Uncle Sam Wants You!
The U.S. Army is making a video game. You heard me right - those guys with the guns and tanks and funny haircuts. I'm pretty sure this is a military first, but I'm absolutely sure that it won't be the last. In years to come we may see such games as France's Navy, Spanish Commandos, and The Mighty Canadian Air Force. I say all this because I think this just may be the best idea that the Army has had in years.
The Army sees America's Army as an advertising and promotional tool, and like may things the Army does, they're not doing it half-assed. AA (Can I call it that? It reminds me that I could use a drink) is a squad-based first-person shooter along the lines of Half Life: Counter Strike. It uses the latest Unreal engine, and it looks damn good.
While the Army itself is behind this game, the developers are not actually in the Army. They went outside the armed forces and hired real gaming nerds. However, all of them are employed by the Department of Defense. I wonder if they had to get drug tests. The guy I interviewed, while probably a fine programmer, didn't look like he would pass.
There are actually two separate games in America's Army: 'Soldiers' and 'Operations'. Soldiers is sort of a 2D strategy thing, though it's very shallow and functions more like a choose-your-own-adventure story. It's not so much a game as a recruiting tool.
The real meat lies in 'Operations', the first-person shooter. Like Counter Strike, the game attempts to be as realistic as possible. All the weapons are real Army-issue guns, and damage is quick and deadly. One bullet in the head and you're out for the rest of the round. However, unlike CS, AA will ship with a single-player game as well as a multiplayer component. But the single player missions are really training for what promises to be a robust multiplayer experience.
In AA, you will take on the role of an elite commando unit, an Army Ranger. You can further specialize to become a sniper or a heavy gunner or other military specialties that will give you access to different weaponry.
The mission objectives are very similar to those we have seen before. For example, on one map there is camp containing a computer that houses sensitive data. One team attacks the camp to try to download the data while the other team tries to defend the camp. There are other mission types as well, like blowing up a target or escorting a VIP to safety.
But here's the weird part: no matter which side you're on, you're in the US Army fighting the terrorists. If you choose to defend the camp in the scenario above, it looks like a US military camp to you and the attackers look like terrorists after your computer data. But if you're on the attacking team, the camp looks like a terrorist base and you must take the data from the fiendish rascals.
Apparently, the US Army doesn't want anyone to identify with the terrorists. But in so doing, they make US objectives and terrorist objectives appear to be exactly the same. Creepy.
The real kicker here is that the Army is just giving it away. That's right - the game is totally free. The boxed version will be available in stores, free of charge, and the full game will be available for download. Like I said, they consider it a promotional item, like a commercial. And as the Army guy explained to me, compared to the cost of a few Super Bowl commercials, this is a bargain.
A high-quality free game is absolutely guaranteed to make a big splash. So get ready to set your sights on some terrorists later this year, while the US Army sets its sights on you. Just remember to drink some Klean Tea before you pick it up.