Ever since the folks at iD Software were kind enough to release the source codes to their games, amateur developers have taken it upon themselves to patch and improve the titles in various ways. Bug fixes, better network code, and ports to newer operating systems are often the order of the day. Some of the rarer endeavors, which are arguably more intriguing, involve using the base code to create what is fundamentally a whole new game. Such is the case with Alien Arena: Warriors Of Mars.
Alien Arena has been floating around the freeware scene for years, and has often been included on magazine cover discs and, occasionally, with Linux distros. The leap to Steam is significant, not least of all because it now includes a price tag. You’d think this new version is considerably more flashy, right? Well. It is. For the most part, anyway. Balance between weapons have been improved and the speed has been tweaked, though sadly a lot of content has also been cut. Particularly in the map department.
Red planet Hollywood.
The title is based on an extremely modified Quake 2 engine and is best described as a fusion of Quake with Mars Attacks! There’s not much of a plot, save for map descriptions displayed during load times. Suffice to say, there’s a war between Earth and Mars, although it is of a distinctly more sporting type. This means that the game’s look and style is a careful curation of gothic and industrial sensibilities mixed with 1950’s pop sci-fi. It’s been steadily improving over the years and it’s never looked so good, but the visuals still have an antiquated air about them. Whether this helps or hinders the game is up for debate, but the audio side is a more mixed bag. Some of the sound effects and music are superb, while others are truly forgettable.
The main feature on show is classic deathmatch, with a few extra modes like CTF included. Gameplay can be changed with the assortment of mutators on offer, some of which are relics of the game’s Quake 2 heritage. Other mutators are staples of online fragging, like “vampire” and “instagib”. They’re still as fun and as goofy as ever, and help to add replay value to the noticeably smaller map rotation. Speaking of which, the design of the maps are pretty great, with many winding paths and excellent flow. They alternatively try to portray a real-world location or encapsulate a cheesy sci-fi TV set, but the best arenas on offer tend to be the more industrial and gothic offerings. The Tower Of Babel map is a particular highlight, as is Death Ray, which includes a nasty trap for players to spring.
These are a few in-alien-able truths.
The weapons are what you’d expect from a game with this theme, including bizarre ray guns and energy blasters. More common FPS tropes make an appearance, such as railguns and miniguns; all have primary and secondary firing modes, and the minigun’s secondary fire is especially useful as it is the game’s closest equivalent to a shotgun blast. Also, a weapon called the Mind Eraser will spawn during play, temporarily replacing a weapon slot on the map. These function as one hit/one kill superweapons just to throw the balance off a bit, but fortunately they’re often a one-time use item as they lack additional ammo. Finally, the game’s only melee weapon, the Probe, is extremely deadly and great for humiliating your buddies.
Sadly, this alien-themed shooter has a few of its own misfirings. There are a number of small issues present, the most annoying being the odd one-second freeze which occurs randomly during play. It keeps happening to me despite playing the game on two separate machines with different hardware, configurations, and even operating systems. On the single-player side of things, the included bots are competent and deadly enough, but they definitely need some work. They get stuck on level geometry every now and then, while their proficiency with weapons, particularly the Probe, is all over the place. A solid single-player campaign with intelligent bot opponents will go a long way to making Alien Arena a classic.
Alien Arena makes a long-overdue leap to Steam, and the results are mostly good. If you enjoyed Quake III Arena and are itching for a pure return to that late 90’s multiplayer deathmatch, you can’t go wrong with this. However, it still has a few bugs and there’s a general sense that more polish is needed. This was all forgivable when the product was free, but the stakes are considerably higher when you slap a price tag on something and upload it to Steam. Hopefully the developers can rise to the challenge, because there’s a very endearing game beating inside this somewhat rough package. Abduct a copy of your own and get prepared for some silly fun.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux. ; Publisher: COR Entertainment, LLC ; Developer: COR Entertainment, LLC ; Players: single-player (against bots), multiplayer (LAN, online) ; Released: 3rd of November, 2017.
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Steam key for Alien Arena: Warriors Of Mars given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.