Several years ago, the United States Army created a "combat simulator" called America's Army. Taking the form of a First Person Shooter (fps), it pits small squads of soldiers against each other on a variety of terrains with straightforward mission objectives. It was a great hit in the gaming community, and Version 2.5 still has a lot of faithful followers, even though it was dropped by the development group almost 4 years ago.
"The Right Way, The Wrong Way, and The Army Way"
America's Army 3, the successor to the wildly popular AA2.5, was fraught with problems. Its game engine was CPU intensive, the graphics - while a step up from 2.5 - were poorly implemented. Enemy soldiers - instead of being easily identified "terrorists" in paramilitary garb - were so similar to friendly soldiers that friendly fire became an expectation. What was once a straightforward "medic system" became a complicated and confusing "combat medic system," where applying pick-ups required actually attending, passing, and then using the "Injury Identification" training.
Many of the old school users were left behind by the system requirements, which were vastly greater than AA2.5. The overall experience left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Yes, it had its adherents, but it never seemed to be as much "fun" as the older, dated game that it was intended to replace. Add to that the glitches and bugs that never seemed to be fixed, and you had what most people expect from a government-backed project.
"Even a Blind Dog Finds a Bone Now and Then"
America's Army : Proving Ground is a welcome improvement! No longer a "military simulator" as much as it is a Squad Tactics Game, the system requirements are much lower, and game play itself is much improved. Bowing to titles such as Call of Duty and Battlefield, the game has more of an "arcade" feel while keeping the simplicity of the older AA2.5 title. Soldiers may choose their own weapons and mods from a very simple set of choices - there are no "upgrades" based on player experience or subscriptions. As one would expect from the US Army, standardization is the name of the game.
The AA3 "Combat Medic System" has been completely replaced with an easy "Medic" system - every soldier has an unlimited supply of medical "pick-ups" to revive an incapacitated comrade, or bind up their own bleeding extremities. Of course, you have to be careful. Ripping open the medic package makes sound, and often draws the attention of enemy soldiers who are "body camping" - watching your injured comrades, waiting for someone to help them.
Enemy units are now clearly identifiable - friendlies wear "techno-camouflage" uniforms, while enemy units always appear in rust-colored uniforms. Friendly fire is now less common (although no more friendly).
The in-game voice chat system is there from AA3, but seems to behave better than it once did.
"No Army of One"
If you do download the approximately 2 gig game (available here for FREE), remember that no man is an island - learn to play as a team. Squads that talk, stick together, and watch each others' backs tend to dominate over those that are comprised of "lone wolf" types.
This is also a social game. Make friends! Have fun! I'll work up another review when the game exits "beta" in a few weeks, to talk about the final product.
Until then - Hoo ah!