What is Alien Arena?
First released in 2005, Alien Arena is a multiplayer sequel to two older single-player first-person shooters. Since then Alien Arena has had yearly releases which have kept the game updated with new features. The original game was based on the id Tech 2 engine from Quake 2, with many new features added that kept it looking modern. Alien Arena: Reloaded uses the CRX engine, which while still based on id Tech 2, has had several things from id Tech 3 folded into it, as well as other features. On the surface, it's pretty standard arena shooter fare. There's no single-player campaign here, instead the single-player mode has one square off against bots on the same maps one would play in multiplayer, as sort of a practice mode before going online.
Given its Quake ancestry, game play is fast and frenetic. Alien Arena: Reloaded very much feels like a Quake mod when playing it, but looks more like a modern game thanks to its use of improved textures, and added features like rain and water dripping on surfaces.
There's a healthy amount of Alien Arena servers up at any given moment, however there's not very much in the way of a competitive scene. There are still clan tournaments, but there's no tourneys on the scale of Warsow or even QuakeWorld.
Given the free nature of the Alien Arena's code and assets, it's available for most major modern operating systems. There's a handy Windows installer, and it's available for most Unix-like systems through the usual channels, such as MacPorts, various Linux packages, and the FreeBSD ports system.
What sets Alien Arena apart?
Alien Arena has a unique selection of weapons, including the newly-added Mind Eraser, that are designed around its retro sci-fi theme that showcases giant-headed aliens in space suits, robots and other '60s B movie favorites. There's a rocket launcher too, because that's required in the sacred laws of shooters. While movement still felt like Quake 3 to me when I first loaded it up, that was a good thing, as it made me feel at home, and is likely to do the same for long-time shooter players. Alien Arena also adds a dodge functionality, which the id Tech engines didn't have. It's also possible to chain dodges together to enable a "strafejump" sort of movement. While it takes a little practice to get this technique down, it's easily picked up for players who are used to double-jumping in other shooters.
Alien Arena has the standard capture-the-flag and deathmatch modes, including team deathmatch. There's also a Team Core Assault mode which is a control point scenario where a team must disable all of the other team's power nodes before destroying a central spider power node. Alien Arena also adds some new modes that are unique, which are Deathball and Cattle Prod. In Deathball, one scores points by killing opponents as well as finding a ball and shooting it into the goal. In Cattle Prod mode, teams try to guide the cows found in the middle of the map into goals which are located inside the enemy base.
Overall gameplay is a lot like any other Quake-based shooter, and as I mentioned before, it didn't take long for me to feel right at home. The single-player option, while not a full campaign, is designed to let the player jump into action immediately and face off against bots. Lower levels of the bot AI aren't very challenging to allow new players to get acclimated, and higher levels provide a much tougher challenge. It's worth mentioning that Alien Arena: Reloaded has improved the bot AI for capture-the-flag mode, which makes it both easier to practice or to have a bot or two fill in for lopsided teams.
Multiplayer offers more of the same, except with facing off against human opponents. Alien Arena comes with the Galaxy server browser that allows one to create or join servers, and uses an IRC-based chat system to set up games and chat with fellow players.
Alien Arena is a fun game, and its developers should be proud of having crafted such a unique shooter that draws on the best parts of its ancestors. In these days of tactical team-based shooters, it's refreshing to see a run-and-gun style shooter still deliver. However, the community is smaller than other free shooters, and the competitive scene is nearly non-existent. For a game based around online multiplayer, that doesn't really help. Still, I'd say it warrants a play if you enjoyed Quake 3 Arena, or if you like Warsow and are looking for a break with something a little different.