Format- Gameboy Advanced
Genre- First Person Shooter
I’ve tried to revisit the 12 FPS games for the GBA in the order they were released, but have sadly messed it up a bit. Doom came after Ecks Vs Sever – a fact that i’m ashamed I overlooked.
But i’m putting that right, and the next game on my revisit radar is Dark Arena. Perhaps the most forgotten of the whole flock of GBA FPS – apart from perhaps the too late for the party Ice Nine – this is was actually the first FPS announced for the handheld.
It’s also the only GBA FPS that isn’t a port or continuation of an existing shooter series, or without any conceivable tie to a movie (Ice Nine was based on the film The Recruit but the licensing fell through).
This fact probably didn’t help Dark Arena reach a wider audience, but it’s hard to feel too sorry for it, due to the fact it’s a rather turgid effort all round.
Perhaps it was rushed to a release in an attempt to be the first GBA FPS, in which case it failed in a truly dismal fashion due to the fact three games beat it to the punch, but ia lack of attention to detail does show through in the final product.
It’s opening is very effective though, in an adorably budget stricken kind of way. Green text is type out on a black screen, with a sinister soundtrack burbling away in the background.
It recites the plot of Doom pretty much ad verbatim – lone marine stranded in a infested space station, blah blah blah, escaping is a near impossible task, etcetera etcetera – only with a slightly more clunky syntax.
Only a rubbish looking pic of a red beast attacking a bald space marine sullies the dark-edged tone.
When you enter the first stage though, all the effort gone into this set-up evaporates very quickly indeed.
This is not a scary game. Not by a long shot. There’s no music here, just the sounds of enemies and gunfire. On a system with more graphical oomph this could have worked – but here it mutes, quite literally, any potential atmosphere.
Controls are simple and work well however. Shooting enemies higher than your current level can be fired at by simply aiming in their vague direction, Doom style.
Guns are plentiful, but most are ineffectual in terms of their power. You can be tooled up with a rocket launcher, sniper or laser gun, but there’s no real satisfying clunk-click- bam feel to the game – like, say, Doom (sorry for constantly making the comparison).
This is something most of the FPS’ on GBA suffered with actually, but was not a problem in Doom or Duken Nukem Advance – perhaps as much to the way your enemies die more than anything else.
In Dark Arena they simply slump straight to the ground once you’ve pumped enough bullets into them, like sad cardboard cut-outs.
There’s no real sense that you’ve conquered anything evil at all, and this doesn’t help to stimulate you to push on through the game’s fifteen levels.
Most of the alien beasties don’t even carry any tangible threat either. Most can be defeated without you you needing to exert any caution – just walk near them and fire away.
Only the robot mechs and larger aliens near the end of the game can do much damage to you in a straight up firefight. And the final boss of course, is a challenge, as you’d expect.
Dark Arena is miles ahead of, say, BackTrack – it’s got clearer graphics and a proper single player for one – but it does very little to set itself apart from the GBA FPS pack.
Although when I was younger I think I got scared a little for abut 30 seconds in one of Dark Arena’s stages, it was probably because I was at the end of the stage and had to beat several tough enemies – and had to go back to the start if I died, something I was very keen not to do.
Generally, attempting to mimic Doom is unwise at the best of times – but especially when Doom has already been released for the system you’re coming out on.