Genre: Turn-Based Strategy, Indie
Release Date: October 1st, 2013
Developer: Bohemia Interactive
Publisher: Bohemia Interactive
Retail: PC $8.99 €6.99 £5.99 Android/iOS $4.99
Platform: PC(reviewed), Mac, Linux, Android, iOS
Writer was given a review copy of the game for this review.
Bohemia Interactive’s Arma series is well-known for its intricate mechanics and high graphical fidelity. These elements are used to create a convincing, immersive experience, and it is because of these elements that modders were drawn to it when making DayZ, a hugely successful zombie survival mod for Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead. With this impressive pedigree, it’s odd to see Bohemia Interactive use the Arma name, a name evocative of steep learning curves and niche appeal, for the tablet and mobile-based strategy game Arma Tactics. When compared to previous games in the series, Arma Tactics feels like a much more casual experience, which while not necessarily a bad thing, will certainly come as a shock to fans of previous titles.
As previously mentioned, Arma Tactics is a turn-based strategy game optimized for use with tablet and mobile devices. The PC version offers mouse and keyboard controls as well as gamepad support, but the mouse and keyboard controls better than the gamepad, offering more precise character and camera movement. I was unable to test the touch controls, as I played Arma Tactics on a PC. The graphics are a monumental step backwards compared to previous titles, being optimized for nVidia’s Tegra3 and Tegra4 portable devices, but there are options to upscale resolution and add improved effects on the PC. Regardless, the game ends up looking at its best like a really good PS2 title.
Arma Tactics has two play modes, both of which are single player. This is disappointing because it’s really easy to add even just a hotseat-style multiplayer mode to this type of game, and it would add tons of additional replay value. However, Arma Tactics only offers a story mode and a created mission mode. The created mission mode offers choices for 4 different game types and can take place on maps unlocked after completing story missions. The locations of enemies and occasionally friendlies are placed randomly for each match, which offers the game some replay value despite the lack of any multiplayer whatsoever.
The story missions follow a squad of four American soldiers in the desert fighting vaguely Middle Eastern terrorists in an uninspired sequence of events. Both the writing and the line delivery of the dialogue are so abysmal that it feels almost intentional. The horrible story elements may perversely amuse some, like myself, but will most likely annoy a lot of players, especially since the story missions must be completed in order to unlock more options for created missions. In any case, those looking for a gripping, dramatic story, full of deep themes and real world parallels, would be better off looking elsewhere.
The game is played in an isometric view with players controlling the four aforementioned soldiers. The camera is fully controllable during the player’s turn, but cannot be manually controlled during the enemy’s. The camera will automatically focus on the movement and actions of the enemies, but the lack of manual control during this stage is still frustrating, at least to me. Small freedoms like the ability to at least adjust zoom or camera angle would have been nice. Oh well.
Each player turn gives two Action Points (AP) to the soldiers, which can be used to move, use a weapon, or perform a specific action like healing an ally or silently taking down an enemy. XP is gained for completing actions successfully and completing missions, and they can be distributed to each soldier to improve movement speed, weapon accuracy, and effectiveness when healing, among other various stat bonuses. There is no ability to increase the amount of AP available each turn, meaning the pace of play is methodical and tense when fighting in confined quarters, and annoyingly slow when traversing large, open spaces with sparse enemies. Credits are also bestowed upon completion of missions, and in boxes hidden around levels. They can be used to buy equipment like better guns, explosives and medkits, and can even buy additional XP.
Arma Tactics offers two difficulty levels: Regular and Veteran. On Veteran, enemies are more likely to take cover and coordinate with each other when fighting, whereas Regular difficulty has enemies mostly rush at you blindly when engaged. Enemy amount and initial placement do not differ on either difficulty, so the only other element of challenge present in Arma Tactics is combat, which relies heavily on RNG. I recommend playing on Veteran difficulty, because otherwise the game’s difficulty is based entirely on the roll of the dice, rather than any real test of player ability.
When leveling up soldiers’ proficiency in certain weapons, the percentage of them hitting their target increases, lowering the probability of failure. The issue is that replaying story missions and playing created missions also increase your XP, seeing as your squadmates stats are persistent across all game modes. The game even has a stage meant specifically for getting XP, granting it even if a lose state is triggered. The fact that XP is consistent across all missions completely ruins any sense of balance in the story missions, since you can just cheese through everything with maxed out stats.
Arma Tactics is not a great game. I would hesitate to call it an Arma game, were it not in the title. If Bohemia Interactive’s intention is to expand on the Arma name, they should make something better than this or else risk tarnishing its good name. Despite its faults, Arma Tactics manages to provide some entertainment at a reasonable price. If you’re a fan of turn-based strategy games and want something to tide you over until XCOM: Enemy Within, this can fill that void. If you’re looking for a good tablet game and you’re sick of Frozen Synapse, no you’re not. Play Frozen Synapse some more. It’s really good.