Uncle Sam wants YOU… to play video games. That’s the impression I got, anyway, when I first heard about a new video game being developed by the fine folks of the U.S. Army. It was the big surprise of this year’s E3 when the Army showed up in full battle dress to promote their brand new first person shooter called America’s Army that they were about to release for free. OK, so not really for free, they did spend about $7 million of tax payer money to develop the game, but at least they’re not charging even more for the honor of playing it.
I enjoy first person shooters for the most part, especially when they’re team based like this one is. Counter-Strike and I have had a long and intense personal relationship that has only recently been rivaled by my new found affection for Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. So I’ve been meaning to try out the Army’s new game for awhile, but have always been leary of games that are developed mainly as a promotional item for something else. Games of that sort are very rarely worth playing as they tend to be programed for the lowest common denominator in both PC hardware and player intelligence, otherwise it might piss off some poor consumer and convince them they shouldn’t buy the product being promoted.
The Army, however, seems to want to have decent game players in their mix because this game is actually pretty damned impressive. It makes use of one of the latest versions of the Unreal Engine and provides a fairly realistic looking environment with absolutely beautiful lighting effects. The player models aren’t bad once you get into the game proper, but the drill sargent at the start of basic training looks like the offspring of two crash test dummies. It also seems to try for a very realistic approach to combat as you can only fire a gun for a couple of rounds before it’s jerked off target by the kickback and there’s no option to turn off friendly fire. In fact, the urge to turn my rifle on the drill instructor just to see what would happen was tempered only by the idea that the game might dash off a panic stricken email to the Pentagon that a crazed terrorist in training was at my particular address.
Oh what the hell, I turned and opened fire on him anyway. Someone barked “CEASE FIRE” at full volume as I watched the drill instructor crumple to the ground. Next thing I knew I was in jail. Virtually at least. A rather wonderfully rendered cell complete with clanking door that I was free to run around in and experience, virtually, what imprisonment might be like. Minus a bunkmate named Bubba, of course. I had to exit the game completely before I could play again. Seems they take that sort of thing seriously in the army.
As it turns out, the game does track how often you open fire on your team mates and from what I have read it’s possible to be banned from playing if your Rules of Engagement (ROE) score goes too high. That’s certainly one way to keep the immature team killer’s (TKer’s) from ruining everyone’s fun. One of the reasons I usually play on servers with friendly fire off is because of TKers. All in all, it’s a decent game for being from the U.S. Government and a bit of recruitment advertising. Action gamers may be somewhat disappointed as it plays more like a simulation than a traditional run-and-gun FPS, but it does make for an amusing diversion. If nothing else, it has shown me that I was wise not to join the Army as I wouldn’t survive very long based on my performance in the game so far.