Wing Commander Arena is another one of those new games with an old name that's different enough from the older games to anger the old fans, while being so underwhelming that new players will probably think that the whole series was just as lame. So it's starting out in sort of a no-win position, but the game's lackluster gameplay and generic presentation certainly don't do it any favors, either.
Arena is a stripped-down, multiplayer-focused shooter that puts you at the controls of one of several ships, each with differences in weaponry and statistics. The game is played from a third-person, behind-the-back view of your ship, and you can fly around with the left stick, make evasive maneuvers with the right, and fire weapons using the shoulder buttons and triggers. Despite looking like space, the game actually takes place on a flat plane. This basic action is broken out into a few different modes, both online and off. The main and most obvious of the bunch is a basic free-for-all deathmatch-style mode, where you attempt to blast any ship in sight while avoiding the same fate. The other modes have you pairing off for duels, teaming up with other players to take out enemy capital ships, and so on. There are plenty of power-up items sprinkled around each level, giving you opportunities to replenish your missiles, regenerate shield energy, or temporarily boost your ship's abilities.
Beyond the differentiation between team and nonteam games, the different modes all feel sort of the same. Each mode is played on its own level, which is sort of weird, and in the end means that there aren't enough different arenas in the game to hold your interest. The simple gameplay allows for a little bit of strategy, but again, not enough to keep you coming back for very long, especially in the offline modes, which are particularly boring.
The presentation is marred by a bad piece of music that plays whenever you're in game. It's repetitive, and on top of that, it doesn't even loop properly, making each restart of the tune noticeable. The sound effects are pretty standard and the graphics are plain and, in a few spots, pretty dull.
While the concept of a 16-player arcadelike space shooter is definitely a good one, the various aspects of Wing Commander Arena come together in a very jejune way, leaving behind a husk of a game that doesn't have enough variety or thrills to keep you excited for more than one or two matches. Give the demo a spin if you're innately curious, but you're probably better off not wasting your money on this one.