by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Run (From) These Streets
Before Grand Theft Auto made the jump to a third person free roam experience, it used to be of a much simpler sort. A top down, violence imbued fragfest with little in the way of story but plenty in the way of entertainment. The nostalgia of a simpler time is enticing, even with as much as I love the turns that the series has taken. So when a new multiplayer top-down experience with similar premise to the early days of Grand Theft Auto came in my crosshairs, I was all too willing to check it out. Someone call the coroner, because we have a body on the ground. Victim name: Street Arena.
Streets of Light Anger, Mixed Results
For all intents and purposes, this is a classic GTA clone that has favored the route of multiplayer over any form of single player experience. It's supposed to be a pick up and go shoot'em up that brings gamers instant gratification with a willing smile. Sadly, what it appears to do is almost the complete opposite of that. I could tell I was in for a headache from the time I fired the game up, and was met with a server browser straight out of 1999 (and not in a good way) featuring three servers. One official server, and two games hosted by other players.
Okay, so a rather small population does not outright mean that a game isn't good. But several days after release, and seeing only about a dozen people total playing was a bit of a shock either way. Connecting to the official server first, I found myself up against three other players. The firefight was playing out elsewhere on the map as I spawned in, and my first order of business was to find a weapon. One thing I actually really like about the game is the vibrant color scheme, as I looked around for a weapon I ran through a few blocks of brightly colored traffic and buildings alike. Unfortunately, that's about where my praise for the game ends. Everything else ranges from lackluster to just plain bad, with a bit of annoyance sprinkled on top for added flavor.
Elephant on the street
We'll start with the elephant in the room; the animations. To put it simply, they're awful. But in more detail, it's not that they're awful due to lack of effort. It seems like they were almost intentionally made awful. I think they were aiming for the 'glide' that the protagonists of the old GTA games did, which worked fine with 2-D sprites but with a three dimensional character it just looks very sloppy. This may not be as big of a deal to others as it is to me, but when all the character models do this it does get very annoying.
After finding a weapon, I was met with the announcer screaming "AMERICAN RIFLE!" into my headset, which I'll admit startled me. It was as loud and in your face as possible, as it is with every weapon pick up in the game. The announcer is shout happy, and while it adds to the not-so-serious tone of the game, it can also be an unwanted surprise for headphone users that never really lets up. Armed and ready for a fight, it was time to go find the other players. I didn't have to search too long as a katana wielding enemy came running at me, only to be gunned down quickly.
The gameplay overall is hit and miss, and largely depending on the connection of the other players. While connections play a huge role in any peer to peer game, it's much more noticeable in this one and the other players and I soon came to a choppy stand still during the next match. The little joy I got was quickly crushed, and since the official server is almost always empty, we were forced to just deal with it until they finally left. When I could actually play, the game was somewhat enjoyable but in need of a lot of polish, tweaks, and preferably an abolishment of the attempted comedy thrown at us in the form of a screaming announcer.
There's nothing wrong with using nostalgia as a tool to push the idea for a game. This long after the fact, there's nothing wrong with extreme imitation of an otherwise forgotten time in a popular franchise. But what happened with Street Arena is the best intentions gone awry. Different circumstances have made the overall product a story of what could have been, a rose-tinted glasses breaking reality.
Vibrant art style, decent gameplay when the connections are stable
Clunky animations, forced comedy, connections between players often unstable