America's Army is a series of games being developed by leading game developers like Infogrames and Interplay. What makes this project so unique, though, is that these games are being financed by none other than the United States Army. Because of this, the game sports a price tag of exactly $0. The first two games - Operations and Soldier - were slated to be released on July 1, 2002, but only Operations was released. Operations is freely available to download from the Internet; those with 56k connections will also have the opportunity to snatch up one of the CD-ROMs being distributed with many PC gaming magazines. Sporting the brand new Unreal Warfare engine, America's Army has currently developed two games:
Operations casts the player as a member of an Army special-ops team. It is similar in nature to Counter-Strike. If a player suddenly decides to go Rambo, that player will find that death will come very quickly. The Army wants this to be as close to the real thing as possible; and according to PC Gamer's July 2002 magazine, they appear to have accomplished their goal. Silent hand signals will be essential due to the fact that the enemy can hear your radio. Guns can and will jam (except for the AK-47), often in the middle of combat. Each weapon even has its own muzzle flash!
The enemy, known as the OPFOR, is not playable. You are always on the American side. Depending on which side you join, you may be given different objectives. For example, one side may be required to secure an American embassy from the OPFOR, and the other side will be required to prevent the embassy from being taken over by the OPFOR. Ingenious.
Lamers and cheaters who currently plague Counter-Strike's servers are nowhere to be found on Operations servers. Team killers find themselves a nice comfy spot at the Fort Leavenworth military prison. Similarly, all official Army-funded Operations servers are patrolled 24 hours a day by HomeLAN admins. No SDKs are available, hindering cheating efforts, and should an exploit be discovered it will be quickly patched. In fact, several exploits have been patched already.
To ensure that players actually know what they're doing, each recruit is required to go through several offline training missions to accurately simulate what they'll be facing. These training missions are based on actual boot camp locations around the United States, and the Army has taken steps to ensure that boot camp exercises remain just as rigorous.
About two weeks have passed since Operations became available for download, and America's Army has literally been crushed by its own popularity. For some odd reason the in-game server browser doesn't work yet, so players are forced to rely on a third-party client like Gamespy or the All-Seeing Eye. At its peak, the authentication server was registering 15 players per second; it was absolutely swamped. HomeLAN increased their own servers by about 25%.
The gameplay is outstanding, although some server issues need to be addressed.
Currently at 1.5.0, the game has been vastly modified from its original version. A new "honor" system is in - your Honor score determines if you'll get that sniper rifle or not. Additionally, a Combat Effectiveness Meter has been added, showing how accurate your aim will be. Finally, several maps have been added - FARP Raid, FLS, among others.
Soldiers is a completely different game; it is an RPG casting the player as a boot camp recruit who must struggle with the actual hardships of Army life. Based on the real-life experiences of many boot camp graduates, the player must determine how the soldier is to act. A system somewhat like the Sims' method of measuring Hunger and Fun will be used. Instead of satisfying a soldier's basic needs, a player must choose whether a soldier will ultimately be brave and noble, or whether to act like a slacker and be kicked out of boot camp.
According to the AmericasArmy.com site, the game "...software Story Engine inside the game updates the story from moment to moment. This story drives a Movie Generation System that assembles and plays video and audio. SOLDIERS is like a combination of a movie and a simulation game: you can watch and hear the results of decisions that you make for your character."
Source: PC Gamer, AmericasArmy.com Operations forum admin postings