Military Sim fans have had quite the exciting time of things recently with confirmation by Bohemia Interactive that Arma 4 is finally on its way. Further to this, the Czech developer has also gone and dropped the recently leaked Arma Reforger onto current-gen Xbox consoles. But what on earth is a Reforger?
Well, we've been getting to grips with the early access game's free trial over the past few days and we can tell you that it's a pretty exciting little slice of what's to come in Arma 4, a taster for fans of what they can expect with regards to the series' new Enfusion Engine and - most importantly if you're thinking of dropping cash on the full version - an early access experience that's rife with bugs and lacking in things to actually do as things currently stand.
That's not to say it isn't worth your time, as long-term Arma fans we're extremely excited with what we've seen and played so far here, just be aware that beyond a tutorial, a Conflict game mode that's fairly buggy right now, multiplayer that we struggled to find a game in and a Game Master creation suite that it'll take you plenty of time and patience to wrap your head around, there isn't much to really sink your teeth into without some struggles just yet.
Indeed, as the devs themselves have stated, Arma Reforger is very much a test of the new engine and a chance for them to collate data, to sit back and watch what players get up to with the creation mode and workshop here in order for them to "learn valuable lessons and push the franchise further than ever before...while offering a rewarding and independently playable experience along the way." They've described it as a bridge to the full release of Arma 4 and it feels that way, with lots of rough edges and aspects of UI navigation that need plenty of TLC on consoles if the full fat Arma experience is to really settle and shine on the platform in the future.
So, in terms of the actual playable experience you've got to dig into here, the main mode right now is Conflict, pretty much a super hardcore version of Battlefield's Conquest, where you're dropped onto the game's 51sq km map - itself a remake of the very first Arma's Everon map - and tasked with slowing taking over enemy bases, one by one, as US and Soviet Union forces go at it. It's unsurprisingly slow moving and super tactical stuff, try to go gung-ho here and you will get yourself shot to pieces in short order, and it also immediately lays bare just how the new Enfusion engine is set to improve the core gameplay experience over 2013's Arma 3.
Moving around the highly detailed terrain here; hopping over walls, climbing fences, entering and exiting buildings and clambering into the limited amount of vehicles on offer feels like a big step forward for Arma, with player movement that's far more convincing and responsive. In terms of the actual gunplay too, it's still hardcore sim stuff with distance, weapon sway, recoil and so on taken into account, but it just feels so much better when you're lining up targets and taking shots compared to past efforts in the franchise. It no longer seems as though we're fighting complex simulation rules and jank at the same time, which is a big win in our book. Take a good position, get your shot carefully lined up, dial in your distance, consider your enemy's movements and landing hits here looks, feels and sounds incredibly satisfying. This is combat that's adrenaline-pumping in ways CoD and Battlefield could only dream of.
We've spent a good few hours in Conflict mode overall, deploying into a base in the south of the huge map then carefully moving out to the north-east in order to start capturing bases and, once you've got your head around the clunkiness of the game's menu interactions, there's a tense and tactical experience to be had here, even if it's a rather spartan one right now. There's an impressive amount of detail and atmosphere in this recreation of Everon too, and AI enemies take absolutely no prisoners when it comes to zeroing in your location, sniping and giving chase through forests in well-organized groups. Indeed, add in the tense music that kicks in when the action gets going, and we found ourselves sweating it on more than one occasion as we lay prone in bushes or hid in outhouses where we could bandage up our latest wound before repositioning ourselves for another ill-fated assault. Arma has always been a game that constantly creates unique and memorable battle situations that are fraught with desperate tension, and Reforger continues this tradition in style.
Away from the heat of battle though, and there's plenty of jank to deal with. Menus are awful across the board, and this includes quick items and an inventory screen that are an absolute nightmare to use, and we found a lot of stuff, such as using your bandages to heal up, just didn't actually work at all half the time. That's early access for you! We've also still got to get to grips with working with squads or communicating our team, none of this stuff is explained very well (or at it all it feels like) and even just interacting with objects; picking up a gun, entering a vehicle or switching seats to take position on a mounted weapon can be a real pain in the backside.
Outside of the main Conflict mode there's a nice little tutorial to help you find your feet with the most basic of stuff, it'll run you through how to use your radio, how to transport materials, capture an enemy HQ, use mobile respawn bases and, most importantly, how to orientate yourself using the game's map and your compass. There's no mucking about with shiny objective markers here, kids, and you're gonna have to learn how to read a map, use a compass and register geographical features as waypoints or you're gonna spend your entire time lost and not knowing where you're next objective or mission critical location is at. And the game will not care.
Elsewhere, we haven't spent very much time in Game Master mode yet, Arma Reforger's creation and direction suite, but it certainly looks pretty complex. You've got the opportunity to freely zoom in and around the game map and add your own elements to it here; sticking in roadblocks, camps, HQs, weapon and vehicle spawn points and so on, before laying down the rules and opening up your game to other players, at which point you get to direct proceedings. You're going to want to get really familiar with Everon and the ins and outs of combat before you touch this one we reckon, but it's plain to see it's a mode that avid fans will undoubtedly spend a long, long time creating all manner of fun distractions in.
There is multiplayer here too, and you can jump into Conflict or Capture and Hold matches with other players but, as we already mentioned, the servers were pretty barren when we tried to connect so we're going to have to come back to this side of the game a little further down the line. And really that's the story of Arma Reforger as it stands right now, it's very bare bones stuff that gives a little taster of what to expect from the series going forward. We've no doubt the community won't be long adding plenty of fun creations though, and we've come away from our time with this one feeling very optimistic for the future of Arma on consoles.
There's currently a trial version of Arma Reforger that gives you a good few hours to get to grips with the game, and we reckon it's a safe bet to give that a whirl before laying down any cash on this one just right now.
Will you be jumping into Arma Reforger over the next few weeks? Looking forward to Arma 4 a little later down the line? Let us know in the comments!