Review by macguba
Abandoned Armies is not merely the best mission ever made: it is the culmination of a dream that two Czech computer game programmers had many years ago. Operation Flashpoint achieves its potential in Abandoned Armies: this mission shows you why you play it; why you love it.
Download the mission now, while you read this review. When the download is finished, read THobson's readme, it's useful and fascinating. If you are new to OFP play a few more missions before attempting this one.
How do you think you'd cope if you were stranded on an island, hunted by two warring armies? Well, here is your chance to find out. Malden has been the flashpoint for a global nuclear war, although the island itself proved not to be worth a warhead, and the remnants of Soviet and American expeditionary armies have been abandoned here. Nationality became irrelevant in the basic struggle for survival: fragmented groups of soldiers joined with their former enemies to scavenge for food and petrol. These groups eventually coalesced into a pair of hungry, ragged clans, controlled by vicious warlords and continually at odds. Now that the Malden Resistance is all but wiped out, and the civilian population plundered, raped and murdered into insignificance, these warbands have agreed an untrusting truce.
You play Alexi Petrenco, a local lad of about 17. Your father has been killed fighting for the Resistance but your family is one of the few to have survived the maelstrom. Now, as winter approaches, the lack of food and shelter is life-threatening. Unless you can find your uncle - a clever man - and obtain his help, your mother and sister will surely die too. Armed with your father's old pistol and a few bullets, you set off in a decrepit boat. Your uncle lives in Vigny ... if he's still there. If Vigny is still there.
THobson has cracked the "whole island experience" thing and that alone is a milestone in OFP mission making. There is no spawning of units here - everything is on the map at the start. Of course there's some randomisation, for the replay value, but everything is planned, everything is real. This is exactly what BIS are doing on a larger scale with Armed Assault. Just remember that THobson got here first.
But that's not it. That's not what makes the mission so remarkable. What's remarkable is that the author has created a living island in a highly original mission, with superb build quality and innumerable touches of artistic and technical detail. It's like adding the creative energy of a TVR and the reliability of a Mazda to the sheer class of a Ferrari. The result is ... well if you're from California, "Amazingly awesome, man". If you're from Scotland like me you'd say "Aye, well, its alright". There is no higher praise.
I have an interest to declare: I was a beta tester and voice actor on this mission, and THobson kindly acknowledges that he was influenced by my Un-Impossible Mission. However, this review has been passed by the Missions Depot Admin and the score was agreed amongst the mission reviewers. This is the first ever mission, other than the 2004 MEC winners, that has been awarded the highest possible OFPEC score of 10/10. With the greatest respect to all the finalists in the MEC, this one leaves them for dust. Overview
As good an Overview as you'll ever see. A beautifully created scene, photographed well, with concise text that gives both a clear description of the situation and an air of suspense. Intro
Top class filmmaking. A good story, well told, with many attractive details. The homely but competent voice acting of the author's family adds a great deal to the atmosphere. It's true that there are no exhilarating cinematic effects, but the choice of music is excellent. A classic example of something which looks easy, but isn't.Briefing
Again, as good a Briefing as you're likely to see. Simple and direct with helpful background information. Don't be tempted to skip anything: this mission is about the whole atmosphere and paying attention here will pay dividends later. The voiceover is informative although the "Uncle" motif is perhaps overdone. No gear selection - it's not appropriate - but in the mission itself there's plenty of weaponry. You'll have to figure out a way of getting hold of it of course, and once you do you'll find that the author has judged the ammo shortage beautifully: you do have to think about it but you don't have to panic. Medical support is also available if you use your eyes, ears and brain. You start the mission alone. Mission
This is the best mission you've ever played so get your preparation right. During the week, clear your diary for the weekend and tell your flatmates and family to keep out of the way. Watch the Intro and read the Briefing a couple of times, start the mission and sort out the environmental effects dialogue, then Abort. On Friday night have a shower - you won't be having another for a day or two - make a few crappy sandwiches and fill a thermos flask with black coffee.
Saturday morning. Get up an hour before dawn and, by torchlight, start the mission from the reload point. Skip the Intro and Briefing now, you know what's there. It's cold, wet and dark, you can feel the chill. Take some lukewarm coffee while you contemplate the stiff slope ahead. The climb will wake you up but by the time you get to the top you'll be slightly lost. Vigny is ... that way? I think I'll have a sneak around. What the ..!
You are cocooned by the atmosphere even before the first cutscene, and shortly after it the self-aware player will pause suddenly for a brief smile. You are behaving exactly as you would if this was real. Which means it is real. So, what to do next? Well, the author has provided a very broad hint and this near the start it's worth taking his advice. Not least because the sun is starting to appear and he wants you to face it; you need the warmth it offers. Abandoned Armies has a real story, but how and when you follow it is up to you. There are no particularly dramatic consequences to acting or not acting on any suggestions given to you by the characters you meet, but it's important to listen to what they say so that you can make an informed decision. They will tell you what you need to know in order to figure out what's really happening on this godforsaken island. This mission has three genuinely distinct Sides, and the relationship between them (which may change) is an important aspect of the mission. Four Sides, if you count the tattered remains of the civilian population, but they are few and far between.
There are many enemies to kill, if you decide to go a-killing, but don't feel you have to shoot everyone you meet. In the early stages this is very much a blackops style of mission: intelligence gathering, sneak attacks and quick raids. Later, it develops into full blown infantry combat, assuming you have collected your squad and kept them alive. Towards the end, if you want, you'll be fighting from tanks. And even after the end you'll keep playing. Or rather thinking, "Yes, the fighting is finished, but we still have to face the winter. How will we survive?"
Abandoned Armies is a challenging mission, particularly near the beginning when enemies abound and your squad is ill-trained and ill-equipped. A quick win is not on the agenda. It's hard enough to get a win at all and you'll need skill, patience and guts. I don't mean patience and guts in the game, I mean patience and guts in real life. Playing Rambo-style will get you nowhere. In fact, playing any single style all the time will get you nowhere very much, except at the start where 'hit and run' works well. Especially 'run'. The way to win - and the mission is very winnable - is to play it smart and play it flexible, adapting your style and immediate intentions to the circumstances of the moment. Savour the whole experience and avoid getting killed, since death-and-retry breaks the immersion. Don't hit pause while you eat, drink and piss: find some cover and keep the game running. Don't go to bed during the night: curl up in a thin blanket and doze while the mission continues. Do not break the spell.
My point is that this is not a 'whole-campaign-all-in-one'. It is a single tremendous mission; an epic story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It captures much of what OFP has to offer and whatever your favourite genre, you'll probably find it here. What is more, you'll start this mission feeling like a boy ... and you'll end it feeling like a field marshal.Outro
The Outro is in the mission rather than being seperate, which in this case is right. It's deceptively simple, showing you the state of your squad and the island at the end of the mission. Excellent music as usual, which is used to great dramatic effect. Credits follow seamlessly and the whole thing provides a satisfying end to an extraordinary experience, gently lowering you back into real life.Special
Abandoned Armies is designed for Veteran mode, do not play it in Cadet mode. You'll need to be able to navigate over the whole island in bad weather with only a map and compass. If you're not good enough to play in Vet, learn. It's worth it - this mission is what OFP was built for. This is a very long mission and will take you the best part of a day to complete, even without retries. (Some beta testers took over 24 hours of game time.) There are 42 radio savegames and you should use one about every 20 minutes or so, depending on your approach. Time acceleration is disabled, and rightly so. Note that you must set Video Options/Terrain detail to Normal or strange things will happen to some static objects. This is an OFP bug which is not noticeable in ordinary missions.
The use of weather is immaculate and random weather scripts (such as in ECP) must be turned off. Due to the large size of the mission it is advisable not to use mods such as ECP at all, unless you have a very powerful computer. After the Briefing there is a dialogue allowing you to disable some environmental effects, which is necessary if you have a low end machine. It doesn't affect gameplay. The effects switched off include the vehicle burn scripts, animal sounds, and some flag effects.
Most vehicles have music players. An example of the attention to detail is that the music player won't work if the vehicle is damaged, but will work if the vehicle is repaired. This is even true of the helicopters, should you be skilful enough and lucky enough to capture one.
The two enemy armies are entirely different in character. At first they appear to be the same, since both are composed of a mixture of Soviet and American units, but when you look closely you will see that they are totally different. What's that? You want me to tell you how they are different? Oh no. Oh dear me no. But I will tell you that the character of each army reflects the character of its leader.
Both the enemy armies have patrols and convoys. These work as they would in real life, stopping at fuel stations to refuel. Keeping them running indefinitely is a remarkable technical achievement by the author, given the AI's enthusiasm for crashing into trees and each other. If a vehicle is damaged the crew will get out to "repair" it. The embarked infantry will also dismount and attack you if you are detected nearby. Should you manage to escape, they will re-embark and continue their journey.
There are 15 cutscenes in the mission and they are dynamic: the cutscenes you actually see and their precise script depends on what other cutscenes and events have occurred. Some of them are "secret" in that they are not part of the main plot and you'll find them only by means of observation and initiative. Most players will see about ten of the cutscenes - it's impossible to see them all because some are mutually exclusive. To get the full experience of this mission you need to play it more than once, and play it differently. There are about ten voice actors and some play more than one part.
As if all that wasn't enough, the mission is packed with special effects. Some you are bound to find (the wolves and other animals and sounds), some you might find (mad women), and some you will find only if you play the mission two or three times while paying attention. (I won't spoil the surprise.) Once you've gathered your squad, if that's what you choose to do, there is a squad reorganisation script so that you can select who is at 2, who is at 3 and so on. This is a serious piece of scripting because the game engine treats different models (e.g. medic, women) differently. Each member of your squad has a unique personality and will talk to you while you reorganise. Listen to what they say. Their skill level increases as they gain experience.
Several OFP "features" have been fixed. For example, tanks which have no ammo at all cannot normally re-arm, but in this mission they can. When you are in a civilian vehicle, enemy soldiers usually don't react to you but here they often will.
48 people beta tested this mission. There is no "last loon" problem. I didn't find any bugs and I suspect there aren't any.
Do you see what I'm getting at? This "Special" section is longer than the entire review for most missions. And I've missed out a whole bunch of stuff, like the roadblock that is established when a road is no longer required because the convoy that uses it has been destroyed. The whole damn mission is special.Click for the old beta thread (locked).
nominesine interviews the author, THobson.