America’s Army: Proving Grounds — Open Beta Impressions

The America’s Army games have met their share of controversy for their supposed propagandistic presentation. In the series’ past games, players were required to go through a virtual boot camp before being able actually play. Even to take the role of a medic, virtual-soldiers-to-be had to sit through an educational video teaching how to treat various real-life battlefield injuries, and subsequently take a somewhat lengthy test on the subject. I personally never really got into the America’s Army games that sparked all of this bickering, primarily because my computer at the time couldn’t run it well. But as a prerequisite for previewing this new entry, I decided to go back and play America’s Army 3. It’s tactical, and it feels very intense, but it’s egregiously clunky. Luckily, that last bit isn’t true for Proving Grounds, while the necessity of tactics and the intensity of combat remain mostly intact.

Like I said, I hadn’t played much of previous America’s Army games. All I really knew about them before playing Proving Grounds was that all of the PC releases were entirely free-to-play first-person-shooters. Well… and that a whole lot of people complained that it was brainwashing teenagers into joining the army. But upon first viewing videos for Proving Grounds, I was less-than enthralled by the idea of playing it. The videos I watched of it made it appear to hold a quality similar to that of Combat Arms, another free-to-play shooter that I’m not at all a fan of. Luckily, Proving Grounds proved me wrong.

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In Proving Grounds, those previously mentioned training segments are done away with entirely, and like its predecessors, it’s entirely free. But unlike past entries in the series, it doesn’t play much like a semi-realistic military simulator, it plays like a high-quality, mainstream shooter. You can no longer lean in the game, a feature the series always had, and your character’s ability to sprint is now unlimited. On top of that, your overall freedom of movement is greater than in the previous games. While this is – for the most part – as it makes that game very approachable, the Battlefield-like mobility you have can take away from the intensity the admittedly clunky interface of the original games brought. But much worse, a lot of players use that mobility in an incredibly stupid way, and treat the game as if it were Call of Duty. As it turns out, running and gunning in a game where each player can only take one or two hits is a bad idea.

Another new mechanic introduced in the game is securing enemies. An enemy can be downed twice in a round before being out of the game for good (the games are typically best out of 15 rounds). Meaning if they are shot down, a teammate can revive them. However, if you can secure them, they’ll be out for remainder of the round. The only caveat being that the now-secured player’s teammates have a short, five-second window to free him.

The equipment up for use in the game is pretty standard, you can choose an assault rifle, sniper, shotgun, or a light machine gun. And of course a pistol as a sidearm for each weapon class. In addition to that, there are different sights you can choose from for each weapon, and you can choose from a host of different grenades to use. Another first to the series is that you can preform silent take-downs on your enemies, if you’re feeling sneaky.

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There is a player progression system in the game, but it appears to be strictly for bragging rights. There are no unlockable weapons, nor are there any other sort of upgrades. I assume your progression level is used to inform the game’s matchmaking system if you choose to use it rather than just pick a room from its manual server-browser. A sort of neat feature is that you will go down in rank for doing things like team-killing, so people who have played the game for a while will (in theory) not have to deal with grievers very often. Also, the fact that there are no unlockables may sound like a knock against Proving Grounds, but it’s actually sort of nice to know that everyone only has access to the same equipment you do. Not worrying about an enemy player having an especially powerful high-level gun also ensures that the game remains entirely skill-based.

The Game also offers a pretty decent map variety, with a total of thirteen maps that each offer dramatically different layouts. The only downside is that they all sport the same brown-and-gray color palette. There are also three game-types to play on these maps, Extraction, Destroy, and Activate. Extraction is your standard one-flag CTF, in Destroy you have to plant a bomb on a single target, and in Activate you have to activate one of three target-computers-things. You can play all of these different match-types with either twelve or twenty-four other players.

Proving Grounds has proven to be a pretty solid FPS so far, especially when you consider that it’s entirely free. Although since the game is funded by the government, technically, we’ve already paid for it as tax-payers. But still, it’s a pretty great game considering the cost of entry. It doesn’t do anything mind-blowing that you haven’t seen in any other shooter, but it rises above being competent and reigns as a very fun and tense game that has entered my FPS rotation. The game’s open beta is now available on Steam, and I highly recommend that everyone with an interest in the genre gives it a try. Maybe it will at the very least hold you over until Battlefield 4.