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Game Over Online ~ Arena Wars (c) Tri Synergy

Arena Wars (c) Tri Synergy

Published: Wednesday, September 8th, 2004 at 03:47 PM
Written By: Lawrence Wong

At first glance, Arena Wars looks like your typical real-time strategy game. Set in the future, it's filled with plenty of explosions and lighting effects. It's populated with vehicles and robots that would find themselves at home in a science fiction movie. What you wouldn't be able to guess are the different real-time strategy conventions exDream is ripping up and in its place, creating a new formula for fast-paced action. Do you remember how every time Blizzard releases a real-time strategy game, they include some sort of multiplayer side-campaign that has you micromanaging just a few units? That's the best way to describe the direction exDream is taking in Arena Wars.

Most traditional strategy titles put you on some sort of campaign for conquest, liberation, revolution, or a mix of all three. Arena Wars sports a menu like Unreal Tournament or Quake III Arena. You can create a persona and participate in a number of tournaments against opponents of different difficulty levels. The tournaments feature battle styles like capture the flag, double domination and bombing run. Wait -- bombing run? Hmm, I wonder where they got that term?

If you are familiar with those game terms, you'll most likely be familiar with how to play it - except you're using the mouse and keyboard in a slightly different way. Capture the flag will probably be the easiest to handle. Double domination is fun in that it mixes up offense and defense in localized areas with few units. This often means every shot must count and every unit will definitely count. Bombing run is a little different from the Unreal Tournament model. Here, you not only have to bring the bomb to a designated location. You also have to defend it for short while until the bomb is activated. A small but important twist to the concept.

To carry out these fast-paced matches, Arena Wars uses a Command and Conquer style menu. All your units are available for purchase on the right hand side. Build times are quick. You won't be fielding whole armies, but it's up to you to create the right mix of units. If you're defending a flag, for example, you'll want to bring in some heavy artillery. If you're running with the flag, you'll want to create some recon buggies. Homogenous armies of the same kind will end up being either woefully outmatched by numbers or by the right counter unit. Each unit has a distinct characteristic and in playing the game, you'll learn that none of the units in the game are useless. They all have their purposes depending on what situation you're in and what game type you are playing. This is a pretty clever idea. It reduces the learning curve and potentially expands the title to appeal to people who are usually leery of strategy games.

There are a few quirks with the gameplay though. The lack of resource collection shouldn't surprise anyone. Recent titles like Ground Control II or even the early Myth franchises from Bungie had featured that. All players start with the same amount of cash. When you spend money to buy units, your resources are deducted. But when your unit is destroyed, your money magically appears back in your account for whatever the destroyed unit is worth. That's a big change and probably a nod to the 'respawning' concept that is littered throughout first person action shooters.

Not only is the gameplay fast and furious, the graphics engine that powers Arena Wars is too. This is one of the first titles I've seen to ask for the .NET framework to be installed. Luckily the .NET files will be included in the game (the framework itself is quite large, akin to downloading J2RE for Java). The result of using this technology is a speedy interface that has no problems handling the terrain, textures and special effects going on in the battle arena. You can pan, zoom and move around with great response times, even on aging machines. No doubt this 'sine qua non' factor will be a boon to action and arcade style fans.

Whenever you talk about online play, arenas and tournaments, you can't make a credible game without community or clan friendly features. exDream is devoting a significant amount of time to perfecting the multiplayer portion of the game. Not only are they concerned about the usual lag and performance, but they're also building the structure for teams to work with each other. Included in the game will be the ability to communicate via voice. exDream takes this a step further by allowing people to communicate through popular webcams. According to the developers, this is a first. No doubt these collaborative features must have something to do with their leverage of the Microsoft development platform.

Furthermore, online matches will feature up to eight players in the aforementioned game modes. A map editor will enable fans of the game to release material to augment the sixty or more maps and three unique environments that come with the initial game. Arena Wars will also support four observers in each game. And another interesting feature is in the replays of matches that can be distributed. They'll not only feature action but also the mouse and screen movements of the player. In addition, voice/video communiqués will be saved in the file too.

Is Arena Wars a title that is multiplayer first and single player a distant second? Not necessarily. With an adaptive artificial intelligence, exDream promises their computer players will be more challenging with their neural net like structures, ultimately creating a compelling single player experience. Games like Arena Wars and the recently released Perimeter are breathing new life into the strategy genre. The common myth that all strategy titles are forty minutes of building for five minutes of action is beginning to melt away. Arena Wars will be heading your way on September 13th.

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