A still image is seen from the siege map in 'America's Army: Proving Grounds.' The newest game in the Army's franchise emphasizes urban warfare-style training. (Army)
A still image is seen from the hospital map in 'America's Army: Proving Grounds.' (Army)
The military is launching its next salvo into the online multiplayer gaming front with today’s release of “America’s Army: Proving Grounds.”
Game developers tell OFFduty that the main emphasis in “Proving Grounds” is on team-based, urban warfare-style training as tensions rise in the fictitious country of Ostregal. Players complete missions, first fine-tuning their tactics as part of six-man teams in smaller, more focused drills, then advancing to larger, more complex 12-vs.-12 exercises.
OFFduty got a chance to preview the game while it was in the final throes of beta testing, and game play proved fluid and easy to jump into with solid, rich graphics that match most commercial offerings. Some veteran players of the game, however, will be disappointed there’s still no respawn. While teammates can patch you up when you’re wounded, when you “die,” you’re out of action until the next mission. The good news, however, is that the missions are fast-paced, and re-entry doesn’t take long.
Players assume the role of an infantryman who is part of a “Long Range Combined Arms — Recon” unit that has deployed downrange, but whose members are still training for actual combat. In terms of game play, however, the exercises have all the look and feel of actual fighting.
“You will be deployed into battle with the ‘real’ enemy in the next release, but for now it’s still all stimulated combat,” said Marsha Berry, project manager for “America’s Army.”
Women in combat
While the real-world military is in the process of integrating women into infantry units, players will not yet be able to play as women in the game. But Berry expects that will change in upcoming patches. She said that once she gets the green light from Army brass, her team of developers should be able to bring female characters into the game within about six months.
“There are some aspects of that we can do right away, but to have female players who actually look and move like real women in the game, that takes some time,” Berry said.
The game is rated “Teen” for violence and can be downloaded free from from Steam. America’s Army is produced by the military’s own Army Game Studio based at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.
The fourth installment in the “America’s Army” franchise, the latest offering responds to complaints that the controls in the first-person shooter had gotten too complex for newbie players.
The first “America’s Army” launched 11 years ago. It was followed by “America’s Army: Special Forces” in 2003 and “America’s Army 3” in June 2009. More than 13 million players have registered “America’s Army” accounts over the years, with more than 260 million hours played on the various titles.
“We built ‘America’s Army: Proving Grounds’ to appeal to novice as well as experienced ‘America’s Army’ players,” Berry said. “New users were getting killed too fast because there were too many expert FPSer playing,” she said.
So for players new to the franchise, a more “intuitive style of game play” will allow players to gain experience and confidence much easier,” Berry said. “We have a hardcore mode that gives a nod to the expert players out there as well.”
Meanwhile, “we’ve integrated a whole slew of features designed around teamwork.” Indeed, Berry said missions cannot be completed by lone-wolf players. “We spent a lot of time in beta testing refining that. If you could do a mission by yourself, we changed it.”
For example, players will be need to administer first aid to teammates as they move through the mission sets.
“Our emphasis on teamwork will allow new players to succeed and allow experienced players a new level of depth in how they wish to strategize with their clans and train for competition,” Berry said.
“Designers are also introducing a new map style that’s smaller and more focused, allowing players to be much more thoughtful and strategic in their game play.”
The “America’s Army” franchise offers up an interesting case of life imitating art imitating life, with the military’s actual first-person shooters getting into the gaming business, which of course has been long been dominated with military-themed games such as “Call of Duty,” “Battlefield” and the future-war series “Halo.”
Unlike the commercial franchises, however, where the military and game characters may or may not come across as well as top brass would like, “America’s Army” is designed to put the military’s best face forward.
“The game reflects the bedrocks of soldiering to include adherence to Army values, the importance of training and individual development, as well as the necessity of teamwork and leadership for success in small unit actions and missions,” reads a recent announcement on the game.
So, yeah, don’t look to go breaking the rules of engagement even if you wanted to in this game.
Don’t worry, in-game voice chat still allows plenty of room for smack talking.