Overall Score 88%
Miner Wars Arena
Regular Bytten readers may have noticed a lot of news submissions regarding upcoming game, Miner Wars. This is not that game, though it's set in the same universe - instead, this is a standalone offering to whet our appetites. Earth is depleted of resources, and humanity heads to the stars, mining the asteroids for valuable ores. With supplies scarce, these mining factions soon start fighting amongst themselves. Can you survive the dangers of space while defending yourself against the opposition? Enter the Miner Wars Arena and find out for yourself.
The idea is simple enough. You control a ship (one of three options; the usual light/fast, heavy/slow and balanced choices) armed with up to five types of weaponry and an energy drill. Set out from your base by tunnelling through the asteroid's surface, looking for pickups buried in the rock. These can upgrade your ship's energy levels, armour, weaponry and so on, or simply provide ammunition or goodies such as a shield. But be careful - there are other ships out there doing the same. Destroy them before they destroy you! And don't stray too far from home - your energy supply is limited and will need frequent recharging.
There's a certain amount of strategy with the different weapons. The basic gatling gun sprays hot lead at your enemies - not very powerful, but ammunition is plentiful and automatic fire helps to ensure you'll score a few hits. Rockets are more damaging, but much more limited - and it's possible to commit suicide if you're too near the blast. You can also lure enemies into mines, snipe at them with the powerful laser or fire off volleys of plasma. While some weapons are constrained by ammunition, others drain your energy supply, which is already sapped by drilling and simply staying alive.
Controls are fairly straightforward - you steer and fire with the mouse, and you move with the keyboard (arrow keys and WASD both seem to work fine). Controls get a bit more complicated for two players, for which I would recommend checking the ingame help. Select your weapons with the number keys 1-5. You recharge your energy, shields and armour at your home base - curiously, you can also recharge at least your energy at enemy bases too, as long as that enemy player is still active. Each mission can be played at Easy, Medium and Hard levels, and there's a clear difference in the AI - Easy enemies are rather stupid, whereas the smarter levels actively hunt you down and look for powerups.
Miner Wars Arena boasts some impressive 3D graphics, though there's no escaping the 2D nature of the game itself. On my first outing I found myself stuck in my own base, unable to figure out how to get onto the surface and not realising that I had to drill through it! This 2D layout is a little disappointing - I can imagine digging tunnels over and under other tunnels - but for a game this fast paced it's probably for the best to keep things simple. The 3D modelling does provide some excellent graphics and there are plenty of indicators on screen towards the nearest (hidden) power-ups, enemies and your home base. Unfortunately I've not found any way to change the viewpoint - you are always watching from behind and above your ship, though it's possible I simply haven't found the right controls yet. Pickups are a little hard to distinguish from each other but are fairly obvious in comparison to the landscape.
A range of rock tracks form the background to Miner Wars Arena, though I'm unable to say too much about them - I've been rather too distracted by the gameplay and not getting killed! This is a good sign, as it means the music isn't overshadowing the rest of the game. Sound effects are varied and excellent quality, with plenty of bangs and booms to entertain. A number of voice clips express delight when you collect power-ups and there are alerts when your stats get too low - in short, plenty for your ears to get involved with.
You'll need to apply some strategy. Do you follow an existing tunnel or use up energy digging a more direct route? Do you use energy weapons and drain your batteries or use up your limited ammunition? Do you clear out the area round your base or leave rocks in place to provide cover from weapons fire? Do you spend your time hunting for goodies, or chasing the enemy? Whatever your strategy, sitting around wasting time will only get you killed, but there are many ways to win. Indeed, different missions have different objectives - being the last man standing is the most common, but you may also be expected to (say) be the first to reach five kills.
The standard "Tournament" mode features a series of missions with limited equipment and a steady progression of difficulty, starting out with a single enemy and both sides armed with just gatling guns, steadily introducing new weapons and powerups (and more enemies). Each completed level unlocks the next one, and also unlocks the next difficulty level for that mission - so you need to defeat one on Easy before you can try it on Normal, and beat Normal to unlock Hard. You can replay a mission whenever you like, perhaps choosing a different ship type. If you just fancy a quick blast, you can try a "Skirmish" match, a single bout where you can select pretty much every parameter - such as number of enemies, weapons available, etc - and there's also the "Special Edition" mode. How long can you defend the generator?
The combination of unlockable missions and the more sandbox style Skirmish mode give this a fair amount of staying power - but then again, there's not really a huge amount of variation between missions. All of them are the same premise: dig through the rock, find powerups, destroy the enemy. The asteroids themselves are all, in effect, big square areas with little difference between them - the main variation is in AI number and difficulty and the available technology. The three ship types allow you to try some different approaches, but I didn't find them especially different to play. Perhaps it's best to take Miner Wars Arena for what it is - a game primarily designed to sell us the much bigger MMORPG, still under beta as I write. If it plays anything like its little brother, it should prove very successful.
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