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Review by: David Laprad
Published: February 19, 2001
Few in number are the developers who have had a profound impact on the landscape of gaming. id is such a group with its conception of the first-person shooter and as the originator of deathmatch. Even though gunning down an opponent in a 3D arena is now old hat, the Texas-based developers were the first ones out the door with a title that included this now popular feature. Since the release of Doom in 1993, the fertile deathmatch concept has spawned entire communities and professional competitions — and evolved into something much more elaborate than one-on-one battles. In part because of id’s generous distribution of code and support of user-created add-ons, team-based deathmatch and its boundless variations have become some of the most popular forms of gaming entertainment. So even though it’s strange to see id following a trend rather than creating one, I was intrigued to see what the Titans of Texas could come up with in a squad-based title.
Team Arena is an add-on for id’s popular deathmatch-oriented product, which most of the people reading this review will have installed on their PCs. Despite being an expansion, the new release has been filled to the brim with enhancements, including new game modes, additional maps, extra weapons, unique power-ups and more. id even spit-shined the graphics and added a polished new interface to boot. There’s also a narrative behind all the carnage — something about a race of blood-lusting aliens abducting the most powerful warriors in the universe and bringing them to a place called Arena Eternal. In the Arena, five teams made up from four different races battle over survival rights, with each team having a unique balance of gladiators ranging from defensive to offensive to all-around superstar. All the top dog combatants from Q3A return along with a couple new characters, though the additional fighters are nowhere to be seen in the team matches, just in a special Tournament mode that features traditional deathmatches. The computer-controlled bots are also on-hand to enable a single person to experience simulated squad-based combat.
The four team-based modes are Classic CTF, One Flag CTF, Harvester and Overload. For the unschooled, Classic Capture the Flag is a competition in which each team attempts to steal the other group’s banner and return it to their own base. One Flag CTF contains a single banner, located in the center of the arena, that must be planted inside the opposing team’s camp. In Harvester, each time a person is fragged, an icon representing their team appears in the center of the arena. To score a point, the opposing team must grab the icon and haul it to their rival’s base without getting fragged. Overload is a challenging modification in which both teams attempt to demolish a grinning cadaver belonging to the other team. The face turns red as it absorbs damage but regenerates at a rate of 15 hit points per second when not being fired upon. Success in these competitions sometimes requires tight organization and effective communication, so id has included seven orders that the team’s chosen leader can issue: assault, camp, defend, follow, escort, patrol and retrieve.
Emerging triumphant can also require the use of time-honored tactics. To this end, id had designed a clever balance between items and weapons. Four new items that remain with the carrier until he or she is fragged join the battle: Doubler multiplies the damage of the current weapon times two; Scout enables a gladiator to move and shoot twice as fast but does not allow the user to wear armor; Guard boosts health and armor to 200 and regenerates these numbers in increments of five points when the carrier suffers damage; and Ammo-Regen recharges the carrier’s ammunition and increases their firing rate. Each team is given one of each item; two additional items can be carried until needed: One detonates a powerful bomb, fragging the carrier but also damaging other combatants, while the second renders a warrior invulnerable to all weapons except the new prox mine launcher. A word of advice: A careful read through the manual or tutorial is suggested in order to learn what all the different icons for weapons, power-ups, items and ammunition represent. Given time and practice, various combinations of power-ups and weapons are proven effective in battle while certain equalizers come to light as well. For instance, the person with the Ammo-Regen power-up is going to have an easier time targeting the fast-moving Scout, while it would be redundant to let the person holding the Guard power-up to also haul the item that will render him invulnerable.
Since the need will arise to use a weapon, id has included two retooled favorites and one new implement: the nail gun, the prox mine launcher and the chaingun. The nail gun spits out a cluster of small nails that can do quite a bit of damage up close. It operates similar to the shotgun rather than the chaingun, requiring reloads between shots and unleashing about a half-dozen pointed deathbringers in a realistic spread. The prox mine launcher leaves behind small explosive charges that can cling to walls and other surfaces. The chaingun returns as well, and even though it still chews up tissue real good, it also uses ammunition at an alarming rate.
Last among the additions are the new maps. There are some great new graphical themes on hand — wave farwell to the traditional browns and dull industrial hues — and no one is better at using dazzling architecture to create fast-paced deathmatch maps than id. Included are eight new team maps, four new tournament maps, four overhauled maps from Q3A and three sprawling outdoor maps. As one would expect from the id team, lots of jump pads and teleporters are peppered throughout the levels to encourage rapid navigation.
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