March 28th, 2012 | By Doug Walter
I managed to miss the Quake era of shooters during their heyday, since I was busy fawning over the copy of Command and Conquer: Red Alert that I didn’t have. What I missed seems to have overtaken me in the form of Alien Arena, an aged FPS running on the Quake II engine with modern graphics. If my experience with recent adrenaline-fueled shooters is any help, then I hope that the offense of calling all competitive first person shooters the same is a pardonable crime.
In fairness, when I say that “all first person shooters are the same,” I’m not talking minutiae, obviously, since the decor of any specific title you care to mention will differ in some small way from the vast majority of the others. But I’ll remind you that they all have guns (duh), enemies to shoot (pointless otherwise), movement (or it would be a rail shooter instead), and some form of progression whether it be across a level or through an enemy player’s skull. The only one of those that Alien Arena lacks in and of itself is the last, since any and all difference in the gameplay is attributable to player skill level.
Put simply, getting good at the game is the only way that the experience changes over time. For an interactive medium such as games, this monotony certainly grates. Again, I’ll admit that this particular breed of shooter (perhaps the grandfather of them all) has some appeal. I personally wouldn’t have invested so much time in Team Fortress 2 otherwise, although over there the monotony is alleviated by the occasional weapon or hat.
If the reputation of Id Software games from the late 90s is accurate, then Alien Arena‘s website is destined for Malebolge for seducing potential players with the promise of “stunning new visuals.” The aesthetic is differentiated from the original Quake only by the predominance of a slightly darker shade of brown contrasted with the occasional splash of bright primary colors. Some models have lights strapped to them which make headshots all the easier, ironically. Once again, to be fair, a portion of the content for this game is user-generated; mostly maps, and amateurish ones at that, but the occasional custom player model is welcome, though rare.
Similarly damning to Alien Arena is its promise of “Single Player” on the main menu. Running around an arena shooting at AI routines is not a good definition of single player, even if it is preparing you for the explosion-fest that is the multiplayer server space. Although from a design perspective, this could be considered excellent focus on delivering a core experience.
Now, given the number of qualifying statements I’ve appended to my summary it’s not unreasonable to enjoy this kind of game at all. It just fits an older aesthetic that current trends in gameplay have mostly left behind. I know that a good number of 80s babies who spent their teens at LAN parties will jump at the chance to give this a shot if they haven’t already. After that, they’ll probably head right back to Counter-Strike. Mark my words.