Battle lines have long been drawn up between two major XBLIG multiplayer shooters, ones that have (so far) stood the test of time and short attention spans to maintain, and even continue to grow, dedicated communities around their version of a popular FPS. There’s others that have done the same, to lesser degrees, but Murder Miners (plays like Halo / Minecraft) and Avatar Laser Wars 2 (Call of Duty-lite) have emerged as lasting favorites for many. Stepping in now to fill the void of Doom / Quake / Unreal Tournament-like, is Avatar Arena Action (80 MSP).
It does a solid impression, too, matching the controls, (almost same) speed, and twitch-shooting those games are known for, with similar-textured hallways and open areas bred for fast, hit-and-go conflict. Other familiar staples are here as well; warp points and jump pads, body armor, and the ubiquitous red health crosses (that yes, will boost your health beyond the seemingly-full 100%).
Supporting both challenging AI Avatar bots and online multiplayer up to eight, all of the levels are suitably balanced for small or large-scale skirmishes. With eight different arenas to choose from, there’s a good amount of obstacles and verticality in each of the maps, pushing faster and faster navigation as both a offensive and defensive tactic. He / She who gets the drop on their opponents (and carries the biggest gun) will typically win the fight.
And speaking of weapons, you’ll get a small but lethal assortment to counteract the weak starting pistol / knife combo; a sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and an assault / shotgun hybrid that can fire three different ammo types with devastating effect. If you’re like me, though, you’ll be entirely content to jump around the stage, hitting everyone with the rocket launcher and its generous splash damage. Kills leave behind a green goo (an avatar’s soul?), which refills ammo and equips you with any weapons that were in their possession.
Strangely, Avatar Arena Action doesn’t function like a traditional multiplayer shooter. It keeps score and placements diligently, and offers straight-up Deathmatch for its sole mode, though there’s no countdown timer or way to absolutely ‘win’ a match, or tinker with any options to do so. Games go on forever. To finish, you’ll have to manually exit out, in a ‘Nobody loses, We’re all winners’, ‘participation trophy’ sort of way. Odd. And if you’re interested in the game purely for the ability to play online, be aware that there isn’t much of anything happening there currently; I searched for games two days in a row, only to turn up empty each time.
Avatar Arena Action fills out the trilogy of Triple-A shooter impersonators quite nicely. It’s lacking a lot of the options present in Murder Miners and ALW2, and doesn’t have much of a community (yet), which could hurt its longevity. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better indie substitute for the quickened gameplay in shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament. As such, it comes recommended.