The Five: America's Army 3
The Skinny: Seven years after the U.S. government got into the games business in a big way with the first America's Army, the game gets a major update with a focus on realism and new technology in America's Army 3.
1. It's about "outreach, not recruiting." That's according to PR Director Lori Mezoff, who explained that there are no recruiters in the game pestering the best players to sign up, "The Last Starfighter"-style. It's more about "telling the Army story," Mezoff said, providing a feel for the Army life and letting that attract people. Is it working? According to Mezoff, 30 percent of young Americans have played an America's Army game, and 30 percent of those players say they're more likely to enlist in the Army because they played. You do the math.
2. It's about more than shooting people. The Army's real-world "LDRSHIP" value system -- Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage -- is built into the game in clever ways. You gain Integrity points for not shooting teammates, for instance; Respect points for playing a hopeless match out to the end; and Selfless Service for healing your teammates. The team behind the game hopes a focus on these kinds of stats will help prevent the selfish griefing that infects other online shooters.
3. There's no bunny hopping. Apparently, military advisors who saw the jumping in early builds of the game suggested that real soldiers, who carry 60-plus pounds of equipment on their backs, wouldn't even come close to being able to jump around. In-game soldiers can still vault over low walls, though, and lunge into a prone position or perform a "combat slide" based on real Army techniques. All these moves are made easier if you carry around fewer items, and in-game actions like throwing a grenade make you imperceptibly lighter.
4. "This is not Hollywood." While other games focus on making combat seem more exciting, the team behind AA3 seems obsessed with recreating the sights and sounds of real combat. The pop of an in-game bullet, for instance, changes with the distance from the enemy, and echoes realistically if you're in an enclosed space. The screen slowly adjusts to the bright light of the sun when you emerge from a dark basement. The realism extends to the gameplay too, with bullets ricocheting realistically off hard surfaces like stone and metal, while going right through thin drywall. Players, like soldiers, will have to learn the difference between mere "concealment" and true "cover."
5. It's a stat hound 's dream. The game keeps track of everything from your average life expectancy and number of enemies killed to your favorite weapons and where you tend to get shot the most. It even has in-game Achievements based on real Army training badges, and "Gamercoins" that mimic the Military coins officers grant soldiers for going above and beyond the call of duty.
The Crispy Forecast: Things have come a long, awesome way since those plastic Army Men.
This preview is based on a hands-on demo of the game at GDC 2009.