HD Reworked Project, for The Witcher 3

Download link

I think The Witcher 3 looked pretty nice, but the great thing about the modders of PC games is that they're always working hard to make games look even better. This mod improves—greatly I'd say—the textures of rocks and boulders, crates and sacks, and floors and tiles. Have a look at the video above: comparison shots begin at about 45 seconds in, and you can really see the difference.

The Thing, for Arma 3

Download link

This custom scenario for Arma 3 brings to life John Carpenter's landmark horror film The Thing (based on the sci-fi novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campell, Jr., which I recently read.) Set in 1982, you lead a team of Marines to investigate an outpost in Antarctica and deal with (shoot) the horrifying results of an alien virus. Note, it requires several other mods to be installed—you'll find a full list on this Steam Workshop page.

moreHUD, for Skyrim

Download link

You're romping through Skyrim and spot something: a book, a weapon, a piece of armor. What are its properties? To find out, you need to pick it up, then open your inventory and search for the item to find out. The moreHUD mod makes an item's properties available simply by looking at it. It'll tell you if you've already read the book you're looking at, how a weapon's damage will improve your attacks, and list an ingredient's effects. You can even see how much an item weighs, and how it'll contribute to your current carryweight. Nice!

PC Gamer

This community-created, officially endorsed guide to defense is a useful primer for newcomers to Arma's hard-sim approach to modern military combat, but doubles as a good showcase of Arma 3's strengths. 

Arma 3's scale and realistic understanding of the effective range of modern weaponry creates deep battlefields. And I mean physical depth, measured from your position to the point where you have to start engaging the enemy. Scouting tactics are vital when the enemy is kilometres away. Arma fights happen on a scale most RTS games don't simulate.

It's an ambitious, impressive co-op game—one of the best—but it demands plenty of time and patience. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, it just means that videos like these are particularly helpful. Here's another one on machine gun teams.

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