Updated: June 27, 2012
Several weeks back, a fellow Martian emailed me and asked me to take a look at the latest release of Alien Arena, a free, cross-platform first person shooter, numbered 7.53. All right, why not. I always liked the game and had it reviewed a few times. So I agreed, politely declined using the existing press material and went for my own installation and screenshots, even though they might be inferior to the official collection.
However, I do have a bit of a grudge. The version is plain wrong. 7.53? What happened to the magical number 51? It should be 7.51 or even better, just 51! But that's me being silly. Anyhow, I will tell you about my Linux setup, the gaming experience, the color, the variety, the amount of fun I had and all that. After me, gamers.
What is the game all about?
Let's quote the official page, now, shall we:
Do you like old school deathmatch with modern features? How about rich, colorful, arcadelike atmospheres? How about ... retro Sci Fi? Then you're going to love what Alien Arena has in store for you! This game combines some of the very best aspects of such games as Quake III and Unreal Tournament and wraps them up with a retro alien theme, while adding tons of original ideas to make the game quite unique.
Alien Arena is the classic FPS. It has maps, mostly close-combat, circular levels based on the good ole DOOM template, with a slight claustrophobic feeling due to the prevalent indoors setting and subdued lighting with occasional neon-light flashes to help you cope with your epilepsy. Closed maps are restrictive, but they also lead to compressed fun, i.e. a higher density of kills, which makes fighting faster and more chaotic.
But before we do the review proper, let's talk about my setup.
Alien Arena, begin shooting!
I had to manually compile Alien Arena on my box, as no repo would offer the latest version yet. To get Alien Arena to compile, you will have to grab a handful of development packages, all of which are listed in the README file inside the archive. After that, run the usual configure, make, make install chain and start having fun. I had the game tested on Linux Mint 13 Maya, 64bit, on my LG RD510 machine with Nvidia 9600M GS card.
I did find a few problems. One, the game would not smoothly change resolutions and sometimes would fail to switch to full screen. Moreover, Alien Arena 7.53 menu opened with a default resolution that caused a few pixels at the bottom of my 1280x800 laptop monitor to be hidden behind the system menu. Other than that, there were no issues.
Looking back at the 2009 release and comparing with the current one, Alien Arena 7.53 is mostly a soft, gradual update of the game, with some extra visual polish, better graphics and other minor details, retaining its core fun and ambiance. The music is still crazy, the maps look psychedelic, and there's the morbid blend of the 50s technologies with Tim Burton's vision of how Martians ought to look like, plus the Quake heritage.
Weapons come in all shapes and sizes, but they are almost all unique straight-line ballistic shooters, with primary and secondary modes, triggered by the left and right mouse buttons respectively. Usually, the secondary mode fires more rapidly, exhausting your ammo in just seconds. The maps retain their vomit-inducing maze charm, with extra topping of water and acid and weird mechanical contraptions that are designed to confuse and distract you. There are quite a few levels to choose, and there are many game modes, too. You can also adorn your maps with mutators, which turn the fight into freak shows - one shot one kill, vampire mode where you leech blood off your opponents by touching them, and others.
I spent some time getting used to the game's dynamic in singleplayer. I was surprised by the quality of the AI, which is far from being dumb even at the low level. And then, I hosted a few games of my own, testing the maps and mutators, all of which worked just fine. The bots are excellent companions when you are all alone and have no friends.
Speaking of friends, I hit the Web next and tried the multiplayer mode. Here, I was a little disappointed to learn there were only a few maps running with more than one or two players, and there were almost exclusively populated with bots and virtually no human gamers. This is a bit sad, as you would want the unpredictability of the online world to be dominated by people like you, flesh-and-blood geeks. I am not sure if my timing was wrong or if the game lacks audience, but the experience was a little bland. As it turns out, the singleplayer was more fun this time around.
Alien Arena 7.53 is a gentle improvement of a staple brand of shooters, for good or worse. It is rather generic, in being a Quake-based game like so many others, but then, it comes with its own unique elements. Alien Arena sports good and clever bots you can enjoy fighting against, a somewhat lunatic atmosphere and decent graphics. Now, I wish there were more open maps, better lighting and a rich online experience, but that one is probably a derivative of all the rest. However, overall, the game is a good choice for a lazy afternoon.
The latest installment feels better than its predecessors, although there is always room for new features, more adventure, additional game modes, and perhaps a more stringent quality assurance process, designed to weed out the little bugs like resolution change and suchlike. This could be entirely my own fault, but I followed the official instructions to the letter. In fact, the latency between game releases and the repo refresh is a bit of a problem, since if you want the latest and greatest, you must do your own compilations, which rules out most people. I don't know how the Windows version plays yet, but hopefully it should be similar, sans the resolution thingie.
All in all, quite recommended, something like 8/10. Commence firing.