Review: Arena (Dennis Toney)

As featured in MarkUp July 2007:

What they say: Arena is the two-player game where opponents battle within the confines of a random maze. With lots of options and multiple paths to victory, Arena is never the same game twice. This is a great rivalry game where two good friends can sit down and blast away at each other. This is my first original video game.

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Review: Arena lives upto and exceeds my expectations. I first downloaded this game in 2003 and I am still playing it today. Games which have two players’ controls contained within a single keyboard often spell disaster, however in Arena there are no key clashes, or awkward reaching across your opponent to the other side of the keyboard. With a vast array of in game customisation available and Arena’s amazing random maze generator, each game really is different.

It is possible to win within seconds or games can last 20, 30 minutes or more – it all depends on how you choose to set up the game and your starting position in relation to sentries, bases, powerups and your opponent.

A key aspect of the game is customisation – there is so much about the game you can modify and this can change the game dramatically. You can control the availability of powerups, these consist of double fire toggles, bouncing bullet toggles, and coins which represent health. As well as setting the number of each kind of powerup to be randomly distributed around the maze, you also decide whether or not the powerups are replenished during the game or if once they are taken they are gone. You can even export your favourite configuration to be loaded next time you play Arena.

So, what is the aim of the game? There are a number of different ways you can win Arena – depending on the options you select. If your opponent dies before you, you win. It doesn’t matter whether your opponent is killed by sentries, yourself or a combination of the two. If the option is selected you can win if at any stage during the game you have full health – of course for this to work players must not start with full health. There are also circular bases dotted around the maze, the number of which can be specified in game setup. If any one player controls all bases they win.

As well as your opponent you also have to watch out for the in-game sentries. These patrol certain areas of the maze in a straight line, constantly shooting out. If you get hit by a bullet you loose health, but beware sentries will also collect powerups to improve their bullets and increase their health if they are in their path. Sentries also collect bases if they come across one, so watch out!

As a two-player game Arena makes use of Game Maker’s views function to enable a split screen, one side following each player around the maze. If you’re quick you may be able to grab a sneaky glance of your rival’s location, but likewise this makes you vulnerable too.

There are no notable bugs in the game, the maze generator only creates solveable mazes, so there is no chance of being isolated from half of the game. The only slight problem is that, if you try hard enough or are unlucky enough, you can get your ship stuck on the end of a section of maze wall – however this occurs very rarely.

There are no over-used sound effects, however if you are playing lots of games in a row the mission impossible theme tune on the menu and game setup screens may start to get irritating. The game does have background music but this does not distract from the gameplay. Perhaps the shooting sound effect will becoming irritating, especially if your opponent likes to hold down fire constantly as they explore the maze.

The graphics and effects aren’t amazing but in a game like this there is no need for professional quality graphics as this would just increase the file size. The sprites used are perfectly suited to the game and nothing looks out of place.

The game is accompanied with an in game help file, and the installation also includes a textual version of the documentation which covers all aspects of the game and explains what everything in the game does.

What do you think?

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