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GDC 2009: America's Army 3

I wasn't sure what to expect when being shown America's Army 3; I knew a little about the series, but had never played it before. I'm not the biggest FPS devotee, and had some unsupported bias against the title, based on nothing more than a prevailing feeling of "What does the Army know about making video games?" As it turns out, quite a lot.

The guiding watchword for the series has always been Realism. The Army considers the AA series an "outreach tool", and as such, wants the action, types of missions, gear, and tactics employed to hew as close to reality as possible. For someone who's tired of watching a group of endlessly jumping, hyperbolic characters armed with ridiculously over-the-top weaponry scamper around similarly unrealistic environments, the approach to verisimilitude was just the change I needed to get excited about playing an FPS again.

First, let's talk about what's new to the series. It's running on the Unreal 3 engine, so that gives you a good idea of the system requirements. AA3 will make the first in the series to be available on Steam, and the dev team promises constant content updates as the title matures.

The interface will feature a new radial menu, offering quick access to frequently-used commands. The minimal HUD is by design, and offers more immersiveness. Additionally, players will have access to the Blue Force Tracker, which operates as a kind of teammate locator. Players will operate as a unit, or fireteam, and these will be color-based on the Tracker. You'll know at a glance where each teammate is, and players have the ability to point an enemy out by putting a marker in the Tracker, though the dot won't move as the enemy moves.

Advancement comes through a points system that rewards good play behavior, which includes staying within the mission parameters, following orders, etc. AA3 is all about team-based play, which is how real-life squads operate. This is not to say that there isn't room for personal growth as well; on the contrary, your profile will contain a metric ton of stats collected throughout, that track expected numbers like confirmed kills, but also higher-level ideals. Any player will be able to visit your profile to see how it would be to have you on your team, based on a set of Values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. These Values all map to specific in-mission behaviors. For example, you might choose to sacrifice yourself to buy your retreating teammates a chance to escape the field, and thus earn points in Selfless Service. Continuing on even while mortally wounded would put points into your Personal Courage Value. These stats add up over time and provide a fairly accurate indication of the type of team player you are.

Also displayed in your profile are your badges and medals, which are gained through the acquiring of Achievements, which operate just like similar console-based achievements, and is another new addition to the series; and Ribbons, which are gained over a longer stretch of time and represent the culmination of a more in-depth campaign.

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