Publisher: Tri Synergy
Release Date: September 22, 2004
Buy 'ARENA WARS': PC
So it's the future and the hottest competitive sport in the world is to take robots and make them fight in a huge arena. You control some of these robots and are attempting to complete various goals and score more points than your opponents. You have an arena. You have robot warfare. You have Arena Wars.
The manual says that Arena Wars is what you get when you combine the gameplay and interface of a conventional real-time strategy game with the fast-paced action of a first person shooter. I think this is a little misleading, because it's more like you take a conventional real-time strategy game and speed it up by removing resource gathering, unit diversity, building construction and tech-trees. How they came up with the idea to relate their game with first-person shooters at all is beyond my comprehension.
Each side starts with $1,000. This is the only resource in the game and you can never have more or less. You spend the money to purchase as many as you can afford of six different units, each with its own attack style, speed, armor, special ability, strengths and weaknesses. Whenever a unit is destroyed you immediately get all the money you spent on that unit back, and can produce another if you want or switch things up and use that money to build counterunits to whatever your opponent is using.
Counterunits really are the name of the game, because each of the six units usually has one or two units it can trump, and loses horribly to everything else. Don't worry, though, because you don't need to memorize which unit beats what – just mouse over the unit icon in the build window and little red bars will appear to show you how well that unit performs against the rest of the field.
The only other use for money is to upgrade a unit type on your side. This is done by sending a unit to an upgrade facility somewhere in the arena. After about a minute and at the expense of $200, a fifth of your funds, all units of the chosen type you control, and any you build from then on, become much beefier, with better attack, defense and abilities.
There are only six units in the game, which is very disappointing considering that every player is limited to using the same units as everyone else. In a genre where the norm has become to have at least several times that many units, not to mention diverse sides each with their own style of play and unique powers, this is almost a deadly flaw that kills the game right off the bat.
The cheapest unit is the Buggy, a little RC car-looking thing with a horrible attack and defense whose only claim to fame is that it's faster than the other units. Its special attack is to suicide itself into other units and explode. The Spider skitters around shooting rockets at enemies, with the ability to temporarily shoot about three times as many rockets as normal. Then you have the Walker, which looks like one of the smaller mechs from the Mechwarrior series and has the special power of temporary flight. The Destroyer is your standard-issue tank, except that it can teleport. The Berserker looks like a Walker, only about twice the size. It can cover a portion of the screen with an electric field doing massive area effect damage to all enemies caught inside. Finally you have the Artillery, which works very similarly to the siege tank of Starcraft, only with about 1/10th the effectiveness.
The gameplay is fairly simple, providing victory conditions you normally don't find in RTS games such as Capture the Flag. Neither side really has a base, just an invincible teleporter pad where units are created, so there is no way to win by destroying your opponent. The only way to win the game is to be the first person to score five points.
Points are awarded depending on the game type, of which there are three. The easiest to understand is your basic CTF game. Each side has a flag and the goal is to move a unit to the enemy flag to pick it up and then bring it back to your flag. Another game is Bombing Run, which is sort of a reverse CTF where each side has a bomb platform, and the goal is to deliver a bomb to the opposing platform to blow it up. The final game is Double Domination, where each side needs to deliver a key to two different platforms in the arena in order to gain control, and a point is scored for controlling both platforms at the same time.
What makes the game a bit more complex is the addition of items and power plants, which provide alternate targets to fight over and tosses the proverbial monkey wrench into what would otherwise be an absurdly simple game of rock-paper-scissors. Items spawn on little item platforms which are scattered about the arena, usually in clumps of three or more. Send a unit to collect the items and they become yours, granting you the ability to do such things as heal units on your side, provide temporary invulnerability, damage or destroy enemy units, shut off your opponent's ability to build units or see his minimap, and much more. The power plant provides a target which, when taken to zero health causes the opposing side's defense target to explode, destroying all nearby defending units and leaving the target ripe for the picking.
On the plus side, this grants you options in terms of what you can do to beat the enemy team. You might try snagging all the items on the map before anyone else can, and then ride them to victory. Perhaps you'll have a small force attack power plant, and if the other side moves units in to defend it you can launch a strike straight at the target platform. Maybe you think you can just walk in and defeat whatever feeble defense the opponent has thrown together without any tricks or strategy. For the defender, however, it can be annoying to have to defend multiple spots on the map at the same time, especially given that you are basically perma-capped at $1,000 worth of units at all times.
On the upside, the game does deliver some fairly high action content from the beginning of the match to the end, especially due to the lack of a tech tree or any resource gathering outside of trying to snag items that spawn. What you do at the very beginning of the match is pretty much the same as what you'll be doing all match long – building and fielding $1,000 worth of units. Balance is pretty much perfect, since each side is identical with access to all the same units at the same costs, and everyone begins with the same amount of money which also limits total unit count.
The downside, however, is that in order to achieve these laudable goals the game threw away any semblance of the depth and strategic elements normally found in RTS games. I mean, come on, there are only six units ever in the game. You don't build anything, mine anything, or research anything. How long is this seriously going to entertain you on a level much higher than as a simple diversion?
The graphics are passable, and would have been great if this was a couple years ago. The style reminds me a lot of older games such as Total Annihilation. Everything is rendered in 3D and the unit animations and models as well as terrain look fairly well polished if not spectacular. Nothing really jumps out at you as being terribly awesome or even great, although there are a lot of fairs and goods.
The sound is okay. It's really hard to judge because it sounds like you're playing a video game about robots fighting each other in an arena, which, naturally, you are. I'd prefer if it sounded like there actually were robots fighting in an arena however, instead of just sounding like you were playing a game simulating such a thing.
The unit voices are just horrible. I'm hoping that the intended goal was to sound like a horrible Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator, and not like the man himself. Whoever decided units should say things like "Wanna date?" "Live and let die," "I'll be back," or "Make them cry," should be promptly fired and replaced with just about anything. A monkey randomly hitting keys on a keyboard could probably come up with better one-liners. Blizzard manages to make the unit voices in its Warcraft and Starcraft RTS games good through a combination of good voice acting and decent lines, oftentimes with hilarious Easter egg content. Arena Wars chose to take the opposite approach, and manages to just be sad and annoying.
The game delivers a simple, action-oriented, fast-paced "RTS light" experience. Whether or not that's worth playing depends on your tastes, although I can't imagine someone who didn't like RTS games would enjoy it because the gameplay and interface are just like other RTSes on the market, while an RTS enthusiast would be turned off by the simplistic gameplay and dated graphics.
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