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Arena Wars Review

It's war, but not like we know it. We examine exDream's real-time strategy game.


Review by Darren Cartledge
Published 24th August 2004

Arena Wars

  • Developer: exDream
  • Publisher: Ascaron
  • Release Date: 24th September 2004

It’s no secret that the real-time strategy genre lacks a little innovation with only a few titles released bringing something new to the genre. This is probably why exDream decided to bring elements from another genre into their latest creation Arena Wars or more specifically borrow ideas from the Unreal Tournament series? You’re probably thinking how does that work? The answer is, surprisingly well.

Arena Wars is unlike any real-time strategy game we’ve ever played, it has a number of notable differences that make it stand out from the extremely crowded strategy genre, most notable are the modes of play available in the game which wouldn’t be out of place in a multiplayer first person shooter which is probably where developers exDream got the idea from.

Arena Wars features three modes of play in total, Capture the flag, bombing run and double domination. Capture the flag is pretty much the same as it is in games like Unreal Tournament, you must capture the enemy teams flag and get it back to your base while preventing the enemy from getting your flag. In bombing you pick up a bomb and take it to your enemy’s camp guarding it until it explodes and scores you a point. Double Domination is slightly different in Arena Wars to that found in games such as the Unreal Tournament series. As you would expect in this game mode there are two points A and B which you need to control at the same time in order to score a point. However, these points need to be unlocked with a “domination key”. The use of the keys can make the double domination game a little more complicated then they need to be, for instance if an enemy is dominating one point and you are in control of the other when the enemy takes control of your domination point you need to get back to your camp and get the domination key and bring it back to the control point. This often leads to your enemy scoring as you can’t retake control points without the use of the keys.

One of the biggest differences between Arena Wars and almost any other real-time strategy title is that there are no resources to collect which given how frantic action in the game can get was probably an excellent step by the games developers as it probably would have taken a lot away from the enjoyment of the game. Instead of having to gather resources each player is given 1000 credits at the beginning of each game, each time you create a unit the units value is deducted from your total credits, however with no resource collecting you can never go above the 1000 credits mark, if you’re thinking that you’ll soon run out credits don’t worry, every time you lose a unit the amount of credits you spent on it is credited back to you so you can soon replace lost units.

Units are also another notable difference between Arena Wars and most other real-time strategy titles, mainly the number of units available to you in the game. While most games boast about having hundreds of units at your disposal, Arena Wars gives you six. While many will no doubt see this as a weakness in the game it really isn’t as only having a limited number of units available to you lets you quickly learn the strengths and weaknesses of each, instead of having large numbers of units that you’ll probably never utilise properly.

Units include a small, fast light armoured buggy that’s ideal for sneaking into your enemy’s camp and speeding away with their flag and a spider unit which is fairly fast but has slightly more fire power then the buggy. There are also two giant mech type units named the Walker and Berserker. The Walker features medium armour and laser weapons while the Berserker is heavily armoured and also packs a bigger punch then the Walker. The most heavily armoured unit in Arena Wars is The Destroyer which can also inflict quite a lot of damage, however due to its thick armour it is extremely slow. Finally is the artillery unit which is capable of inflicting a lot of damage from long distances, while firing this unit cannot move and must change to its mobile form in order to do so which can leave it vulnerable to damage at times. Units can also be upgraded on some of the games maps to improve things such as their armour and the effects of their weapons.

Around the game map are a number of power ups that your units can pick–up, each power up is added to a side menu and you are able to distribute them between your units instead of them instantly activating when they are picked up. It’s a good system that can help turn the tide of battles when a unit is under pressure from the enemy. Power-ups are pretty wide ranged and are colour coded into categories. Green and yellow power-ups are for use on your own units and include items such as offensive and defensive upgrades, invisibility and speed boosts. Red and blue powers-ups are to be used on enemy units and include viruses that can render your enemy useless for a few second’s, other items in these two categories include Asteroids Attacks that severely damage enemy units and insanity which sees enemy units turning against their own team.

Arena Wars comes with both single and multiplayer modes, the single player mode features a couple of tournaments using the three game modes mentioned above with a total of 60 missions to play through. Most players will see the single player option has a practice mode for the games online mode. However, computer AI is good and should prove to be a fair enough challenge for most, especially on the insane difficulty setting.

The games multiplayer mode supports matches for up to eight players with the addition of 4 observers been able to sit in on the games. Arena Wars also has the makings of a strong community with ladder and clan matches easily arranged via the games interface.

Graphics wise Arena Wars looks pretty good and if you’ve ever played the Total Annihilation games you may find the look familiar. Units are presented in 3D and are well animated while weapon fire and explosion effects get the job done. Maps come in one of three settings; grassland, volcano and desert and while this may sound limited there is a good variation on offer. Sound design in Arena Wars is good, voices in the game have a robotic sound to them which is extremely fitting with the games setting and the games sound track also fits in perfectly and is done in an upbeat techno style.

Arena Wars offers a lot of playing time and its unusual mix of real-time strategy action and online shooter game modes make it a refreshing change from the usual offerings. While strategy purists may be put off by the games innovation Arena Wars is definitely worth a look for those who are looking a fun action packed game.

Review Score: 8/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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