Updated: December 27, 2017
I have been playing Bohemia Interactive's Operation Flashpoint and ArmA franchise for a good 16-17 years now, and still going strong. ArmA 3 is the latest current installment, and even though its continuous DLC model is rather annoying, the game itself is superb. And so, when the company does release proper expansion packs, I am willing to part with my hard-earned money and get the extras. In this case, the APEX bundle.
It looks like an interesting deal - it is a sort of cumulative update, so you get all those other DLC that you skipped on principle, but most importantly, the game features a brand new island archipelago of Tanoa, several new factions, some new weapons, and a co-op multiplayer campaign mode. We are exploring.
The quality of gameplay remains undisputed. This is still ArmA in its naked form, a game that is fun and unforgiving at the same time, with a highly intelligent, unsurpassed combined-arms engine that no other company can match, ergo arcades. You still fight as a grunt, and you can still die from a random bullet far away. The game menu options do allow you to slightly reduce the realism if you want - allowing for revivals from team mates and map indicators for enemy factions soldiers, but you can notch it all up so you get nothing but raw and simple brutality, as I've shown you in my little Youtube video on this topic.
The focus on asymmetric infantry combat remains. ArmA 2 and predecessors were more around Cold War style fighting, with big nations and big guns and lots of armor rolling over the classic European landscape. ArmA 3 takes us into the Mediterranean, with thicket and gorse and rock, and Tanoa takes us to the Pacific. The places on the island have a very New Zealand feel, or if you want, small fishing-tourist communities around the Oceania, and the combat theme smacks of 1975 South American jungle warfare, with guerrillas and militias fighting against proper army.
However, that's not all. You also have a new faux-Chinese faction thrown in as the adversaries. They indeed speak Mandarin, and their weapons are modeled, in the 5.8mm caliber, after the PRC technology. Tanoa also introduces a much more active use of drones, both small RC units that can be carried in the backpack and assembled on the spot, as well as the bigger reconnaissance platforms. No weapons as yet.
As before, I started exploring the island and the new plethora of stuff in tense combat recon missions and several coop scenarios provided with the game. The beauty about Tanoa is that it offers stunning landscape, coastal cities that have a distinct, fresh new feel, and thick jungle foliage with narrow dirt roads running through the forest, severely and strategically impacting and defining the nature of warfare on the island. Don't forget the rain. Tropic weather, tropic downpour.
See the similarity? I do.
It becomes fully understandable - as opposed to Altis and Stratis - why heavy armor would not really work here, as it's almost impossible to hike a trail through the woods without getting stuck, the sometimes impossible physics of the game making it quite hilarious. And if you do blaze into the greenery, you are better off with something lighter and smaller. That does not mean there isn't any armor, and when it shows up, you're in big trouble. It just means that the focus is on doing things quietly. Clear and Present Danger rather than Courage Under Fire.
Missions become almost spec ops assignments, with small teams sent to disable this or that, sabotage comms or trucks. You do have to be careful as the enemy will often have UAV overhead, which can offer superior situational awareness. On the other hand, if you are careful, you can get much closer to the foe than you would on the Greek islands. The equation of distance and surprise changes how you act. Snipers and machine gunners are less likely to have an advantage on Tanoa, due to the short range and less than optimal LOS in most situations. Artillery is also tricky in close proximity to the urban setting. And when you do need to search for hostages, it's often a frustrating hunt, with hundreds of little houses and sheds that need clearing.
The lush undergrowth and the deep green camouflage the enemy wears make for nasty ambushes, and you rarely see the foe. But then, if you're patient, you can dispatch the adversary without them ever knowing you were there. Lastly, fighting irregulars with their ancient technicals and wild combat style also makes for a fun departure from a more strict setting of the non-APEX element of the game.
Normally, I don't care for the weapons you get. They are just weapons. You point, you shoot. Having more and more might appeal to younger players. For me, it's all about the gameplay. If that element works, then your arsenal can potentially be fun.
Tanoa trades in the 6.5mm Euro caliber for the more traditional 5.56mm for the "good" guys and 5.8mm for the "bad" guys. Which means bigger loads of ammo, tinnier sound, and also more shooting to get the foe killed. This is not very realistic, because small-caliber weapons are perfectly all right at close range, but we can assume the future landscape of warfare will include fancy body armor like the ones portrayed in ArmA 3. At the very least, the Pacific enemy faction takes less to kill than the CSAT on Altis. Must be some gentle tweaking of the hit-box algorithms.
So, you have a whole new range of goodies. The most prominent are VTOL aircraft, the return of the good ole AK family, which does make sense for would-be third-world guerrillas, and the aforementioned drones. I have yet to explore the campaign, which I actually might, given the new coop nature, and I presume some of these weapons are gradually introduced and showcased in various missions. Maybe. I have yet to successfully hook a container load under a helo. But more about nonsense and goofing in a separate article.
Worth the investment? Yes. APEX is a decent expansion pack, similar to Operation Arrowhead and a bunch of other similar bundles offered by BIS over the past decade and a half. Each time, you get a nice and colorful bunch of upgrades, new features, and new items. APEX comes with a new campaign mode, which might help compensate for the rather underwhelming campaign in ArmA 3. But then, it's never about that. It's about the spirit. The raw nature of combat. And it's best down without too many movie-like scripts.
In general, I believe ArmA 3 is trying to branch out and reach to the arcade people, which isn't such a good idea, but it makes sense financially. Then again, you can forget about all that and immerse yourself in what Tanoa has to offer. Like always, the landscape is stunning, rich and big. That's one thing Bohemia Interactive never did wrong. Giving you a real world to enjoy and explore. Then, some new stuff to top it off. All in all, this is a very reasonable expansion, and you will enjoy the departure from the classical scenery. I thought the idea would be overdone, but it's actually rather good. Anyway, I'm off to collect some fresh screenshots for future articles, and I will be reviewing Laws of War soon.