Shoot, move, and communicate. I learned about this basic dictum of infantry tactics during a sweltering hot September at Fort Benning, Georgia, many years ago during basic combat training. And it’s a central tenet of ArmA 3, a game (mostly) about infantry movement in large-scale combined arms warfare.
ArmA 3 has a new piece of DLC out, the Tac-Ops Mission Pack, which adds three new micro-campaigns to the game’s single-player experience. These operations—Beyond Hope, Stepping Stone, and Steel Pegasus—span seven individual missions spread across the islands of Altis, Stratis, and Malden. While they’re mostly large-scale affairs, you’ll usually be leading a small squad of either infantry or special forces to take out mortar crews or secure villages, the kind of bread-and-butter missions ArmA was built for.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but what you’re essentially getting here is more ArmA 3 – warts and all. The new missions have a bit of story wrapped around them, with some scripted sequences and voice-over. These are bad enough that I wonder why they were even included, but cinematic cutscenes aren’t the reason you’re playing an ArmA game in the first place. More helpful are the after-action report (AAR) videos after each operation, which Bohemia says were developed with the help of a real-life military consultant.
It was nice to dive back into ArmA 3 after having left it alone since this summer, when I wrote up some of the handier mods available. The new missions don’t have the production values that the core campaign missions did, but they’re still entertaining to play and can pose a bit of a challenge. But I found most of the difficulty came not from the mission design, but from the fact that I was playing with NPCs. Squad-mates in ArmA III have incredible marksmanship skills, combined with a sense of self-preservation rivalled only by that of a Lemming.
During Operation Stepping Stone, for instance, my squad had instructions to break off from our main assault force to capture an enemy ammunition dump. We had inserted in an IFV and stormed a town, then we swung east toward the coastline and on to the cache. The men performed splendidly, taking out an enemy patrol in the woods as we made our way down the hill. One spotted a sniper in the window of a house about 350 meters away, and with an incredibly lucky couple shots I managed to drop him before he’d spotted any of my men.
I was still congratulating myself on my marksmanship skills when we linked back up with the main assault element back in town. We received our next movement instructions, and then one of my men, Carl Owen, was promptly run over by the same IFV that had brought us to our insertion point.
“Man down,” someone helpfully observed over the platoon net.
ArmA 3 is a gigantic game that’s over four years old now, and while it’s expanded drastically with add-ons like Malden and Apex, it’s still starting to show its age. While it’s understandable that its NPC AI isn’t capable of handling everything the giant sandbox can throw at it, it still has the effect of undercutting the sense of squad and platoon command it wants to build by putting you into a leader’s boots. My men still have the habit of calling out “area clear!” immediately before a firefight breaks out, or getting lost and left behind if we wander through a vineyard.
There’s a discussion about value to be had here. Normally, I try to avoid considering price when evaluating a piece of software, because a game’s quality should rightly be considered independent of how much it costs. In videogame terminology, “content” can be an unhelpful term, because in most cases there’s no consistent unit of measurement for how much content you’re getting.
But ArmA 3’s DLC is at least measurable in the context of existing expansions, and for $5.99, The Tac-Ops Mission Pack is by far the cheapest premium expansion Bohemia has published for the game. You’re not getting any new hardware or maps to play with, as with Jets or Laws of War, and that’s disappointing. But you are getting some serviceable multi-stage missions and a few new editor tools. One thing to keep in mind though is that there’s precious little here that isn’t already available many times over, and for free, via the Steam Workshop and ArmA’s incredible modding community.
There are two important questions to consider: Are you still playing ArmA 3? If so, are you still interested in single player content? If the answer to both of those is ‘Yes’ then this mission pack may be worth a look in, but the aging & persistent AI problems make it a far cry from being an essential addition.