Wing Commander Arena - hands-on

Classic gameplay - just not the classic you're expecting

Are you an old-school Wing Commander fan? Does mention of the Terran Confederation, the Kilrathi and Colonel Blair bring a nostalgic smile to your face? And when you heard about the upcoming Wing Commander Arena for Xbox Live Arcade, were you ecstatic to know one of your favorite franchises was coming back?

If so, you might want to temper your expectations. There are no new stories to be told and no familiar characters to revisit in this entry... heck, from what we saw, there are no stories or characters whatsoever. Based on our first impressions and what we've learned from the developers, this is a Wing Commander game in name only.

Being an arcade offering, Arena shares more similarities to classic space shooters like Space Invaders and Galaga. The gameplay is simple - you fly around a 2D arena, blasting wildly away at all the other ships. While the graphical layers and effects make the galaxy around you look three dimensional, as it always has been in previous Wing Commander games, you're never really breaking free from the flat axis. It's kind of like an invisible glass pane has been stuck in space and you're zipping around on it.

For what it is, though, Arena offers some nicely diverse options. You can perform limited evasive maneuvers like quick barrel rolls, loops and 180 degree turns. Weapons include everything from basic plasma cannons and heat-seeking missiles to more unusual tools like energy-sapping "vampire" rockets and sentry-like drop turrets. Our favorite, though, had to be the tractor beam, which enabled you to trap an enemy fighter and then sling him into other ships or asteroids for environmental damage.


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