An indistinctive Doom clone. Dark arena offers some nice moments, but there is a host of GBA FPS's doing this better.
The rumours are true - This is a Doom-clone, albeit a non-inspiring slightly below par one. Dark Arena never truely offends, but after playing through the game a few times you will probably come away feeling this didn't cut the mustard. The story has been ripped from the gutter of used odds and ends. You are sent to a remote station to combat marauding creatures and cybernetic killing machines. Your team of crackpot specialists are torn to shreds before their feet hit the tarmac, leaving you to churn through the enemy hordes and find a safe way off the planet. Pretty standard story then??? You bet, although not enough to condemn it outright.
The visuals are pretty clear and crisp for the most part, even if the variety is a little stale. Enemies come in a variety of flavours and are delivered in a sprite based format, the 3D illusion effects work well. The game play resembles doom so closely that they might as well be identical twins. It's only disappointing that you get the feeling that they may have been on to something if they would have had the guts to capitalise on some of the more original features. For instance, the game offers the usual selection of pistols, rifles, plasma guns and rocket launchers but the weapon that most caught my eye was the homing rocket. The rocket can be fired and guided by the player to blast apart enemies around corners, etc. A good idea, but I can honestly say this felt more like a quick add-on, it could have been used as a more cohesive game element. .
A few of the levels feel designed in a hurry, which is a shame as all the basics from teleports to lifts are present and correct. Some glitches can occur stifling the game play. For instance, on one particular level two enemies got stuck against a wall, lining them up for an easy kill. I even managed to walk through a few walls and wander around in the ether, re-entering through walls to attack enemies from behind. This happens rarely, but it does tarnish the overall experience. Occasionally, enemies will clearly be in sight from around a corner, but bullets will hit an invisible barrier, forcing you to round corners fully to engage them. The bullet detection can be simply shambolic.
The A.I is tolerable with only a few horrific problems. The enemies won't often hear you when you teleport into a room with them. If their backs are turned you will be able to cream them before they have a chance to retaliate. Dooms demonic hell spawn have instead been replaced with cybernetic alien creatures. I have to admit however that the enemy design was adequate and some of them can be a challenge to take on.
Dark Arena includes three difficulty levels, with the normal mode probably being too easy for the average gamer. Cranking it up to hard is the only way to go, and is in essence the only way to get a reasonable challenge. An impressive amount of bad guys can be displayed on screen at any one time. Just be prepared for some extensive slow-down during some of the more hectic levels (especially on hard).
The levels have no music, robbing them of some much needed atmosphere and ambience. The weapons sound distinctive, if a little flat. The same translates to the the games varied enemies. Also, it's worth noting that with only 16 levels the single player experience will be over within a few hours. The game ships with a linked multiplayer mode, which I was unable to test.
Then I'm reminded this is only on the GBA...
Maybe this is all a tad-harsh (although true) - However, this cannot be recommended over the likes of the Doom ports for the GBA. Doom will offer all the thrills and game play elements of Dark Arena, just with a bucket load more style. Only an ardent FPS fan going through a gaming drought would ever want to take this baby for a spin.