Modder Superior: Arma 3


The Arma series has a bit of a double identity. On one hand, you’ve got a hard-as-nails military sim shooter, pitting the fallibility of human senses up against a world populated by laser-accurate AI. On the other hand, you’ve got the ultra-moddable sandbox that spawned DayZ and (in turn) the battle royale genre as we know it. The Apelegs are connected to the Arma bone, apparently.

Arma 3, with its Steam Workshop integration and flexible tools has given players the means to create whole new worlds of conflict. With Bohemia Interactive finally focusing on future games, leaving the game in its player’s hands, here’s some of the biggest and best mods that Arma 3‘s community are field testing today.

This is normally where I’d tell you the ins and outs of modding your game of choice, but Bohemia have made the process as seamless as possible for Arma 3. While some mods are hosted on sites like ModDB and Armaholic, the vast majority are available with just a single click via the Arma 3 Steam Workshop. The workshop and the game’s own launcher will tell you if anything has pre-requisites, so you don’t even have to keep that in mind. There are two mods that you should probably download first, however:

CBA (Community Based Addons) is required by many other missions and mods. As a player, you’ll never know it’s there, but it provides a lot of tools and shortcuts required for more complex mods to work their magic.

ACE (Advanced Combat Environment) is a common requirement for playing on many more sim-focused servers. It adds a suite of new features, like advanced wound treatment, realistic gadgets and weaponry, and a general AI overhaul. Allies will generally behave more intelligently, and enemies will behave a bit more like humans; still potentially deadly, but more likely to waste a lot of ammo firing at where it thinks it last saw you. ACE is compatible with most official and user-made missions and scenarios, so see how it works for you. And with that out of the way, let’s get back to Arma’s roots:

Cold War Crisis, Red Hammer and Resistance

The very first mission of Operation Flashpoint, looking better than ever.

Fun as it is to play around with Arma 3’s near-future weaponry and pointy sci-fi vehicles, I can’t help but pine for simpler times. Enter this trio of campaigns, recreating the events of the original 80s-set Operation Flashpoint (now known as Arma: Cold War Crisis) and expansions, assembled with the aid of several other asset packs. The Community Upgrade Project is a communal effort to port the maps, units and features of Flashpoint and the other earlier games in the series to Arma 3’s engine. The Red Hammer Studios packs also add a staggering 13 gigabytes of new units and weapons (both contemporary and historical) to the mix.

While not an absolutely perfect recreation of the original Flashpoint campaigns (you’ll still see the occasional truck from the future incongruously sitting alongside authentically old-school buildings), they seem to have hit most of the right notes, recreating cutscenes right down to re-using the goofy voice acting full of meandering accents. The original Cold War Crisis campaign might even be a better place for Arma newcomers to start than Arma 3’s notably demanding campaign, as not only are the missions shorter and simpler, but the environment is flatter and more open, and easier to pick out targets on.

These campaigns really highlight just how far Arma has come over the years. And, in downloading the resource packs required, you’ll be able to play around with the Flashpoint units and environments using the far more powerful scenario editor, should that tickle your fancy. So, now you’ve had a peek around the eighties, how about we head back to the sixties, and a much nastier slice of history?

The Unsung

War is hell at the best of times, and the Vietnam war wasn’t the best of anything. The Unsung is one of Arma 3’s biggest and most actively updated total conversion mods. Featuring many massive maps, dozens of vehicles and all the guns and gadgets you’d expect from a Vietnam military sim, it’s a comprehensive foundation to build on. Feature and content-wise, the mod seems stable, with recent updates focused on polishing up aircraft and soldier models. The factions are obviously asymmetrical, with the US getting most of the firepower. Fitting, as this mod seems geared mostly for co-op.

Players got a taste of jungle combat with the Apex expansion, but The Unsung’s fog-dense valleys feel like a much more hostile environment. It’s claustrophobic and hard to navigate, especially as there’s no thermal optics to pick out extremely deadly ambushers in the undergrowth. Whether you’re playing co-op or solo, expect this mod to run smoothly. In my time with The Unsung so far, it runs great even when I’m neck deep in foliage and spraying bullets wildly.

While The Unsung doesn’t have any bundled missions of its own, there are dozens available on the workshop. Among the more technically impressive is a remake of the first few missions from 2003’s Vietcong by “Abraxes”, ripped audio and all. Despite the wonky voice acting and cringeworthy slurs, it serves as a relatively gentle introduction to the mod as a whole, with early combat encounters being largely scripted and against very small numbers of enemies. Once you’re up to speed, take a look at this community mission collection for more battles. If you want to play around with the air combat side of the mod, try Wild Weasel Operations.

The Unsung requires no DLC, just the ‘vanilla’ version of Arma 3. You can read more about it and its creators on its official page here.

Altis Life RPG, Tanoa Life RPG & Exile

Casual shopping at the Exile murder-mart.

As wild as some of these mods can be, a lot of Arma 3’s online appeal comes from its more mundane simulation elements and relatively mature player-base. Altis Life, covered in years past by Adam and Brendy is similar to roleplaying mods for Grand Theft Auto. Dozens of players get involved in a massive military-grade cops and robbers simulation, with a cast of bit-players driving taxis, transport trucks, ambulances and other juicy targets. Tanoa Life is more of the same, but with denser foliage, higher system requirements, and it needs the Apex expansion to run, giving it a smaller player-base.

The technical requirements to jumping onto an Altis or Tanoa Life server are minimal. Just search for either in the launcher browser for Arma 3 for a populated server, make sure that it’s in your preferred language (many are in Russian, German or French) and jump in. Just expect to spend ages wandering around alone. Even on a decently populated server, players tend to be very spread out, and it helps greatly to have a friend or acquaintance introduce you to the server and its community. Such is the nature of semi-social mods like this.

If you want more of a live fire sandbox experience with a smattering of optional roleplyaying, then perhaps Exile might be more your speed. While based on similar systems to Altis & Tanoa Life, Exile tends to play a bit more like the old mod version of DayZ, but (depending on server) minus the zombies.

Exile requires not only this hefty mod here, but each server tends to run its own list of additional mods and maps. All together, some of the more popular Exile servers will need you to pull down around 10 gigabytes of stuff before you can play. Thankfully the launcher’s built-in server browser will handle the fiddly parts. Just find the server you want to join and the launcher will prompt you to download all the requires files to join. Try this using the in-game browser and you’ll just get a fountain of error messages as you realise you’re running entirely the wrong mod loadout.

Operation Trebuchet & First Contact by Article 2 Studios

Operation Trebuchet: First Contact - Credit to Article 2 Studios

While most Arma 3 mods simulate the follies of man past and present, Operation Trebuchet takes us forward to the Halo universe. Between the core mod (focused on human soldiers and vehicles) and the First Contact expansion (adding the first playable alien race) there’s enough here to cobble together some fun scenarios for yourself or pals, although the vanilla Arma environments don’t quite feel right for the setting. While retaining some of that Arma lethality, Trebuchet units tend to take a bit more of a beating than their contemporary counterparts, giving it a breezy, knockabout feel.

Operation Trebuchet doesn’t come with any scenarios of its own, but there’s a handful of decent fights to be had on the Arma 3 Workshop, such as Helljumpers (showing off orbital drop pods, and just how much this mod can change the environment) and Contact Lost (which uses a Star Wars map pack to improve the sci-fi vibe). Sadly, it appears that development on Operation Trebuchet has either slowed or stalled entirely, with the last minor update rolling out in April 2019, so all we have for now is an early alpha. It’s enjoyable for what it is, but unless your ambitions end with Marines and Spartans versus Elites, then you’re likely going to feel a bit frustrated. Still, this one gets a nod from me, worts and all.

Between multiple campaigns, three new eras of war and several flavours of roleplaying sandboxes, that should give you some idea of the goodies on offer from the Arma 3 modding scene. As always, this is just a thin slice of what’s on offer, and the game’s Steam Workshop page is bursting with resources, scenarios and total conversion mods – the fruits of six years of community and developer support.

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