From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett (opens in new tab) wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random games back into the light. This week… we are the Champion. We are the Champion. No time for losers, because we are (looks around)… where did everyone go? Aww.
Yes, there’s a porny element to Arena Champion, but while it’s why it was sent my way, that specifically isn’t very interesting. You play the game, you win the game, and it plays some animations that range from a quick dance to a badly animated sex scene. Yawn. Seems like a lot of effort to go to when any player who cares can just a) type a couple of words into Google or b) open the video files directly in VLC. These kind of games aren’t exactly rare, and rarely offer much that’s amusing. Still, that’s what it is, most likely made in some FPS Creator/Pie in the Sky-style game creation tool.
But some of the stuff around it… that caught my attention. It’s a rare game casual enough to just use a ‘Breaking News’ tune as theme music, and that’s nothing compared how odd it gets elsewhere.
It’s all wrapping, really. The game is terrible, but you don’t start off in the middle of either a sexy sequence or an epic battle to the death. Instead, Arena Champion kicks off in an office so deserted, so lacking in life, it’s as if SHODAN had been hired as the Facilities Manager. After a quick pop-up listing the controls and suggesting that if you get randomly trapped by the level geometry at any point, you should crouch to escape (any game that has to specifically give this kind of advice is doing well right out of the gate), you’re sent off on Mission: Find Where The Actual Bloody Game Starts.
A sexy shooter game should never be this… creepy. Every wall has giant cameras, turning to monitor the empty halls for trouble or possible mutants. Chairs sit, un-sat on. Office after office branches off the main room, decorated with filing cabinets and sofas and similar props, but with no purpose whatsoever. There are board rooms. TV rooms. Server rooms. None actually do anything, or have any function.
Occasionally, they’re inhabited by silent, standing figures who don’t even turn as you walk in. They don’t react. They say nothing. A break room. A security office. An elevator whose floor drops away to allow access to a second floor of useless rooms like an armory you can’t go into, a medical room with a nurse apparently drafted in from somewhere in Silent Hill, locker rooms and—
This seems like a hell of a lot of effort for a game whose only selling point is “Come look at naked anime chicks”, even if it uses the fact to put a few posters up here and there. Only the arena simulator room actually does something, where ‘something’ is revealing just how awful this game is going to be.
But that can wait a moment. First, there’s the Champions Lounge, which I suspect is also accessible by taking the Black Mesa Transit System. I’m just saying, if this competition turns out to be a front for an evil government project to rip tears in the universe, I for one will not be surprised. At least Gordon only had to worry about a HEV suit, not a trip to an HIV clinic.
In the Champions Lounge, things really get sad. This is where the teams you face in the arena hang around with bikini-clad ladies in a bar area. I wander up to the bar to say hello, but no amount of hitting Enter will deliver a salutation. Everyone just stands around giving the distinct impression that they wish I’d go away and leave them alone. So, points for realism there.
Then I fall through the floor. Hurm. Easy come, easy go.
Aside from that, there’s not much to note here, except that the whole place is decorated with pictures of a few girls in variously skimpy outfits, but the same face, as seen here:
A message pops up on the way in to tell you no guns are allowed in the floozy chamber, but the game doesn’t care and you can’t kill anyone anyway. In fact, you can’t do anything here. Not order a drink at the bar, not strike up a conversation, not engage in some light-hearted banter with the opposition.
The only entertainment is putting knuckle dusters on, going up to people and punching all the blood out of their head, to which they usually react by stoically getting right back up and shaking their heads as if to say “Please do not punch all the blood out of my head again.” Eventually, this works.
And then it’s time for the arena. Oh good lord. If you have a special Hat of Failure, put it on now.
The best thing that can be said about Arena Champion is that it’s slightly better than Extreme Paintbrawl, though that would probably be a bit of a fib. It’s hard to imagine a much duller shooter, being set in a big sprawling maze of identical corridors for the apparent entertainment of a paying audience but the actual entertainment of nobody in the entire world.
The level stretches about five textures out over a couple of levels, with corridors giving way to more corridors, those corridors leading into other corridors, and those corridors… you guessed it… linking together. I’ve never played a game so devoted to bloody corridors, and I’ve played a game called Corridor 7 (opens in new tab). Its corridors were much cooler too.
Occasionally, the corridors open out into a mini-arena, and that’s actually worse. The idea is that you’re going up against a team of professional corridor-shooters, for reasons that I think we can sum up as ‘nobody likes you and you smell’. I’m just saying.
It’s not like the Champions Lounge exactly offers champion prestige, with even the paid floozies refusing to give you the time of day until you single-handedly gun down about 49 guys in cold blood. They on the other hand get beer and all the attention they could want before the match begins. Sure, they’ll be too dead to enjoy it afterwards, but still.
The enemies do not exactly distinguish themselves, despite having rapid fire. In true bad-AI fashion, most react instantly to an opening door or other trigger, but often have an “Erp!” moment where they have to first load their gun. I shall repeat that. They’re in the middle of a gladiatorial deathmatch, knowing that someone armed with a semi-automatic, a machine gun, and a knuckle-duster that’s already punched all the blood out of their heads on at least 15 different occasions is on the way to do the same thing for realsies this time… and they’re not even ready to shoot.
Sorry for resorting to a meme here, but: You had one job, people.
Just to make the levels even more tedious, they’re a maze layout with locked doors everywhere. To open locked doors, you need keys. However, all you get is ‘a key’, with no hint as to which door it opens, and doors flashing up a “Locked.” prompt even if you’ve got it. This does not make navigation any more enjoyable, unless you really enjoy sickly coloured lighting that likes looking back at mid-90s Unreal engine games and declaring “Whoa. Classy dudes.”
Oh, and speaking of the ’90s, it might surprise you to know that as easy as the idea of an arena shooter obviously was back then, they didn’t really exist until Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 were able to provide bots that were fun to play against and levels that were interesting enough to bother with. Of course, there were mods for engines before that, and a few attempts. They just didn’t really take off.
Hands down the most ’90s of the lot was a game called XS, from a company called SCi, makers of Kingdom O’Magic, The Lawnmower Man, and plenty of other games too. XS was bloody awful, which I know first-hand, having been given it free with a copy of the fantastic Jedi Knight, but just check out its character line-up. So ’90s, it’s the mega mac-daddy (opens in new tab) of… something, probably.
And, yes, crap as it was, it’s still better than Arena Champion. Arena Champion’s sequel—yes, there’s a sequel—slightly raises the bar on level design, in much the same way that, to a starving orphan, two Maltesers is better than one.
There’s glass in the wall, the levels are a bit less mazey, the arenas don’t have quite as many enemies ready to shoot… but it doesn’t matter much. Fight through it, and one load later… there’s more of it to fight through! Then, finally, the cheapest thing in gaming history!
That’s not the real prize, obviously. No, the real prize is to return to the Champions Lounge, for a supposedly sexy cutscene. The first of those is is a pink-haired girl gyrating for a while before her shirt vanishes for slightly more explicit gyrating, for two immensely tedious minutes.
The other scenes offer touching as well as looking, assuming that the guy in them is meant to be the Arena Champion and he hasn’t just walked in on the other team continuing to be more successful at love as well as life.
Again, standard drill for this kind of game, with 3D characters grinding and staring at each other in what can only be described as ‘inhuman dead-eyed apathy’, and occasionally doing this horrible thing with their big flappy tongues.
Anyway, repeat that a few times and the game is over, to be continued in Arena Champion 2 and presumably Arena Champion 3: Seriously, Even We Feel Bad That We Made Another One Of These. (The game is mostly in Japanese, so presumably it sounds catchier in that tongue. The tongue not writhing around in the air like a drunk octopus in search of its other legs. I mean it, if you ever kiss anyone like that, your kissing privileges should be immediately revoked by law. Eeew.)
It’s sad that even with all this, Arena Champion isn’t at the bottom of the FPS barrel. Near the bottom, absolutely. If it stretched out even a little, it could scrape the barrel, but a game that seems more interested in creating a realistic office where its bullshit sport takes place than the actual bullshit sport itself has priorities skewed to a level that even the likes of Venus Hostage can’t match. At least it has the benefit of age on its side. After all, for a game made in 2001, it’s quite detailed, and—
Wait, it was made in 2010? Oh. Well, never mind then.