Though it was never intended as such, the Game Boy Advance is turning out to be rather adept at rendering 3D worlds. This power is put to good use by Dark Arena--one of many first-person shooters slated to appear on the handheld later this year. Dark Arena is competing against reborn classics such as Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, so it remains to be seen whether or not it can make a name for itself on the system. Regardless, it should prove to be an enjoyable, if somewhat derivative, experience.
The game takes place in the year 2146, and you find yourself in a supersoldier training camp run by The United Arms Organization. Housed within this compound is a breed of genetically engineered killing machines, designed for the sole purpose of testing the recruits' abilities. The ill-fated training regime backfires as these artificially created beasts run amok. Within 48 hours they manage to capture the facility and kill everyone within--everyone except you, that is. A boat awaits at the other side of the compound, but unfortunately, between you and freedom lies an army of mutated creatures, all of whom would like nothing more than to see you dead.
The gameplay, much like the storyline, deviates little from the basic formula first introduced by the genre's forefathers. As you make your way through the hellish compound, you'll need to flip switches, find keys, and, of course, destroy anything that so much as twitches. Aiding you in your escape is an arsenal of six weapons (one of which includes a zoom function), each proving more effective than the last at clearing the hordes of enemies and bosses that populate each of the game's 20 levels. An automap ensures that the labyrinthine corridors can be easily navigated, allowing Officer Bradshaw to keep his attention focused on the important matter of, well, staying alive.
The segmented nature of the facility gives rise to a range of varied levels taking place in both indoor and outdoor environments, the latter of which inject some variety into the mix by providing a much-needed change of pace from the more claustrophobic indoor areas. Weather will change throughout your journey, though stopping to play in the snow is certainly not advised. Objects liberally dispersed around the levels will reportedly be fully destructible and will no doubt be perfect for a little wanton destruction. Prerendered FMV sequences serve as just reward for a job well done and are used as narrative for the task at hand. Levels designed exclusively for deathmatch-style multiplayer games should help satiate the bloodlust of up to four players at a time, though unfortunately the use of multiple cartridges will likely be required.
With no fewer than four other titles vying for top honors as the best handheld first-person shooter on the market, Dark Arena certainly has a lot to prove. A bland storyline and seemingly generic puzzle design will do little to further its cause, but the visceral action contained in the game should help Dark Arena find a place in many a GBA owner's library.