Electronic Arts acquired Origin Systems a while back, and are on the cusp of finally releasing a game set in the Wing Commander universe. Wing Commander: Arena isn’t what you would expect from the typical WC game. What used to be a PC space battle flight sim is now a Xbox 360 top-down view head-to-head arcade shooter… and EA did a darn good job.
I had the opportunity to preview the game during EA’s Summer Preview press event, and it has me excited. Set in the midst of the Human-Kilrathi conflict, you can choose to pilot ships from either side in single, team, free-for-all or duel multiplayer games. Each ship has different armaments, but many of the concepts from the previous Wing Commander games remain intact. Energy weapons take time to recharge, and you have a limited number of missiles. Shields regenerate over time, and afterburners are available for a quick boost as well as a kind of boost slide reminiscent of cars drifting.
The controls were relatively simple. A player can simply jump into a game and be able to ‘frag’ another person intuitively. Of course, if you want to take full advantage of the moves available, you would do wise to take a look at what was available. Some of the other players were performing barrel rolls, firing in reverse and doing all sorts of neat tricks, so it shouldn’t be too hard to pick up.
Graphics-wise, as this is a game built for the Xbox 360, you can rest assured they’re crisp and smooth. The individual ships are nicely detailed, and the glow of explosions light up a dark battlefield with nice effects. Capital ships going toe to toe while you’re caught in the middle; dog fighting an enemy is another situation where you’ll enjoy the graphics. Almost enough to distract you long enough to not see those missiles slamming into your ship. Almost.
Unfortunately, I was in a crowded room with a lot going on, so I wasn’t able to truly listen to the sound, so I can’t comment on it. I would venture to guess that since this is an Xbox Live Arcade game, you won’t be getting full two hour long dialog. But, that’s not the point of the game anyways.
Wing Commander: Arena picks up the franchise and moves it into a new direction, away from a space sim to a space shooter. EA did a great job in carefully including as much of the old as they move forward with the new, and in the end it looks like they succeeded. I know I’m eagerly anticipating the release of this game.