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America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

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  • America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

    America’s Army: Past, Present, and Future…

    By: Chuck “Magnum” Ankenbauer


    Back in 2002, I heard the US Army was getting ready to release a free computer game for recruitment purposes. I love America, and I love the Army, (Heck, I spent just over ten years in it), but I was skeptical. What would the US Army know about making a computer game? How exciting or fun would this game be if it’s a “recruitment” tool?

    Well, America’s Army was released for free to the public on Independence Day 2002, (at least they had a good marketing team), I downloaded it immediately upon release and now it’s the winter holidays of 2005, and I’m still playing more America’s Army then any other game.

    What does the Army know about making a computer game? A whole lot in my opinion. I would gladly spend 50 bucks for this game, but thanks to me, and my fellow American taxpayers, we get it free. HOOAH!


    The America’s Army game has had 18 public releases/updates since its initial release of America’s Army: Recon (v1.0) on July 4th, 2002.

    In that release you had a number of training missions like the obstacle course, qualification with your M16A2 rifle, other US Military weapons like the M249 SAW and the M203 Grenade Launcher, and then concluded with MOUT tactical training.

    The game released with a small number of fun, and very well made missions/maps. The maps were the famous bridge crossing, HQ raid, insurgent camp, MOUT McKenna, pipeline, and collapsed tunnel. On a few of the missions you could use the MILES training system, which was a nice change from regular weapon fire, at least at the beginning.

    I won’t list all 18 updates, since most were correction patches. But below is a small list of the updates that were quite significant, or added something new. It shows the dedication the development team has with this game, and the probability that we will see more updates in the future.

    August 1st, 2002 The Marksmanship Pack v1.1.1 was released. This release included the M24 (sniper) training.

    August 22nd, 2002 The Airborne/Ranger Pack v1.2.0 was released. This brought in the 250 ft Jump tower training and the live jump training. It also introduced three new maps. FLS Assault, Swamp Raid, and Mountain Ambush.

    October 3rd, 2002 America’s Army: Operations v1.2.1 map pack was released. This included two new maps, the JRTC Farm and the Weapons Cache.

    October 10th, 2002 America’s Army: Operations v1.3.0. Was released with the Mountain Pass map.

    November 15th, 2002 v1.4.0 the River Basin map was released.

    December 23rd, 2002 v1.5.0 was released just in time for Christmas. This included the Weapons Cache Special Edition map.

    March 16th, 2003 v1.6.0 was released with the Radio Tower mission.

    April 21st, 2003 v1.7.0 was released with the Bridge Special Edition mission.

    August 8th, 2003 v1.9.0 (yes, version 8 was skipped for some reason.) This version introduced the Medic. It included the Airway Management training, the Controlling Bleeding training, the treating shock training, and the medic field test. It also introduced the Mountain Pass Special Edition mission.

    November 6th, 2003 a big update was released. This was America’s Army: Special Forces v2.0.0. This version introduced the Special Forces soldier. You had to be honor 15 or above to be a SF soldier, and also had to complete the SF classroom training, and a very difficult SF escape and evasion mission. It also introduced four new missions. SF Hospital, SF CSAR, SF Recon, and Pipeline SF. You also got to build your own custom weapon system.

    December 21st, 2003 introduced v2.0.0a which included a new mission, Sandstorm.

    June 1st, 2004 introduced v2.1.0 which included the SF Village and the SF Artic missions.

    October 19th, 2004 v2.2.0 introduced SF Oasis and SF Taiga.

    February 18th, 2005 v2.3.0 brought us Urban Assault and the Woodland Outpost missions.

    May 5th, 2005 v2.4.0 introduced the SF Courtyard mission, the SF Blizzard mission, the SF PCR mission, and the SF Water Treatment mission.

    And the Present:

    On October 15th, 2005 the latest edition of America’s Army: Special Forces was released.
    Titled America's Army: Special Forces (Direct Action) v2.5.0, this update added two maps to the game. The first called SF Extraction, which has both teams trying to locate and retrieve a suitcase with valuable information on a terrorist cell. Players are able to play as either the US Special Forces or the unidentified "Indigenous Forces." SF Extraction's spawn and retraction points are created randomly to keep it fresh and mixed up a little.

    The second map, SF Dockside, is a smaller tournament map set in a supply harbor during the night. It puts two teams of US Special Forces soldiers against each other in a race to find and hold two cargo containers full of biological weapons. Like in Extraction, Dockside's spawn and container points are randomly generated.

    The new update also features a new training mission which sports tactics from the Army's MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) program. Titled Shoot House, it allows the player to enter a 10-room house full of randomly generated targets, which they must shoot when they pop up. The level is timed and scored for each weapon, with results being recorded on your profile.


    Since the game has been out for almost four years now, most gamers know about it and either like it or don’t. That makes this “review” a little difficult because it really depends on what you’re looking for in a squad tactical shooter. If you’re looking for a single player game or a run and gun type game, then America’s Army is probably not for you, nor is Tactical Gamer for that matter. But if you prefer to play online with real people as a team with proper military tactics and strategies, then America’s Army might be what you’re looking for. America’s Army is a prime example of a computer game that best fits the style of play, we here at Tactical Gamer look for.

    But for the cost of this game, as long as you have a broadband connection, then it would be ridiculous not to try it out. I hear from both sides of the opinion all the time, some complain that it’s too hard and too slow, and they don’t like having to “train” just to play a computer game. While others, like myself, love the fact that you have to complete training levels to get certain weapons and positions, and love the fact that the team that usually wins is the ones that play the way the game was designed, as a team. Now occasionally that’s not true, once in a while regular gamers get discouraged when an honor 80 plus comes in on the game server, knows and plays the map so well that as soon as the game starts, he goes running off on his own, and usually dominates. This is great for him but it defeats the purpose of the game and the purpose of belonging to a gaming group like TG that strive to use teamwork. So you can have a great game or you can leave with the feeling that it was all a waste of time, especially when the game play is ruined by these “Rambo” type players.

    Like I mentioned earlier, I like the way the training is set up for America’s Army. You have to earn positions, you have to earn the right to a weapon, and you have to earn the right to wear the “Green Beret”. All your stats are tracked through the America’s Army authentication servers. This tracks the training you have done, and tracks your honor points earned and lost during game play.

    There is no single player, minus the training missions, so there is no idiot AI to deal with. After you create your profile, and go through the basic training, which is the obstacle course, qualification with your M16A2 rifle, other US weapons familiarization, and then the MOUT training, you’re off to join one of the many online servers, preferable our very own honor server. Look for it in the in-game browser, titled “Tactical Gamer SF”.

    When on an honor server, how you do is tracked. How many enemy kills you get, how many objectives you get, and how many of your team members live when you’re the leader, all adds honor points to your score. Also, if you team kill, or injure members of your team you are hit with a major point penalty, and if this is done within the first 15 seconds or so, you’ll find yourself booted from the server sitting in a cell at Ft. Leavenworth.

    For the new gamer to America’s Army this seems to be a major problem when starting out and can chase players away from the game. I know, I got booted at least once a night when I first started, but if you stick with it, you eventually learn how to tell the good guys from the bad, and it gets better. I didn’t like these honor points at first, but then I got addicted to them, just had to keep playing till I got up one more level. I have been playing the same “character” since release, I play an average of 4 hours of America’s Army a week, and I’m only at honor 40. I know gamers who play 4 hours a night, every night, and are honor 80 plus with there third or forth character. These are the ones that usually dominate, and sometimes ruin the games for us regular players. They go out and kill all the enemies before you even get to the objective your suppose to defend, this is a problem that needs to be addressed either in game, or with server administrators.

    Another thing about America’s Army, you are always the good guys, no matter what side you are on. And you always see the enemy as, well… the enemy.

    Later on in the game more training opens up and with success come more weapons. First came the sniper qualifications, which is hard to get, followed by airborne training, with airborne missions opening up for you. Then came the medic training, which gave you the chance to pick playing a medic in game, and getting points for healing fellow soldiers by going up to them and using your “use” key. And finally the Special Forces training, which after completing the training, including a hard and time consuming escape and evasion test, Special Forces positions open up on new maps. Of course you also have to be an honor 15 or above to be SF. As an SF soldier you can customize your own weapon (SOPMOD M4 Carbine) with a lot of real world extras like special sights, attachments, and silencers.

    The game HUD is laid out well with all the information you need. You have a compass up top which shows direction, objective waypoints, leaders, and medics. On the top right it tells you your current location on the map, and what your rank is and what fire team you’re assigned to. The objectives are just below. And your weapon, ammo count, and grenade count is displayed at the bottom of the screen.

    A hidden treasure in the game that most players are aware of but many new players don’t know about is the communications menu. You can set key binds for radio traffic, whisper, yell, and hand signals. Then when needed you hit your commo key and send out commands like “cover me”, “enemy spotted”, “enemy down”, and many more. Of course if you’re playing with a clan or gaming group then a communications program like team speak is better then fumbling with the comms key strokes. The communications menu is a nice feature if you can’t or won’t use team speak. (Here at Tactical Gamer, being on our team speak server, in the America’s Army channel is highly encouraged, especially when we lock the server for TG members only.)

    One of my favorite parts of the game is how leadership and fire teams work. If you’re not the man in charge, then you’re assigned to a fire team. Usually A, B, C, or D. Within those fire teams is a leader. So the fire team leaders take there general directions/orders from the squad leader, and members of the fire team take there orders from the fire team leader. The fire teams are the ones that work as a team, and if you stay close to your fire team leader you fire better and more stable then if away and on your own.

    So, the squad leader will usually develop the plan and order the fire teams to implement it. It could be something like “Alpha team, move to objective B towards the North, Bravo team, move East then North to flank the objective, Charlie team (the sniper team or support team), go high ground for cover”. The fire teams move out towards there objectives with the fire team leaders reporting status and contacts. Then if one team makes contact or gets ambushed on the way to the objective, the squad leader should adapt and overcome, by changing fire team orders. The possibilities of real world small team tactics are unlimited. If you find the right group to play with, practice, and learn you’ll end up loving this game.

    Unfortunately if your just a single player minded gamer, and just join a random server you may still have fun but your missing out on the best part of this game. You’re missing out on the goals of the game design as well.

    When part of a fire team you play the role you’re assigned, you could be the team leader, or maybe a M249 SAW gunner. You could be a grenadier with your M203 (40mm grenades), or a simple but valuable rifleman. Each weapon fires and handles differently, and proper reloading procedures and weapon jams are modeled. So, if your assigned to suppress an enemy location or choke point, then you need to know how to handle the M249 SAW machine gun for proper suppressive fire, (3 to 5 second burst), if your assigned to suppress or clear windows, you need to know how to fire the M203 grenade through the window. The rifleman is usually supporting or watching the flanks of the specialty with his trusting M16A2.

    You also get a number of military toys to deploy. You have the typical fragmentation grenade, which has a 5 second throw fuse, or you can cook it off for a really good timed kill, but be careful, you get shot and drop it at your feet, you just may take out your whole team. You also have smoke to conceal your movements, and flash bangs which come in handy when trying to clear out rooms. You also have explosive cord for blowing in doors, that was just introduced a couple of updates ago.

    America’s Army simulates a small squad in today’s types of small unit warfare. The missions vary in many ways with many objectives. In some you simply have to make it from point A to point B, while others you have to infiltrate a compound to retrieve data from a computer, or rescue a POW. In later missions you have multiple objectives, for instance one of them being to make contact with an informant then your objective changes to locating a briefcase, then finally getting away to a certain point with that brief case. All along, the other team is usually tasked to stop you, or protect the vital information. There are so many missions and maps that you can’t get bored with this game once you’re into it. And with updates coming about every six months, more missions and maps are sure to be coming along.

    The downside of America’s Army really isn’t the games fault but more human behaviors fault. As I mentioned earlier, since there’s no AI characters and everyone you work with or do battle with is a human on the other end of a computer connection, humans ruin this game more then bugs or in game problems. Sure, the programmers do need to find away to stop some of these exploits but humans will always find a way to cheat the system and ruin the game play. America’s Army is protected by punk buster, and it works well, but humans are always one step ahead, so punk buster needs updating almost every few days of play. Like I said, you have the “Rambo” type of player that is just so good, he doesn’t want to work as a team or go for an objective he wants to virtually hunt then kill the enemy. Then you have gamers who know the map just way to well and know the spawn points of the enemy they start the game by throwing fragmentation grenades or shooting M203 rounds to the known spawn points or the known choke areas that the enemy has to come down. The newer maps/missions have addressed this problem some what by adding random spawn points, but sometimes the spawn points or so randomly close that an engagement begins within 10 seconds of game start not giving a team to develop or start a tactical plan. I would love to see more open, larger maps, with many avenues of approach to an objective. This would give the assault team more options for proper military tactics, and force the defense team to actually defend the objective, instead of going out on there hunt. Remember, most missions, your not suppose to know what direction the enemy is coming from, but you do and naturally you play to that.

    I also have a problem with the suppressive fire. The game supposedly models that if your taken fire near your location, your ability to stabilize and return fire is reduced, but many times I will see an enemy in the open, will engage with suppressive fire with my M249 SAW, and watch them stop, turn and shoot me dead. I think suppressive fire needs to be addressed a little more in the next major update or upgrade.

    Two new features in the latest version are long over due. A server administrator can make certain players “player admins”, these guys can bring up the server information and settings with the F12 key. They can then change the rules, server settings, or kick or ban players. They can also change the maps and number of games in a round. They can also instant message in game other players. I use this to tell those “Rambo” types to play the game as a team or leave. They usually comply or they get booted off the server. It’s a fantastic tool, as long as it’s not abused by the player/admin.

    The second feature is the new tournament mode. You can put the server in tournament mode using the F12 key; select your maps and number of games per round. Then two clans or gaming groups can join each side with there own password. The game starts with a 60 second free tour of the map, so your team can do it’s planning, again usually over team speak. Once the free tour is over the match starts, it changes sides automatically, and then outputs a log of the tournament results. Incredible tool for clans and competing groups.


    America’s Army is a great game with little built in flaws. The maps and missions are well done, and the weapons effects are the best I’ve ever played. (the first time I used my iron sights with my M16A2, and I had to control my breathing, I had a small basic training flashback, the only thing missing was the screaming drill sergeants and recruits doing push ups in the background.) The leadership roles and the fire teams work well, and force teamwork. The goals of the missions are varied and most are quite fun, with the newer missions being more random. The background sound effects are second to none, the sound of jets flying overhead, or the sound of combat in the distance just adds to the sense of realism. If played with a dedicated group of gamers who like using teamwork and tactics, then this game is the best small unit squad tactical shooter I have ever played.

    On the opposite side, this game is only as good as the players make it. The players that want to run off on there own, shoot or lobe grenades to known areas, or feel the need to use cheats ruin this game, and can turn an evening of gaming to a big waste of time.

    What I think the developers need to work on in future updates is better suppression, larger maps with more areas to enter and exit from, and VOIP support. This game has to be played over team speak in order to play the way it was meant to be played , and I for one would like to see built in support for VOIP, (kind of like Counter Strike does), so any and all gamers can talk when needed. I would also like to see a better way for fire team leaders to control and communicate with there team, while still communicating with the squad leader. I hate to say it, but I would love for some type of team control like Battlefield 2 has in America’s Army. Teams need to stay together and fight together, all a while team leaders need to know the big picture and be able to adapt to the squad leaders commands. I would also like to see options to draw up plans on the over head map, and have where the squad leader can make where they want fire teams to go, and that would show up in the HUD as a marker.

    Hey, if you read this long article then you either have the game already, or you definitely have interest in playing it. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, then exit this window and go get it, it’s free and you won’t be disappointed. Once you get good at it, find yourself a group of gamers to play with, that ups the game play to a higher level. Stick with it for a month or two before you uninstall it, it seems to be a difficult game at first, but with a little play time it gets better, a lot better. If you’re a member of Tactical Gamer, we have a dedicated honor server 24/7, join, introduce yourself, and ask for help. We TG members are very good at getting the new guys up and running. If you play with TG, especially on a night when we lock the server just for us, you will love this game… that’s a promise.


    I’ve requested information from the Public Relations Officer and the Developer of America’s Army about the future of this free game. They have responded positively to my e-mails, but I haven’t heard from them since my request for information was submitted. I assume that there either on a holiday break or working too hard on the next update.
    So what I say next is not confirmed. I am friends with a couple members of the America’s Army team and understand in my unofficial chats that America’s Army will continue to update and add new features. The goal of the development team according to my unconfirmed source is to keep making America’s Army as realistic as possible, that includes adding a few of the things I mentioned was needed.
    It’s also rumored that light vehicles will eventually be added. Personally I’m not really a big fan of that idea. My belief is that AA is great as is, it should stay a small unit tactical shooter, and vehicles are not needed. I do look forward to the next versions, the next maps, and the next missions, but “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it” is my opinion.

    I also heard that they may implement AI enemy so you can play either single player or in cooperative mode, kind of like SWAT 4. Again, AI programming adds a whole mess of new problems, so I say again, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”

    But no matter what they decide to do, I’m in. This game will stay on my hard drive as long as they continue supporting it, and as long as I have a dedicated gaming group that plays the game the way it was meant to be played. That is with teamwork and real world tactics, that after all is the purpose of America’s Army and games like it.
    Magnum |TG-18th|

    We stand between chaos and order, evil and good, despair and hope - we are the Thin Blue Line, and we will never be broken.

  • #2
    Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

    I honestly think an In-game VOIP needs to implemented
    [age-c1] [gchq-c1] [air2] [tog-c1][tpf-c1]


    • #3
      Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

      Awsome Magnum. Nice work.

      TG boys can just use TeamSpeak.

      AA is the perfect for TacticalGamer playstyle. Its slower than BF2 and CSS so there is good oppertunity for tactics.

      It a difficult game at first but we got excellent admins and players at TG that are more than happy to help out and involve new guys.

      Plus, the game is FREE. Give it a try!


      • #4
        Outstanding Magnum! Great stuff.


        • #5
          Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

          amazing post magnum..this will be on i actaully read

          i remember when this game first came out, i downloaded it but since i was on a 21.6kb connection it sucked so i stoped and every now and then when a new patch would come out id get it and see what was added. I looking forward to seeing whats going to happen with this game.
          that sounds like a good idea trooper.


          • #6
            Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

            Its great since i can play it on a mac. Thats all i care about, but the obstacle course is bugged because it won't let you crawl through the tube thingy. What ever, great review!


            • #7
              Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

              Originally posted by Trooper[SNPR]
              amazing post magnum..this will be on i actaully read.
              Next time I see you on a server, it's so on. :icon26:


              • #8
                Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

                Sniper duel.



                • #9
                  Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

                  Very well written review. Thank you. I have played and enjoyed AA, despite being on a public server, but I haven't had the chance to game with TGers yet because of our focus on BF2. I will make a point of joining the next TG AA game.


                  • #10
                    Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

                    I have read elsewhere that the FFW HUD UI might be modelled on the XBox or PS/2 UI because so many recruits are already familiar with it. I wonder if we'll see AA's UI resemble that of FFW.


                    • #11
                      Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

                      its really an amazing post with lots of informations
                      well the only thing im sayin is

                      ill see u on the AA server ;);)


                      • #12
                        Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

                        Originally posted by -=xXx=-
                        its really an amazing post with lots of informations
                        well the only thing im sayin is

                        ill see u on the AA server ;);)
                        Welcome to TG!


                        • #13
                          Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

                          I was inspired by Magnum50's article to download AA and I'm glad I did! Like Keithman, I too will try to join the TG AA server ASAP. I'm a relatively new member to TG and I've never played with other TG member so I'm looking forward to it. If all goes, well, heck I wouldn't mind becoming a supporting member!


                          • #14
                            Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

                            Magnum, this post has drawn in two new members.

                            Welcome to inferno!

                            The TG AA servers have been rather quiet over the past few weeks. This is probably because everyone is addicted to Eve. Hopfully we will organise a game for some time in the near future though.


                            • #15
                              Re: America's Army: Past, Present, Future...

                              eve, but also the holidays... it will pick back up after the holidays I believe... won't ever be as popular as other games, but we have a nice following now... I'll be back online, playing myself, probably next Sunday (not NYD thou.)
                              Magnum |TG-18th|

                              We stand between chaos and order, evil and good, despair and hope - we are the Thin Blue Line, and we will never be broken.




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