The early 2000's; gamers were fed up with FPS games promising to deliver authentic warfare but yet they all felt more or less 'arcadish'. Bohemia Interactive heard the cries and developed something that changed the way we play FPS games; Operation Flashpoint. The game delivered realistic warfare on an epic scale and it was an instant hit. The company that published the game, Codemasters, reserved the rights to use the name 'Operation Flashpoint' so the next game in the series was named Armed Assault (abbreviated ArmA). The game was extremely buggy and received average reception. Shortly after the release of ArmA, Bohemia developed a sequel which was aptly named ArmA II. The game had (has) terrible optimization and it's still pretty unplayable even on monster rigs.
The early 2010's; gamers are crying over the extremely poor optimization of ArmA II. Once again Bohemia Interactive heeds the cries and starts developing the sequel, ArmA III. The game, just as it's predecessors, is a realistic military simulator that tries to capture the feeling of being in the middle of an all-out war. An Alpha of the game was released in March which allows the most eager gamers to experience the game early and help the developers to squeeze out any bugs (the main reason why the first two ArmA games are so notorious). Players who purchased the Alpha will also receive the Beta (which should be with us sometime in Q2 2013) and also the final finished product.
The early 2030's; NATO forces are fending off Iranian forces in a few Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. The player takes the role of Captain Scott Miller from the British Special Forces and tries to thwart back the invasion of the islands. The Alpha doesn't reveal anything about the story (other then the date when the events are occurring) but the finished game has an extensive campaign mode that features multiple different types of missions ranging from solo missions to commanding an entire armored unit. The few singleplayer missions (known as 'showcases') available in the Alpha focus on showing the main aspects of the game; infantry combat, underwater environment (an all-new feature in the ArmA series), vehicle handling and lastly the improved helicopter controls.
The infantry section of the singleplayer portion showcases the (vastly) improved graphics of the game engine. The game features some very gorgeous effects and especially the weapon textures look absolutely brilliant. The weapons themselves are future versions of modern weapons and handle very realistically (if you can say that about weapons that are non-existent). The underwater section has you scuba-diving behind enemy lines, disarming mines. This section showcases the only real new addition to the series; underwater environments. Diving around underwater feels and looks pretty realistic and adds a whole new 'world' to military simulators. Just imagine the possibilities.
The third section showcases the new driving physics of the game engine which uses PhysX. Driving around in vehicles feels maybe even a bit too simulator-like, I personally prefer the arcadish handling of older ArmA games. Still, the addition of vehicle mass and other factors that affect the handling is not a bad thing; the developers just need to hone them to fit the game. The fourth and final section showcases the improved flight model (taken from Take On Helicopters, another game by Bohemia Interactive) that leaves much to improve upon; I could barely stay airborne when piloting a helicopter. Maybe it was just me but I couldn't keep the helicopter from crashing.
Even though the singleplayer 'missions' are rather short, the game still saves them after major events. This is a good thing if you plan on continuing them later on. Or rather, would be. The game receives new updates pretty often and each new update renders the old saves useless. Not a major issue if you focus more on the multiplayer aspect of the Alpha. Too bad my copy crashed every time I tried to join or create a multiplayer session. The Alpha also supports mods and the popular ArmA II mod, Wasteland, is already available for it. But as I mentioned, my copy has some issues connecting to a server so I was unable to test the mod(s). The multiplayer is unavailable in the Lite version, along with modding.
The Alpha comes packed with an extremely handy and easy to use Scenario Editor which allows you to create your own single- and multiplayer missions. Even though the Alpha has been around only for a couple of months, the internet is already full of user created missions, adding to the replay value of the game. The editor is very similar to the ones in the previous games in the series and I immediately felt right at home using it. The extensive scripting functions of the editor allow some pretty impressive stuff happening during a mission. As with the multiplayer and modding, the Scenario Editor is unavailable in the Lite version.
The game area in the Alpha is pretty impressive; a 20 square kilometer island covered with vegetation, towns and military bases. The final product adds the main island to the game, making the total playable area almost 300 square kilometers! Absolutely astonishing. This combined with the fact that the game features a mind-blowing view distance of around 20 kilometers really enforces the feeling of 'being there'. This of course demands some pretty hefty hardware to run properly but luckily the developers have learned from their previous games; the game runs smoothly with everything maxed on the test rig that struggled with ArmA II (3.4GHz i7, 12GB RAM, Radeon HD7970). Players with weaker rigs don't need to worry; the game has very extensive graphical options which ensures the game should be playable even with integrated graphics (the minimum requirements state you need a 2.4GHz dual core with 2GB RAM and an nVidia 8800, ATI HD3830 or Intel HD4000 class graphics card). DirectX 9 isn't supported and it's unlikely they'll add it.
Overall the base game seems very finished; the improvements made to the game engine ensure the game runs smooth and looks brilliant. The gameplay mechanics are familiar to anyone who has ever played any of the previous games in the series and the Scenario Editor plus the native support for mods promise that ArmA III lasts from father to daughter. The price of the Alpha is half of any AAA title that we've received lately and the fact that the price goes up as the development continues tells us one thing; get the game, now. Just keep in mind that the game is still in it's Alpha stage (keep that in mind when you're looking at the cons also).