Alien Arena: Warriors of Mars is a multiplayer centered FPS set in the remnants of a war long lost to the overwhelming alien menace. It doesn’t feature much more of a story besides that and some snippets of info while loading up a map. Before you start playing I highly suggest going into the menu to sort things out such as turning off mouse acceleration, choosing a weapon cursor you can actually see and turning off “Rain Droplet FX” whose only purpose is to blind you, just to name a few of the detrimental settings. Luckily for us, this title does feature offline bots to play against, so we can get everything just right without making a fool of ourselves online.
Right from the get-go, we have multiple skins to choose from ranging from a robot, alien or human. It is all purely atheistic so pick whichever you think looks the coolest and step right into the battle be it online or against bots. Whichever you choose, it is time to start fragging your opponents with whatever weapon you can get your hands on. At the start of a match, you only come equipped with a pistol that fires slow rounds of plasma at your foes, but this game also features alt fires which allow you to turn those sluggish pistol rounds into a near hit-scan projectile. Even with such a flexible gun, it is best not to charge head first into a firefight with nothing aside from that basic weapon. Scattered around the arena are guns, powerups, launch pads as well as health & armor pickups to make use of. There are ten weapons overall, and while nothing is too far out there from what we are accustomed to, it will take some time to learn their quirks and secondary functions.
Keep in mind that there is fall damage so think twice before jumping off a balcony and diving right into your favorite gun if there isn’t another player nearby going for it as well. From chainguns, flamethrowers, and lasers, there is no lack of variety here. Each weapon module is visually distinct enough to be able to tell what they are at a glance and what they are capable of. This lends it a bit of strategy as to how to deal with encounters instead of merely shooting at each other until one of you dies. Instead of facing a sniper out in the open, you can choose to run down a hallway, alt fire some slow-moving rockets down it and hope those nail him as you double back to get the jump on him. Combat feels very fluid, and after setting the mouse sensitivity higher, the controls felt spot on as well. They really nailed the classic gameplay feel of the arena shooters of yesteryear. It is however, locked at 60 fps. Whether to even the playfield for those without high refresh rate monitors or merely an oversight is anyone’s guess.
With its player base so low, it is a challenge to properly play the game as it was intended, but on the occasions, you can get enough people in a match it truly shines. Most of my time was spent on “Practice Offline” due to this and is where another problem arises. You can’t actually practice on the maps you want nor can you set how many bots you want to play with. Aside from choosing the difficulty, you have no more control over anything else, and worse of all is that maps are not randomly picked. That means that you will be seeing the first map quite a few times and you’ll rarely see the later ones unless you plan on playing through the rest first. You can’t even change the game mode from the standard deathmatch. Playing offline is only useful to learn the guns or to sharpen up on your skills if you haven’t played similar games recently. The bots do have some path-finding issues, and they will constantly kill themselves on the stages that have hazards, though work well enough as to be enjoyable to fight.
Hosting a game does allow you to customize it your heart’s content and is where you can find out that bots work just fine in other modes, making that single player situation even stranger. There are 23 maps to choose from with most being on the smaller side. They don’t just stick to an alien or post-apocalyptic theme either. Many maps feature a unique visual style such as an underwater arena with sharks swimming overhead or a hell-themed level containing lava all too easy to jump into should you get distracted. Levels are not just pretty to look at, they are actually designed rather well for this type of gameplay. Once again, get rid of some of the settings such as the Rain Droplet FX least you find yourself on a rainy map and can’t see much at all with all that water on your visor. Respawn points do not fare quite as well as the actual level design. They seem to try to put you close to the action and may end up putting you in a less than desirable position all too often.
Upon spawning back in, you have a brief period of invulnerability as long as you don’t fire your gun, and also have overcharged health that slowly ticks back down to normal. Nonetheless, you may oftentimes find yourself dying due to being placed right next to an enemy. Not game-breaking by any means, though a slight annoyance when it happens. One of the unique features of Alien Area is the fact that robotic spiders will randomly spawn into a match to hunt the players down. Killing them is not that difficult, and you do not get anything for doing so, but it is still in your best interests as that thing is a glass cannon more than capable of changing the flow of battle. I really dig that random element to it that keep things unpredictable. Minus the flamethrower that spells your doom if its flames so much as grazes you, most other guns rely on your skills to come out the victor. To spice things up, there are items lying around with benefits like being able to jump much higher, double damage and even a jetpack.
Alien Arena gets jetpacks right. While plenty of other games have some arbitrary mechanic that either limit how long you can keep the thrusters going or causes it to disappear rapidly, there is none of that here. You are given free reign to soar through the levels, and the powerup will likely last longer than you can stay alive since being in the air is as dangerous as it is advantageous due to being a clearer, more open target. This title has quite a few flaws which most of them stem from being a multiplayer game with a currently extremely small player count and a needlessly crippled single player mode. One thing it has no issues with is in its vision. It sets out to be an arena-based shooter of old, and it absolutely nails that feeling without relying on nostalgia. Alien Arena Warriors of Mars is made by people that clearly know what made this genre so appealing and have succeeded in creating their own. Here’s hoping developer Core Entertainment manage to turn things around from their underwhelming launch, but as is I’d recommend buying with caution.