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Arena Shooters Deserve a Comeback

What ever happened to fast-paced and skill based multiplayer shooters? It seems like the days of rocket jumping and bunny hopping are a thing of the past. These mechanics shouldn't be left forgotten; they should still be embraced for today's times. I want to frag like it's 1999, but times are different and arena shooters need to find a way to reinvent themselves for the modern audience.

Arena Shooters Deserve a Comeback

It’s sad that arena shooters are a dying breed. I grew up playing these fast-paced first-person shooters and I’ve always loved the thrill of them. There’s just something magical about being able to move fast, control items on the map, and using a multitude of weapons to destroy your opponents. Quake 3 Arena was my first taste of arena shooters although I did do some classic Doom deathmatch before. But I believe classic Doom deathmatch were very prehistoric, and it’s not something I would say perfected the sub genre like Quake 3 has done.

Eventually I discovered Unreal Tournament and it was easily right up my alley. I learned to realize during my younger years that these type of games appealed to me. It might because I grew up playing a game that was an obvious influence to these fast-paced shooters. I loved going through the deathmatch arenas and trying to control valuable item pick ups like Quad Damage to playing capture the flag.

These style of games were popular during the late 90’s to early 2000s. Unfortunately, after those years, it seems like the industry has just abandoned them like the real-time strategy genre.

What is An Arena Shooter?

But before I dive deep in the topic, let’s define what is an arena shooter. An arena shooter is simply a sub genre of a first-person or third-person shooter designed to be chaotic and fast-paced. There’s also an emphasis on item pick-ups, being multiplayer-centric, and features heavy run and gun action. When I think of arena shooters, I always think of Quake 3 Arena or the original Uneral Tournament. Those games were the titles that defined the arena shooter experience.

Also, those games are easily some of the most influential games to later popular titles. Both Halo and Fortnite has adapted to some of those games’ elements in their core gameplay design. They have jump pads which allow the players to get from one location to the next swiftly. There’s a lot of emphasis movement during gunfights like strafing and jumping. But despite having obvious nods to those 90’s PC classics, it’s not quite the same.

I am certainly a big fan of Halo multiplayer. Matter of fact, Halo 2 was my first introduction to online console gaming. It certainly has a sentimental spot in my heart. There’s a lot of things that appeal to me in Halo coming from someone who played games that Halo has taken inspiration from. Even though I never feel like it’s in the same league as Quake’s core mechanics, I love how Halo has always kind of created its own style at the time of its inception. As someone who was a PC gamer during his younger years, Halo felt like a combination of Unreal Tournament meets Counter-Strike.

Halo 2's multiplayer always felt right at home for me despite not being a traditional arena shooter.

Halo 2’s multiplayer always felt right at home for me despite not being a traditional arena shooter.

I’ve enjoyed every game up to Infinite, but as fun as Infinite is, it’s not scratching that arena shooter itch in 2022 and beyond. There’s a part of me that wants to play something that feels like Quake or Unreal Tournament in today’s times, but at the same time feels modern and has a sense of accessibility.

The closest thing when a game nailed down that was Doom 2016. Doom 2016’s multiplayer wasn’t the greatest arena shooter experience, but I appreciate its existence. It was more casual and approachable for people who weren’t familiar this sub-genre. That means players wouldn’t be turned off by its archaic design years after its launch. There used to be ease of finding multiplayer matches a few years ago.

The Arena Shooter Crisis

Nowadays, it’s extremely hard to find games and there’s a part of me that misses it. I do miss being able to play with a reasonable population. It may have felt like a dumbed down version of Quake 3, it was still fun and it scratched that itch. I also have a soft spot for being able to play the demons because I’ve always thought that was one of the coolest aspects of the game. It also felt Doom and I thought it gave it a bit of personality compared to the games it was inspired from.

Doom 2016's rocket launcher felt like a spiritual successor to Quake 3's.

Doom 2016’s rocket launcher felt like a spiritual successor to Quake 3’s.

I am aware that there are more recently games that tried to become the modern times of Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament. Diabotical and Toxikk are prime examples of that and they don’t change anything too different from their ancestors as far as mechanics go. That is also the problem with these games. The problem with those games is it failed to sustain a player base and that’s a severe problem with modern arena shooters. I think it’s safe to say that the modern day gamers doesn’t want a game that plays like a 90’s arena shooter.

It’s moments like those that make me appreciate Doom 2016 multiplayer more in hindsight. I honestly believe when Eternal dropped its 2016 styled multiplayer for a more experimental approach, it was the wrong move. Eternal’s multiplayer was basically one Doom Slayer versus two demon players. I didn’t find it too appealing although I gave it a shot, but at the end of the day, it just felt like id Software just wasted all their resources and time on this mode.

TOXIKK- Launch Trailer

There’s not an arena shooter I can think of that has a decent amount of player base in today’s times outside of Team Fortress 2. It saddens me because every good online game needs to have a reasonable population for various reasons. It’s mostly for connection and skill levels. Playing an online game against players who are vastly worse or better than you is never fun for both parties. Multiplayer games are generally the way to go when you find players that are around your skill level. However, connection is absolutely a factor for enjoyment especially for shooters.

I’m sure we’ve all played the Call of Duty games and bumped into the infamous “I shot that guy first, but on the kill cam, I didn’t shoot at all” moments. It’s certainly not fun to play any shooter where you’re at a connection disadvantage; it affects your survivability and your damage dealing. When you’re constantly being put in a game and you feel like not getting the most optimal playing experience, it simply destroys your motivation to play.

Arena shooters are nowhere near to the popularity of Fortnite or Apex Legends. This means players are just going to bump into a point where it’s difficult to find enjoyment to play it in the long term.

Providing bots is a good idea to keep people playing the game once the population dies out, but I personally believe fighting bots is never the most optimal or exciting way to play these games. Eventually, you will know how to beat them.

The Longest Yard (Q3DM17) is my favorite Quake 3 space map.

The Longest Yard (Q3DM17) is my favorite Quake 3 space map.

Some developers will make bots harder by giving them unfair advantages like aimbot or make the player’s hit registration worse. These design decisions are very frown upon, and it shouldn’t be embraced. It will make players play the game in a cheesy way and it’s not technically helping you improve which I believe should be the purpose of bots.

At the end of the day, every multiplayer game no matter what genre they are will be better against real players. You can learn your mistakes and fighting other players doesn’t mean they get artificial advantages like bots do. It’s simply more fun too and I believe every multiplayer fanatic can agree they’d rather play against players than bots.

How Can Arena Shooters Be More Successful?

Since this topic is mostly about arena shooters losing its sense of popularity throughout the years, how can we make it more popular? There are definitely a lot of goals that needs to be done. I believe if any developer wants to revive arena shooters bring it to the masses and have a healthy population base is not going to be an easy job.

The first thing that comes to my mind is it has to be appealing to console players. This one is certainly controversial because arena shooters have originated on the PC platform. These games are fast-paced by nature and having a mouse and keyboard set up seems to be the optimal set up. However, the gaming industry was different during the times when arena shooters were popular and the console market has grown exponentially throughout the years

Ultimate Quake Frag Video - AnnihilatioN HQ

Video credit: SyNcHroToN.

According to TechRadar, the console audience makes up to 30% of the gaming audience while the PC is 25%. If a developer simply makes their game exclusive to the PC platform, they’re losing potential fans and customers. Also, let’s not forget that there are PC players that do like to play with controllers. From a business standpoint, it would seem like a bad idea if one wants their game to be popular and not go after the console market.

We also have to discuss the good ol’ controller vs. mouse and keyboard debate. If you ask me, I always thought games that follow the same vein of Quake and Unreal Tournament certainly plays better on a mouse and keyboard. Those games definitely require more precise aim and the fast flick of a mouse too. With that said, developers have found workarounds like aim assist and higher bullet magnetism to compensate the lack of precise aim on thumbsticks.

One can argue using controllers on competitive shooter is a crime, but I believe people are just too caught up living in the past. This isn’t the mid 90’s anymore. This is 2022 and times have changed. Shooters are very popular on consoles and Call of Duty had a history for setting records on the Xbox platform. Sure, there’s definitely going to be a lot of balancing involves between the two peripherals, but I believe it’s possible to find the middle ground.

Do you dare to grab that red armor?

Do you dare to grab that red armor?

The next thing is crucial is making accessible to those that didn’t grow up on arena shooters. I believe the problems with these games are it might not be the kind of game you can pick up right off the bat and enjoy it. These games do have a history for being some of the earliest eSport titles before eSports became a word. It might also seem intimidating when one is watching high level gameplay too.

With that mentioned, that doesn’t mean I want future arena shooters to lower the skill ceiling which these games are known for being skill based as all hell. It’s one of the main reasons why I enjoy playing these games too. I personally believe arena shooters needs to incorporate some sort of movement system, emphasized multiple weapons’ usage, and reward the player for having good map control.

Arena shooters should have a learning curve for players to “get it.” It also shouldn’t be too daunting for new or inexperienced players. Basically, a game that has a bigger skill floor, but with a high skill ceiling. That’s the perfect ingredient for any multiplayer game that wants to sustain a player base throughout the years.

One Frag Left

It’s crazy to imagine that there was a time where people were playing these chaotic fast-paced shooters. Gamers were hooked on it like today’s generation with various Call of Duty titles, but it has lost much of its popularity throughout the years especially around mid 2000s.

10/12/2001 Quake Lan party on WKYC Cleveland, Perry Ohio

Video credit: russr.

I highly doubt arena shooters will ever be as popular as mobas or first-person shooter titles like Call of Duty or Counter-Strike. But just to see it more common and having a sustained player base is something I’d be delighted to see in the future. I would also like to see big name studios like Epic Games or id Software try to revive them in the AAA world.

Arena shooters are very fun to play and deserves to have a proper comeback especially there’s been a resurgence of retro-styled first-person shooters throughout the years from both the indie and AAA world. Arena shooters are definitely in the same family tree of those games. But it hasn’t had the same treatment or attention compared to the single player driven games.

It’s about time somebody in the industry is trying to revive the arena shooter genre. I miss being able to bunny hop, rocket jump, and be in the mist of chaotic action in present times. Let’s make multiplayer shooters arcadey and downright fun again. I want to see a game that doesn’t rely on the player fighting bots in the long run. Gamers should be able to fight against players at all times when they’re playing an arena shooter in modern times

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