The key to squad-based strategy games is personality. If you look at a list of luminaries: Jagged Alliance, X-Com, Cannon Fodder, General C.H.A.O.S., and I’d even toss Worms in there – you’ll note they all have a distinct flavor or feel. There’s something about them beyond the gameplay that grabs a player. General G.H.A.O.S. won you over with personable animation and a unique control scheme. X-Com got you with customization, and an attachment that grows between you and your troops. Worms won you over by combining explosive hyper-violence with adorable creatures in funny hats and witty quips.
When you found one you liked, you liked it forever. I still play Worms and X-Com. Thus, Arma Tactics finds itself in a curious place. A tactics game based on a hyper-realistic open-world military shooter. Doesn’t seem there’s much room for personality there, does it? That said, perhaps Arma Tactics could find an identity through brutally realistic scenarios, including firing arcs, cover lines, and a variety of tactical choices that make it play like a military version of Frozen Synapse.
That identity is a mixed bag. The graphics and locations are your typical modern warfare-esque sand browns and half blown-up huts, the game will switch to a third person view when your move your character initially, but beyond that the visual presentation is drab, but authentic to the setting.
The tutorial mission does a pretty good job getting you ready to play the story campaign, where you’re given a grid-based map, action points, a variety of weapons and troops, and a series of objectives to accomplish, most of which involve finding proper cover, eliminating targets, and surviving with as much of your ass as possible, intact. Unfortunately a lack of a mini-map can make finding enemies or enemy locations a bit of a wild goose chase unless you’re paying close attention on the enemy’s turn. You’ll move back and forth across the map staring far too closely at your iPad screen for a pixel or outline of a character that isn’t one you control. You end up with a variety of specializations, weapons, and equipment, all with different bonuses – flash bangs lower enemy accuracy for example.
Controlling that equipment is a bit tricky, though. Touch screen controls are serviceable, but I found myself tapping on a troop and missing on more than one occasion. Since you need to tap said troops to activate things like knife kills and healing, it creates a situation where you find yourself stretching your hand across the entirety of an iPad, which can be uncomfortable if playing on a bus and the device is secured via two hands and your knees. While I wasn’t able to get the game to run on my near acient iPhone 3GS, I would imagine it would be more comfortable.
One of the trickier problems facing iOS developers is the differences in screen size. A game that’s a real blast to play on your phone, like say Angry Birds, may lose a bit of magic on a big screen. Similarly, playing FIFA on the relatively small iPhone screen can be a bit of a hassle. Arma appears as though the ability to have it in your pocket would benefit its appeal immensely.
Still, small screen appeal or not, I find my appetite unwhetted by Arma Tactics. If a fan walks up to me on the street, knows I write about games and asks “Hey, what’s the coolest thing about Arma Tactics?”, I’d think about it for awhile, come up empty, and ask them to buy me dinner. What I mean by this is that there’s nothing explicitly dynamic contained within Arma Tactics. Nothing pops.
What does Arma Tactics contain? A derivative, but mostly high quality military strategy game that will feel instantly familiar to fans of strategy games, and non-fans, too. If it’s your cup of tea and you can’t get enough of of squad-based strategy games, have at it. You’ll enjoy it.
Whenever I am in a position to tell you whether or not you should buy a game, which is good, but like a lot of other games I liked more, I always get nervous. How exactly do you tell someone to choose a Big Mac or a Whopper, or a Budweiser over a Sam Adams? It’s a matter of taste. I thought the gameplay was solid and control less-than-decent, nor was I wowed or compelled very much. There may be a wrinkle or two here I’m missing that you could very much enjoy if you’re a hardcore fan. I will say the *awesome* Frozen Synapse is $2.99, the far more personable X-com: Enemy Unknown is $9.99, and the kinda meh Arma Tactics clocks in at $6.99. Take it with a grain of salt, but Arma Tactics appears to be the only one that may not be worth the money.