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Free Favorites - America's Army
Basic Training by FPS

October 7 2005

In 2002, the U.S. Army took a unique approach to getting young people interested in the armed forces by releasing a free video game. Originally called America's Army: Operations, the latest version, which adds the goal of wearing the coveted Green Beret, is titled America's Army: Special Forces (Downrange). AA is a multiplayer first-person shooter that puts you through a short simulation of basic training and then takes you online to test your skills against other players. Even if you have little desire to join the forces, America's Army is a quality game with excellent graphics that could keep you entertained for many hours.

America's Army borrows its basic format from Counter-Strike. Two teams, which spawn at the same time, battle over specific map objectives. Once dead, you don't respawn until the next round begins. Unlike CS, your virtual soldier's performance record is stored online. As you progress through the various missions, you gain access to better weaponry and more official servers.

This game focuses on creating a realistic simulation of infantry combat, and could be called the most realistic game of its kind. After all, who has better access to authentic army equipment than the army themselves? Subsequently, the M249 looks, sounds, and reloads like the real thing. Some guns will jam, others are inaccurate at certain distances, and even your character's breathing is taken into account. You'll also find that your run speed is affected by how much gear you're carrying.

Unlike most online shooters, before you can jump into the action in AA, you must complete some basic training. Although brief, it takes you through target practice with the primary weapons, sends you over an obstacle course, and so on, complete with a drill sergeant yelling in your face. It's in your interest to do well in these training missions, as your score is recorded, and a decent score will open up opportunities later on that are otherwise unavailable. You may feel like killing your drill sergeant before getting through the first few exercises, but I don't recommend it, as you'll find out quickly enough what the inside of a Fort Leavenworth military prison cell looks like.

America's Army Screenshot
Screenshot of America's Army

In keeping with the emphasis on realism, friendly fire is taken very seriously. You'll still come across the odd team-killing griefer, but it all goes on their virtual soldier's record, and if they keep it up for too long, they are essentially booted from the game in an unforgiving military fashion.

It's important to try not to shoot your own teammates by accident. In some missions the enemy is easy to distinguish, while in others the two sides look very similar. If you're close enough, you will get a telltale red dot in your sights for enemies, as opposed to a green dot for friendlies. Note that both sides always see themselves as the "good guys" in the U.S. Army. There is no option to play a bad guy, but you are always fighting against them. So, for the most part, the enemy is anyone that isn't wearing an army helmet and fatigues.

AA uses the Unreal graphics engine, and it shows. Graphically it is right up there with some of the best retail games around. The maps include large outdoor areas that are very well-proportioned, with lush trees and weather effects. Again, realism has been made a priority; spent shell casings appear on the ground, most guns are aimed raising the "iron sights" to eye level, authentic army hand signals can be used in addition to the radio, and so on.

Despite the attention to military detail, there is a noticeable absence of blood and gore. The game is largely a marketing tool, after all. Graphic representations of what you might really look like after taking a grenade to head could discourage potential new recruits, or, perhaps worse, raise the game's ESRB rating.

Like most online shooters, you will be confronted with formidable opponents when you enter a multiplayer match. Be prepared to spend considerable time taking cover, using the prone position, and trying to coordinate with your teammates. Daring Rambo-like solo efforts almost always result in immediate death. Cheating was a big problem until Punkbuster support was introduced, but it has now been reduced to a minimum.

This game isn't just a terrific bargain, it could be the most realistic infantry FPS made yet. Mac and Linux versions have become available, which is more good news for AA fans. Be careful out there, soldier!

Minimum System Requirements
- 1.3 GHz processor or equivalent.
- 256 MB RAM.
- 3D graphics card with 64 MB memory and support for hardware transformation and lighting.
- DirectX 8.1.
- 1.62 GB free hard disk space.
- DirectX 8 compatible sound card.
- 56.6k modem or better Internet connection.

Download Locations
Windows Full Client (728 MB). Other versions and incremental patches are also available at most of these sites.
- 3D Gamers (Windows, Mac, Linux)
- FilePlanet
- FileShack
- GameSpot
- IGN.com
- Apple.com (Mac)

Related Links
Official America's Army Site

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