America's Army is the most exciting action game I found in my last 25 years of videogaming.
I've tried lots of "war" games in the past, but no one got my interest for more than some weeks. Every game could be resolved in some mix of strategy and shooting ability, so when you begin to master it, then your interest in it will begin to decrease.
While not actually a revolution, internet gaming has changed a little this scenario. We already used to play Doom II on '386 machines connected via RS232 serial port (back in the first nineties, when we didn't even have a 10Mbit LAN card!!): we know what "network playing" means because we did network playing since ages.
Also, we have today enough computing and graphics and networking
power to play in 14-20-26 soldiers in the same scenario (mission),
with highly realistic 3D graphics and real-time rendering.
America's Army is excellent on all common graphics and audio features for its class, but this is only one of the reasons why I like it.
Player profile and general statistics:
America's Army has some excellent features that I never found in any other so-called "realistic" game.
First, its scoring scheme. If you kill lots of enemies, but your squad fails to achieve the objective, then you won't get points. Also, if you don't kill even an enemy guy, but you secure some target for your mission, then you will score much more points than if killing opposing forces men.
Yes, this game is mission first, as in true real-field Army missions.
Not only: you also have to take split-second friend-or-foe decisions, and be cautious when firing or throwing some grenade. Firing against your teammates, even if you were not willing to do, will suck you lots of points, get you out of the game, and even send you in (a virtual) prison!
All these design lines actually change the way you play.
After a few first rounds, where I simply tried to kill as more enemies as I could, I found myself in a poor overall score: I did not achieve targets. My honor level increased only when I began believing in "mission first!", and decreased when I accidentally hit some team-mates ("friendly fire").
Second, its real scenario preparation. You cannot simply install the game and snap-in with Special Forces submachineguns and full equipment. You have to complete all the preparation: a real US Army career :-)
Step by step, as in a real soldier life, you will need to complete all the basic training - and it's not that easy! - before getting enabled to enter any serious mission. This includes practicing guns, silent escape missions, sharp-shooting, parachute launching, and even some medic class and examination.
Third, it's a serious game: the above notes mean that it doesn't need to represent blood and gore (it's rated "13+ years"), while still showing real field situations: you won't stand up firmly like stone when you will be hit by some remote fragments of a grenade or when shot by some gun; you cannot abuse your strength if bleeding (you could die); your gun will lightly "wander" when you try to aim without "support"; you could hurt yourself with grenades or flashbangs; your '203 grenade won't explode if not shoot properly and far from the target; etc.
Yes, it's way more than a simple "shoot'em up" game. Teamworking, "mission first", ROE (rules of engagement), realistic scenarios with realistic guns: it's not just "have some NMEs shot".
And it's easy to manage; I didn't have to read even a single manual page to get everything I need.
America's Army was introduced by U.S.Army as part of its communications strategy. This clearly explains everything you can find in the game. And it also explains to me why I always liked it. They simply wanted to show "virtual insights" in soldier training and action. And -yes!- I think that this game fully succeeds in this, becoming an "addicting game" even for us here in Italy.
My current computer configuration for America's Army 2.5
I play on my Apple Powerbook G4 17'':
I use 1024×600 instead of 1024×768 because of 16:10 aspect ratio (1024×600 expands to 1440×900 full-screen).
Weird thing (maybe it's due to native OpenGL support from Mac OS X): when lowering resolution to 800×500 (16:10 aspect ratio) I get no apparent performance gain.
Yep, it's still not fast like high-end PC configurations; most of the time I get 15-20fps. It's still playable when at least 8-10 fps. It's not that nice when there are less than 18-20fps.
Anyways, lots of people say that the Mac version sucks because of lack of serious optimizations: a 128Mb fast video card (like this Radeon 9700) shows higher performances on Windows PC machines :-(
My hardware configuration is suitable for playing everywhere (think me on a mountain, far from the nearest power supply, playing 1.5 hours on computer/mouse/cellphone batteries!) :-)
My soldier career...
If you see alfmar coming in the game, well, it's me.
And if you see someone shouting "caricaaaa!" (Italian word for "charge!" or "let's rush!") or "Geronimoooo!", well, maybe it's me again... :-)
My honor level is currently 34 (it could be quite more, but in the last months I paid at least the equivalent of two honor levels for friendly fire: most of the time errors when throwing frag-grenades without checking for presence of teammates).
My preferred gun is the automatic rifle (AR), because I first go for coverage-fire and then go for an objective. The M249 SAW is an excellent gun, with a high rate of fire and a way loooooong capacity. When in "supported position", you can use the M249 for very long "sprays" of bullets at distant targets (and yes, that's me; and yes, I know that bullet trails will show my position to enemies; and yes, I know it requires 10 seconds to reload, so I leave some 30-50 bullets for last "spray" before changing to a safer position to reload). I generally do little exploring, covering only a single area, getting out when I'm sure no OPFOR (opposing forces) could get in.
I am also a sharp-shooter (37 out of 40 the first time I tried it! I also completed the MOUT Shoot House with 11700 points using only the M9 pistol) but I don't like too much the sniper role because I cannot remain static ("camping" for sniping) without getting shot :-) When I take the sniper role, I take it for a few minutes of sniping, and then go out with the M9 pistol for some high-heartbeat NME (enemy) wiping in close combat :-)
Obviously, my most frequent role is rifleman. This is because many people choose "higher level weapons" thinking they will kill more enemies :-) While this may be true (sometimes!) when targetting at high distances - for example with an M203 Grenade Launcher - it's not always a hit. As you can see, it's not unfrequent seeing expert players using an M16A2 rifle, which can be as deadly as the most effective guns in almost all practical situations (and especially if you are in prone position). The M16A2 is easy, light and safe; its 3-bullet-bursts are also good for small "coverage fire", but beware, you could easily go out of ammunition if too much enthusiast about bursts :-) (like me! there are times I complete a round with no more 30-bullets ammunition magazines left!).
While playing in the last months I found myself almost always in a "supporting" role, for any of the guns I could choose as described above. While I can strike out when in a desperate need (almost always with success if taking care of all risks), I prefer covering teammates when they run out - maybe this is because most people love to get immediately into the field to throw out 'nades and flashbangs :-)
Often (very often!) you'll find that even without teamspeaking about targets, your squad will swarm out to targets in an interesting "discipline" style. One or two guys for every entrance of the Pipeline scenario, or a team bridge coverage in Bridge Crossing (including dangerous "catwalks"), or splitting in two teams for Bridge SE (while running in the safe valleys), etc: it's not unfrequent to get in a few seconds a complete deployment.
In these situations, you will recognize a "newbie" in your team seeing him going to the first useful position, starting shooting without any reason and without any identified target (thus uselessly revealing his position to the enemy forces), and getting shot at the first time he remains for more than half a second "uncovered" :-)
Another kind of "newbies": the ones who whine for hours "please give me the sniper, please, I'm good at sniping, please, please, please!" and then - if someone swaps with them the sniper role - you see these newbies getting shot in the first 30 seconds of the round, always without sniping anything, almost always without even firing... :-)
One nice touch of realism is the "Hooah!" shout at the beginning of a round, quickly imitated by other people - sometimes also with "Roger! Negative! Check your flanks! Get the door!" and other shouts :-) These are absolutely necessary, I think, because there are times that the game will actually set you in a high heartbeat! :-)
Yes, if you play for a few weeks on this game, you'll see that it actually educates to teamplaying: generally every player will respect its role - no one wants to die without reason, no one likes to die without having at least shut off a Pipeline valve, no one likes to become an useless dead "hero"... except for "newbies" who don't have yet understood what do "role" and "team" mean: if you want to die quickly, then just behave as a common Rambo!! ;-)
My favourite scenario is Bridge Crossing, because it seems the hardest scenario for the impatient man. You will need all of your intelligence and readiness to go through the bridge (or to defend it), and it will rarely end for complete bridge crossing by attacking squad. Don't leave "small craters" around!
My second favourite scenario is Pipeline: this is probably the most team-stressing field, while remaining one of the most simple to approach (well, it's not easy the first time, when you'll have to deal with all those ladders and rooms).
Open field scenarios - like Radio Tower - also require patience and time; you cannot face a well-positioned sniper or grenadier who knows how to manage his weapon: having an Automatic Rifle instead of a M16A1 won't help too much...!
It was quite weird, in my first connects, to read everywhere a sort of "server rules list", mostly containing the same words.
No cheating: yes, the game shows also to "dead" soldiers some scenes, while the program allows chit-chatting while others players continue shooting. It's unfair, by "dead" ones, to pass information ("bridge west!") to "alive" teammates. But it's at least weird the need to explicitly prohibite "cheating" (and "ghosting")...
No tricks/exploits/bugs/etc: sigh! this game has its own bugs. One of the last bugs corrected was killing people behind a wall (wrong calculation of wall thickness: it was thick like a glass of a window). But -ALAS!- there are even people who patched their own Windows graphics drivers to show "man shades" even if behind walls (so that they could clearly "see" enemy troops in any moment). This also was patched, but - as you can see - there are still people around who play only to see theirselves "winning" (winning using bugs is not actually victory, but they seem to not to know).
No 'nades/203/spamfire/etc in the first 20 seconds: this is the most ugly rule. In the real world, you must expect everything! No real enemy will «wait up to 8:30" [timeout]» before giving you some nice piece of grenade cake. Also "spamfire" is a real-world situation; if you aren't able to run while covered by natural obstacles, then you aren't good to fight!
No camping: this is another ugly rule. In true combat scenarios, there is a large number of conditions in which you will need to "camp" (stay there and wait for the OPposing FORces to appear), even while attacking. Some server administrators think that "attack" teams should simply run for 20 seconds, then rush on while firing: that is, reduce a realistic game to a... simple shoot'em'up game! Yes, I admit that a number of "campers" are actually people trying to get alive upto the end of the round (or, at least, to fight only when absolutely necessary): this also is a realistic scenario (boss! your men aren't "meat for cannons", as here in Italy we say)... but server-admins love to have "quick" rounds. No, no, no: in my humble opinion, camping should always be allowed (have a try! you'll find that the campers percentage won't rush up too much).
Intentional teamkilling, violation of ROE: violating Rules Of
Engagement should be punished with more severity... you could incur
in some -250 ROE points for throwing a frag-grenade while some "noob"
happily decides to run under it. In order to avoid unintentional
teamkilling you will need to have your eyes wide open in every
moment: this game doesn't offer many distraction moments :-)
Anyways, in some servers you'll be kicked in the Leavensworth prison after -200 ROE points. And yes, it's not that nice seeing the good result of 10-15 battles wiped out in a moment because you fired a dozen 5.56mm bullets in the back of one of your most incompetent teammates :-)
Internet Servers (sigh!) and Honor levels
When I first found this game, I found a list of 1700+ servers on-line. It was the America's Army Operations 2.5.0 for Mac, which could connect to all same-version Windows and Linux servers.
Sadly, when the 2.6.0 for Windows came out, in a few days all Windows servers updated to it, and only a few dozens servers Linux and Mac-compatible remained (2.6.0 is not backward compatibile with 2.5.0): always "full slots" servers (often you cannot enter because they always have "maximum number of players connected"!) - there are lots of Apple Mac around, but -ALAS!- the Mac version of the game requires months of "adaption" before releasing :-(
It seems that support for Mac OS X and Linux has been silently dropped. Shame on you, America's Army programmers! This means that even if you have a new Mac-Intel, you need to install Windows on it... :-( The 2.7.0 features a stunning set of new great improvements, but it's... windows only! :-(America's Army just hit the 3.0 release with a huge list of add-ons and improvements. Sadly again, Windows only! :-(
This is the most addictive game I found in the last 25 years, as I said above. But -SADLY!- the latest versions run only on Windows, and not on the Apple Mac OS X. This is weird for an U.S. Army supported software (Apple computers are U.S. computers, no?!).
My honor level is part of my personality! :-) I would describe honor levels as so:
In many months of playing, I only saw once a soldier claiming to be a woman. While it seems quite normal, I must also remember that I personally know two (niiice!) girls in the real Italian Forces who have excellent experience in heavy guns... :-) (yes, I mean it, it ain't a joke!)
Some extra notes...
There are servers where administrators like to change "class" to guns. Pistols only for everyone, or shotgun only, or special forces automatic rifles: time to practice! While I love the real scenarios, it's nice to practice sometimes with different guns. Especially when the administrators force the use of RPG's (rocket propelled grenades): no close combat, and don't stay close to walls!
After some rounds using a G-class (grenade launcher), I learnt some basic distance and angle evaluation; the RPG is easier because you don't have to evaluate an angle, but it seems a bit less precise when aiming to small targets (for example, an open door from 30-50mt distance).
It's not that easy launching a grenade onto a small target. Try in the Pipeline, when on an assault, crouching near the main pump, throwing a frag-grenade on the higher stairs, hitting the wall so that the grenade will continue upperstairs. An error will cost you big pain... :-)
The most famous "crater" place is the catwalk of the bridge in Bridge Crossing missions. I just can't count how many people happen to fall down when running there - even experienced ones. You won't likely get a frag-grenade near you on the catwalk (except if thrown by some heroic stooopid "honor 9" behind you: believe me, it can happen! beware the enemy, check your flanks, but always watch out for "noobs"!) but that uncomfortable walk will make you a bit nervous if you need to stay there for too much time...!
While I'm a fan of bunny hopping (jumping while walking, to not to get hit by enemies shooting at you), I wonder why I get always hit (after a few "jumps") but I cannot hit any "hopper" even spraying lots of bullets and even in close combat :-) Maybe I'm a little unlucky? I don't like admitting that my best hits are from 'nades!
Equivalence between some U.S.Army guns and Italian Army (Esercito Italiano) guns:
NOTE: these informations are public domain informations got from the Esercito Italiano site (click on "English version"); as you can see, Italian Army equipment is fully comparable to U.S. Army equipment (mostly because of compliance with NATO standards).
Some links to Italian resources:
In Italy, special forces members are nicknamed "teste di cuoio" (leather-headed).
Conclusion: my most famous sentences while playing
No, I don't cheat, but I love to comment actions even during the game - but most of the times I'm busy on enemy spotting and objective securing :-)
America's Army: Punkbuser update problems, how to solve
After a few weeks I left out America's Army, I found that I couldn't enter any server because of Punkbuster problems: PB kept updating 1%...2%...3%... and after 99% it started again and again, until the server disconnected me, sometimes reporting: "Unknown error while communicating with the authorization server"
If you find that Punkbuster keeps updating, and you cannot repair it even launching PBWeb application from System/PB directory of America's Army main directory, then you need to go on www.evenbalance.com and download manually the latest key files. You need three files (they are in HTM format): the pbsec.htm "security file" (to be placed in the System/PB directory) and the two player client files (to be placed in System/PB/htm directory). Total download is something like 600k.
Then you can erase the pb directory under ~/Library/Application Support/Army Operations 2.4.0/System (this is needed for Mac only): yes, that directory is called "2.4.0" instead of "2.5.0".
Now you can start the PBWeb and leave it working (it will download the updated tables from EvenBalance server). It will require some minutes.
Then you can start again America's Army and leave the Punkbuster Updater running normally - don't be scared if after 99% you see it starting again from 1% for a few times: it has to update a number of PB sections: you are safe if the console line "receiving from PB Server (...C1.xxxx)" corresponds to the version you downloaded from EvenBalance site.
Last resort: make your /Applications/Army Operations.../System/pb directory an exact copy of ~/Library/Application Support/Army Operations 2.4.0/System/pb directory. Then start the PBWeb.app located in the latter: after normal update, you should be able to enter an "honor" server without problems.
Note: I had a report of weird problems with AA and PB because of... permission problems. This happens if you backup Mac AA installation to another computer under a different user (so you need to do a recursive chmod to update user).
If you get (while "Punkbuster update is xx% complete") some error message like "Unknown error while communicating with the authorization server", then it maybe there are other problems which cannot be solved by the operations described above.
If you cannot connect to a server because of "Please enable Punkbuster" (even if you already enabled it), then you must erase the (in)famous pb directory in the (in)famous "2.4.0" directory, and run again the PBWeb as above (it seems that AAO requires the Library one and the System/PB one both active and in sync).
Last resort is installation of latest version of PBSetup, also found on EvenBalance site. Just install it, add "America's Army" game with its correct "System" directory, and select "Check for updates" and wait for this extra update.
Yes, it seems that some dozens 2.5.0 servers are still active - almost all were Linux and Mac players.
This is a sad thing, for a game whose budget was $10million, and don't find a few dollars to keep ports for Mac and Linux.
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