Freeaim: Or ‘Once upon a time, I was misguided.’
Once upon a time, a much-younger me wrote an article about tactical gaming. At that time I was an Operation Flashpoint player, grown used to using the game’s “freeaim” system – wherein the weapon was not aligned with the view, and instead moved freely in a box shape. Another game at the time – Red Orchestra – used a similar system, as did a landmark tactical mod called Infiltration.
At the time, I believed this to be ‘The Way‘ to do realistic aiming.
In the years since, I have switched my stance on this completely – and, to answer the question posed to me on Tumblr:
Do you recommend aiming deadzone? Why/why not?
…I do not recommend using the aiming deadzone in any game that gives you an option, such as the ArmA series. I am strongly opposed to the feature in general these days, and it’s a big part of why I do not play Red Orchestra 2 with any frequency – as it does not give you that option and suffers for it.
Why is that, you ask?
Freeaim has no basis in reality and is terrible from a user-interface standpoint.
There, I said it.
Freeaim fails by virtue of how it works. In the context of the ArmA2 implementation, freeaim fails in that it forces you to ‘pan’ your view awkwardly by moving your aim to the limits of the ‘deadzone’ area before you’ll actually begin turning. From here, you end up with your weapon pointed in the direction you were turning, offset from your screen center in whatever direction that happened to be. Your actual aiming point – your muzzle direction if unsighted, or your irons if sighted – continually moves around your screen and relative to your viewing direction. One of the key principles of becoming a good shooter in the real world is being able to muscle-memory various common actions, such as indexing a stock in your shoulder, moving a weapon from a carrying posture (low/high ready, sul, etc) into a sighted posture, aligning your sights, establishing a stock weld, inserting or removing a magazine sight-unseen, and so forth.
Freeaim prevents you from developing this sort of muscle memory with the aiming process, as it provides a ‘moving target’ that constantly changes where your aiming point will be on-screen. In reality, a shooter looks at what they intend to engage, and their body works to bring their weapon up and aligned with where they’re looking. It is an absolutely natural process, and being able to repeatedly execute this concept unconsciously and with consistent results is key to being an effective shooter. It is true that you may end up twisting your torso or contorting your body in other ways to engage multiple targets, take advantage of cover, and so forth – however, this has little or no bearing on what you as a shooter are seeing. You are focusing on your target, your weapon sights are aligned with your eyes, and that’s that.
Freeaim/deadzone systems do not give you this result. The ‘traditional’ FPS style of having your weapon aligned with your view, as with ArmA if you turn the deadzone off, is the proper way to do things. Your mouse (or thumbstick if you’re a console dude) controls your intent. When I snap my mouse around to aim at something, this should be allowed, it should be repeatable and consistent (something ArmA2 struggles with due to other clunky mechanics of how aiming works – but, fortunately, this is something ArmA3 fixes!) – if you want to penalize me for ‘snap shooting’ or whatever you want to call it, there are other ways to do it that don’t involve me feeling like I’m controlling a game with clunky metal robot arms. Deadzone/freeaim is simply not the right solution.
While freeaim can ‘work’ (insomuch as a cumbersome, clunky aiming and viewing method can be said to ‘work’) at longer ranges, it fails miserably when the engagement ranges shorten. Moving through a MOUT or CQB environment with ArmA-style freeaim is tantamount to suicide, as you are having to frequently turn left/right and look up/down to cover different angles, floors, etc. This means that your ability to ‘index’ on your sights, to gain the benefit of ‘muscle memory’, is continually impeded in a very severe manner.
Red Orchestra 2 is not as dramatic of an example as ArmA’s style of freeaim, as your view turns whenever you move the mouse and only the weapon is influenced by freeaim, but the end result is still quite goofy and artificially impacts the gameplay in what I would say is a negative way. I would even wager to say that the fact that RO2 saw such a remarkable drop-off in player activity shortly after release is partly due to the goofy freeaim it employs, though I suspect you will be shouted out of their forums on the pretense of ‘realism’ if you suggest this.
When it comes to the ArmA series, I would not ask for freeaim to be removed from ArmA3 – there are many who are likely nostalgic about it and play in a fashion where it works for them – but I will plainly state that anyone who chooses to use it in A3 – or uses it in ArmA2 currently – is at a severe disadvantage to those who choose to discard it. If you play adversarial missions with freeaim on, you are hurting yourself as well as your team – you would do better with it off.
Try it and see.
Ditch the deadzone.