Review by james2

Reviewed: 09/08/08

By no means a must have title, but well worth a look.

At a time in my life when work dominates everything, from the time of day meals are prepared to pub scheduling, Arena Wars couldn’t have been released so conveniently. Somewhat tired of the seemingly endless stream of RPGs on PC, demanding that you sit down for a few hours to fully immerse yourself into its world, I needed something more pick up and play, something fast and furious. Something fun. And in Arena Wars we have just that.

Real time strategy games are unique in the way that you have to think on your feet and make split-second decisions; no pottering on about buying mana points, or fine turning your aim through a sniper rifle, it’s now or never. Do or die. Roses or chocolates for her birthday. Arena Wars welcomes you to the main menu without a by or leave; hardly any back story, just three modes of play consisting of Capture the Flag, Bombing Run and Double Domination, that wouldn’t go amiss from your average FPS. The story is brief yet fully understandable- it’s the year 2137 and you’re playing a game developed by an early military simulation, a kind of sport played by millionaires to become legends in their own rights by balancing strategy, speed and teamwork. That’s all.

It would be too easy to dismiss the three game modes when looking at the manual as too shallow; it’s within the games played where the fun lies, not actually in the rules. From looking at the various screenshots, both on the web and the box itself, comparisons to the legendary Command and Conquer are inevitable, but the truth is that the two couldn’t be anymore different. Your base consists of a factory which teleports units into battle and a power plant, of which only the latter can be destroyed. No fancy building here, just the essentials. You start with a thousand credits, not a vast number by anyone’s means, and the fact that you can’t actually collect credits seemed quite scary. However, when units are destroyed the cost is compensated back to your account so you can build replacements, which keeps teams even and interesting. It’s here where you must decide which alliance to follow; do you go for speed, with light vehicles zipping about, or power, with vehicles slowed by heavy armour, or perhaps long-distance units which become vulnerable when firing? Once the battle begins you’ll only have a few seconds to decide.

Because collecting credits has been removed you can fully concentrate on attacking the enemy without the need to switch back to base to check on your harvest status. The only time you’ll come away from the battle field is to build new units or upgrade existing ones, which keeps things frantic. To help with the transportation of units from base to battlefield is the introduction of warp gates. Place these around the map to instantly zip units to locations to try and outflank your enemies, or use them to zip damaged units back for repairs or upgrades.

Battles themselves aren’t your usual blasting affair either, as each unit has special abilities. The slow moving yet heavily armoured and powerful Destroyer (a futuristic tank, if you will) can teleport twice within a limit area, which more than makes up for its slow speed and opens up new tactical plots for surprise attacks. Upgrading this behemoth lets you teleport up to three times and equips you with a better cannon and stronger armour. The Achilles heel of the The Destroyer is another unit named The Walker. Resembling something from Red Dwarf, this robot walks like a human and harbours a laser cannon. Nozzles enable The Walker to fly, which renders it invincible to attacks from destroyers, and upgrading gifts a plasma gun and faster flying abilities.

Rather than there being a particular favourite between Arena Wars fans, or rather an almost unbeatable unit, each unit is susceptible to attack from one other type of unit whilst boasting a good advantage over another. Call it rock paper scissors but this keeps things fresh when in battle and forces you to switch units rather than becoming reliant on one particular type. Unless you want to lose that is. There are plenty of units to choose from too, with The Buggy, a light yet quick small vehicle (think Smugglers Run), The Spider, a robot harnessing rocket launchers that can shoot from range, The Beserker, a close range attacking walking robot and finally The Artillery which can rain down shells from afar.

Besides vehicle abilities, items can be used to temporally boost units. Divided into four groups, green (protects units), yellow (gives special abilities), red (damages units) and blue (global effects). There are four items to use in each group, with green boasting, above all, regeneration and invincibility, yellow boosts speed, red with insanity (blocks a user from controlling certain units whilst said unit goes on a gun-toting rage), and blue with an ion cannon. There are of course more attacks, but for the purpose of spoiling a pleasant surprise I’ll cover a veil over them until you get the game.

The game modes themselves, however few there may be, are very fun indeed. Capture the Flag is self explanatory to FPS fans. Units carrying an opponent’s flag move slower than usual, can’t use any specials and any items executed on that unit are active for half of the allotted time. This means protecting your flag bearing unit more important, especially from far away, unless you’d rather risk it alone and rebuild should the unit be destroyed. When flags are dropped on the map, should the owner catch it then the flag is instantly teleported back to base, whereas an opponent bears all of the restraints outlined above.

Bombing Run is a personal favourite, which has you planting a bomb in your opponent’s base. The clock counts down from 20 and the only way to prevent this is to move the bomb from the drop zone. Out of this zone the ticker freezes, resuming again when carried back into the zone. Of course, as the game goes on things become more frantic as the seconds tick away, and you’ll be literally screaming when the opponent nips in with a few seconds to go. Double Domination is a rather tactical affair with each opponent attempting to gain control of two points on the map. To take control you have to be carrying a Domination key from your base, and upon arriving at the zone the keys is warped back to base. Collect it again and take it to the other zone, hold both points for 20 seconds and win. Things are made harder by your opponents trying to re-gain control, as destroying the corresponding power plant on each zone destroys all of the units and renders the zone neutral once more, and the decision of where to focus units to protect each zone becomes more important.

If you’ve taken all of that in, there’s more. Single player tournaments keep things fresh, with 10 levels to complete on 6 modes. One on one Capture the flag see’s you against the computer, where as 2 vs 2 has you team up with the computer taking on another two opponents. Bombing Run and Double Domination Tournaments are self explanatory, but the Fun Tournament is quite barmy. You have 10 missions to complete of the various game modes, sometimes on very small maps or against 4 opponents, unbalanced maps and a shortage of items. Put short, it’s a random generator and will keep you going long after the other tournaments have been exhausted. Finally, the Insane Tournament chucks 10 missions from the various modes at you on a super hard setting, to make sure you haven’t seen everything just yet.

Besides all this you can customise the various modes to try out, or even set loose two computer teams whilst you kick back and watch. Every battle fought can be saved as a replay, such as the races in Gran Turismo and goals in Pro Evolution Soccer.

And as if that wasn’t enough for you, there’s LAN Multiplayer to participate in as well as internet play. You can meet up and chat with other Arena Wars players, play against each other or team up in clans and take on others. According to the number of games you have played you will be assigned a rank, and you can even save a list of friends and view it to see who’s online. The points system for rankings is quite pleasing, as however good or bad at the game you are, you still receive points for playing and these are boosted if you beat a player with more points than you, and reduced for those with high points dominating a new player. Points are also reduced by 1% daily to keep the ladder reachable for those of us with full time jobs, which is very nice to see.

The graphics in Arena Wars aren’t going to win awards for stunning effects, and nor will they endure criticism. They do the job just right, with the three types of landscape (grass, volcanic and sand) standing to attention and the various landmarks (such as trees, lava and the like) creating a believable atmosphere. Units are instantly recognisable and move smoothly through each arena, which is nice to see. Each unit has different sound effect for moving and shooting, with plenty of whooshes and bangs to keep you interested, as well as voice support for online and LAN matches. Put simply, you won’t be having problems spotting the difference between a Spider and a Beserker when in the heat of things, which at the end of the day is what matters most.

Perhaps the only downside to Arena Wars is that sometimes you’ll need to take units by the hand and lead them through battle, which can become irritating when you’re just about to unleash an attack and your Destroyer insists on taking the long route. Perhaps a bigger selection of units would have been nice too, but it would waste time and detract from the fast paced action if you spend ages scrolling through pages of units to build.

I had tremendous fun with Arena Wars; its fast paced action and tactical warfare proving to be a godsend after endless struggles and yawns on various RPGs. A refreshing break from the usual “sit down and listen to this story” as you can just hack straight into the action and start blowing things up. And if things start to get boring on the levels, there’s always the map editor included with the game to modify existing maps and create new ones, ideal for LAN parties.

By no means a must have title, but well worth a look.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Arena Wars (EU, 10/08/04)

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