Home Editorial Why don’t people play arena shooters any more?

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine was telling me how he had recently bought a copy of Unreal Tournament 3 and that I had to get a copy myself and play it with him at some point.

I remember getting the game when it first came out (which happens to be the same year Team Fortress 2 came out), and I didn’t think too much of it.

My main game back then was Unreal Tournament 2004, and UT3 felt very different. Plus, at the time of release it was a buggy, nigh unplayable piece of shit.

The community I played with back then actually had to massively shrink their number of servers at the time because they bought these shiny UT3 servers and no one was playing. Needless to say, I wasn’t too happy about it. But this was four years ago. Since then, I’ve seen other games released and also sequels to those aforementioned games.  And I’ve subsequently given them away for free on Steam. And not all of them were that good. Surely now would be a good time to give it a second chance.


About the game

UT3 goes back to what the original Unreal Tournament games felt like. As it turns out, UT2004 was a bastard child that not many of the original fans really took a liking to. The feel of this game is so drastically different fromwhat I was used to that I could barely move myself around. Since I left the UT2004 world, however, getting used to the controls was pretty much a non-issue and wouldn’t be an issue for anyone picking up the game today. A major difference was that your character actually feels like  a physical being rather than a super light-weight puppet* Apart from physics changes, a few of new additions/subtle changes, and a graphics update everything feels the same. Playing this game again had the same feeling of coming back home after travelling the world; everything was just how you left it.

The Unreal games aren’t anything like more recent or popular shooters. It’s way more ‘out there’ than games like Battlefield or Call of Duty and doesn’t nudge players to fill a specific role like Team Fortress 2. You do what you have to in order to win and that’s it.

There aren’t any quarrels about a certain set up being over or under powered, no one yells at you for using a certain weapon, and you won’t have a chance of winning unless you work as a team (if you’re playing a team-based game, of course). So far, I’ve only seen one person call someone else a noob and that was because the noob in question out-manoeuvred the other guy who turns out to be a sore loser. Everyone called him out on it too, which was nice. “You got killed by a noob? That doesn’t say much about you then does it?” is a phrase that I’ve not seen almost chanted by a full server in quick succession since… Well, since I last played an Unreal game four years ago.

The feeling I got from seeing that display of human decency was something more than just nostalgia; seeing a new platforming Sonic game is nostalgia but this was just something so much more raw and pure feeling. It’s like meeting up with that girl/guy you had a crush on in school, seeing that they’ve not changed a bit and that they’re telling you that you’re going out for a drink. It’s fucking awesome, and that’s just from seeing people act nice towards each other.

The weapons and other pick-ups, the important shit in any arena shooter, are still just as fun to use. Rocket Launchers (not your pansy Team Fortress launchers, this baby can fire three at a time in a spiral that locks on to players), Flak Cannons, Sniper Rifles, Jump boots, Shield belts, Plasma Rifles, Link Guns (which still has the best alternate-fire kill description ever), Translocators, Hoverboards, and the Bio Rifle, one of my favourites. That’s not even all the guns. Shit, I just remembered one that I should never forget about: The Redeemer. This baby is is a hand-held nuclear missile which you can guide manually and use to inflict serious damage. The above guns are just some of the basics–there are a bunch of other guns that are specific to certain game modes that are either weapons in their own right or replace a pre-existing weapon.

Also, as I touched upon earlier, there’s no specific player role to fill or automatic loadouts for a player to spawn with. You spawn with a melee weapon and a pistol, the rest is up to you to find and cause mayhem with.

There are also more than enough game modes to enjoy. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Vehicle CTF are the self-explanatory ones that are included in a number of games now. Then, you have Warfare, which is capturing points but with vehicles, and, depending on the map, there are some context sensitive objectives. These are either required or will give your team a massive advantage.

Greed is a ‘collectible TDM’ type game where your kills drop a number of skulls, which changes depending on their own kills, and which you then need to take to a capture zone. Betrayal is an interesting one where your two-man team earn points for each kill depending on how well you and your opponents are doing (if they’re all worthless peons they’re only worth one point, but if he’s the dude in first place then he could be worth 50 points). What’s interesting in Betrayal is that you can betray your teammate by killing him and taking his points to increase your team’s score. Things can go from being team versus team to a free-for-all quite quickly. I think I’m forgetting a game mode or two as well, but with the nature of the next section, you’ll see why.



There are so many mods for Arena Shooters that it just gets silly trying to list them for just the Unreal games let alone all of them ever made. But let’s try anyway!

  • Team Arena Master (TAM): Basically like Team Deathmatch but you don’t respawn after you die a la Counter-Strike.
  • Freon: When you die, you become frozen in place and need to be thawed out by teammates huddling up to you for X amount of time. So… Freeze tag.
  • Instagib: This is technically a mutator (name for a small mod that doesn’t change the game mode as a whole in the UT universe), but it still makes things VERY interesting. You only get the one hitscan gun but it blasts people into chunky giblets as soon as you hit them. Hence the name Insta-Gib.
  • Big head mode: Goldeneye fans play UT too!
  • Infinite Chaos: Everyone’s weapons fire faster and have infinite ammo. Good, gory, stress-relieving fun for when EVERYTHING MUST DIE.
  • Invasion/Horde Mode: I got quite angry when someone said that Gears of War 2 revolutionised how multiplayer can work when they came up with a game mode of players fighting against waves of enemies. I got angry because Unreal Tournament had beaten them by four years and it was more fun. Technically this WAS a game mode rather than a mod but this is where I cheat by saying that people changed it in there own way and even added…
  • RPG elements and XP abilities: Yep, before Call of Duty started having people leveling up in multiplayer to get perks, there was an Unreal mod for it. One of the highest level unlocks was a killstreak bonus that summoned a giant nuke. Sound familiar?
  • Some game you may never had heard of: TEAM FORTRESS 2! Valve didn’t give The Original Quake sounds and a different view point because someone fucked up the coding and Team Fortress Classic doesn’t look like shit because they were lazy. Team Fortress was originally a Quake mod and a damned popular one at that.
  • Skyrim: Not really but with all the retards Googling ‘Arrow to the knee’ jokes I’ve just drawn more attention to this article. **
  • Speaking of memes: Remember that hand-held remote controlled nuclear missile weapon that I mentioned before called The Redeemer? Yeah, there’s a mod that turns that into Nyan Cat.

Those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. There are THOUSANDS of mods out there for arena shooters. Hell, Unreal Tournament always has a ‘Make something Unreal’ contest involving mods, maps, and full game conversions. What’s doubly impressive is that these aren’t made by game designers in their spare time to just show off–these are made by people playing the game who have an idea and say to themselves “You know what? I’m going to create this and put it in the game”. They don’t get paid (actually, I think winners of the contests may have gotten a cash prize but it’s more than contest winners creating content), and most of the time no one can even remember the creator’s name. All people remember is how much fun they had playing with the mod.

Valve currently has a good thing going with the Workshop or whatever it’s called where you can get paid if they actually put the item in the game, but it feels like they’re somewhat missing the point. People don’t mod the game or add maps because they want to be paid. They do it because they love doing it. In my opinion, if hats hadn’t exploded into such a ridiculous thing, then Valve would likely be letting people download the fan-made items free of charge as just reskins.

It’s a real shame that there isn’t more modding being done nowadays, but I’m guessing it’s because you don’t have as blank a template any more. Take UT or Quake, for example. Players are just a generic dude who goes around killing shit with weapons that they pick up as they go along, or they might spawn with three or four of them. You can do so much with that and change stuff around. I imagine there’s almost nothing you can’t do.

Then there’s Team Fortress 2. You have two distinct teams (no free-for-all modes), with nine separate classes with different health and movement values. The classes can only use certain weapons/equip and certain items that, with only a couple of exceptions (shotgun and pistol), can ONLY be used by that class. There’s still fair bit that you can do with that but it’s nowhere near as much. That isn’t to say that there’s nothing of worth out there (namely the Prophunt and Saxton Hale mods are fun), but they don’t seem to have that staying power. Saxton Hale can get boring if you die early, and people who play Prophunt all the time know all the tricks of the map and hide in places you would never bother looking, unless you too play it a hell of a lot. But, these are things to talk about another time.


Let’s not complicate things

It seems that gamers now want strict direction from their games. You are this guy, this is what you do, you can also do Y and Z if you want, but X is your main thing. Why? What was wrong with “Here are guns, other players are over there, they want to kill you, kill them for points”? What was wrong with “You are Mascot B, run to the right, don’t die to win”? Nothing. Nothing at all was wrong with them, and those who are old enough to remember playing them know this. But we get fucked over by companies making crappy remakes/games with the same name so that they can cash in on nostalgia. They add stuff that isn’t necessary, they spend too much money in departments that don’t really matter, and the fans end up hating it because silly things get added that don’t fit the game (like Sonic with a sword).

You can’t add too much extra stuff to an arena shooter. If you add too much, it stops being an arena shooter. If you were ever a fan of the Unreal series, get UT3. If you never played an Unreal Tournament game before, get UT3. If you’ve never played an arena shooter before, go get UT3. It may be a few years old but there are still a lot of people who play it, and it’s £14/$20 on Steam. It was actually on sale over the summer, so you know that some people bought it just to try it out and have stuck around. The servers are populated, you’re going to get a good connection (European players have Multiplay servers to go to and there are a lot of American servers out there too), and it’s affordable. Hell, it’s within the “Yeah, I can spend that” range of money for buying a Christmas present for someone. You have no excuse to not play this game and start having fun.


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 * Essentially the difference between fighting on Earth and Planet Vegeta.
** It’s the new ‘Cake is a Lie’ and I can’t be the only one who’s sick and tired of it already


16 replies to this post
  1. For me, it’s been the evolution of genre in the shooter franchise that hit the arena shooter hardest. Back in the Quake, Unreal, even Counterstrike days, there was no real overarching story, no character to identify with. You as player had no connection to the avatar representing you in the game world. As you say, you were Generic Space Marine with a Gun, and the only goal you had was “Shoot that other guy over there till he dies.” Objective modes aside, it game down to simple gunplay and map knowledge and fun.

    Though I’m somewhat loathe to say this, I think the real downturn began, slowly, with Goldeneye for N64. For the first time in real mainstream media, you had a multiplayer game with definable characters, each of whom had a story, a fanbase and a recognizable face. While still very much a shooter all about the actual shooting, but setting each map somewhere from a fiction, rather than being built solely for multiplayer purposes, I think began the decent into role based shooters.

    I might write something of a response to this article, since it’s really intriguing, and I love thinking about this kind of stuff. Nice work.

    • I would argue that Goldeneye still had you playing as someone generic but the skins were more recognisable. Basically, if Goldeneye wasn’t based around James Bond, the multiplayer wouldn’t have been any different and still as fun.

      I personally see Counter-Strike and the multiplayer of Call of Duty as the downturn of arena shooters. The gameplay of CS was very different to arena shooters (particularly having to wait until the end of a round to respawn) and the set loadouts in CoD encouraged players to fill a specific role rather than change roles on the fly or perform the role with your own custom set.

      Feel free to write a response, I look forward to see what you produce!

  2. I would also like to shout-out Quake Live, whose slogan is “Practically Indistinguishable From The Best Arena Shooter Ever”

  3. I think that some of the problem is that the newer gen FPS fans are too used to having their hands held. I dared some of the ones I know to play good old UT2K4 and hell even single player stuff like Doom and Duke3D and they just couldn’t do it. Without being able to take cover and regen health they were easy meat.

  4. i’ve played the unreal series since the original way back in 1998. i got into it via the single player. the gfx for its time were astounding and i ended up playing it for 7 years + 0.o even long after UT was released.
    i just found straight FPS games (UT in particular) got too dumbed down. the weapons got way too spammy as the evolution of the genre progressed. i became an instagib only player because of it.
    i loved the graphics in UT3, movement, and, even the general feel of the game. but, it also became way too complicated and tactical. less about raw movement skill and accuracy (was quite hard on a 56k modem before ADSL became reasonably priced)
    its a shame the genre died as there’s been some sweet FPS’s that came out and just seemed to fade away (Painkiller being a good example)
    people want games too easy now and like to have a good chance of winning, straight from the off, without putting in the hours/days/weeks etc of effort you had to back then. its partly why team based games are so popular and DM is a dead dog.
    another reason is developer ‘one-up-man-ship’. most are too scared to develop a simple game now. its all about the blockbuster effect, biggest gfx, biggest guns and less about simple gameplay. also, the mod element is dying as giving development tools to folk allow for things like aimbots to be too easily crafted. its such a shame as i miss my fast paced DM. was a massive fan of UT2003/2004 i-CTF too.

    • ohh, i should add. nice topic. i could talk about this stuff for hours.
      i’d dust off my UT disks too if i thought there was going to be a decent chance of some iCTF or iDM games.

  5. I played the first UT (2003 I guess) for years, even after the last UT was released I was still stuck on the first one.

    I loved the fast pace gameplay, loved the instagib and loved the huge bathroom, livingroom, bedroom etc maps.

    It’s too bad the UT community is so small now. I’ve recently started playing Tribes ascend, remembering that I liked the first tribes games, and it’s not bad. It reminds me alot of UT besides the loadouts.

    I wish a new UT would come out, similar to the old one. Even a graphically updated version. I’d play facing worlds all day.

    • Whilst the UT community is pretty small, there’s still Quake Live which really captures the feel of the original game. Also, it runs in a browser! What more could you possibly want except it be free. OH WAIT! It’s free too.

      In regards to Facing Worlds, there’s a TF2 map of it including music from the UT games.

  6. UT3 was a slow and painfull birth, Epic did a lot wrong here starting with the bad, bad interface. But the core gameplay is definitely the best of the Unreal series, especially the weapons. Take the Bio Rifle for example, it was one of the worst weapons in previous Unreal games and they made it really shine. I still like to play UT3 nowadays and thanks to the awesome Community there are many great maps (HOLP and COMP packs especially).

    Recently I’ve discovered a new open source Arena Shooter called Xonotic, which tries to combine Quake and UT. While I still prefer UT3, it does a great job and is definitely worth a look. It’s entirely free and imho much better than Quake Live. Also, it has probably the coolest InstaGib mode I’ve seen so far.

    • To be fair, the Bio Rifle in UT04 was amazing. In fact, I’d say it was a little bit TOO amazing which led to the firing arc correction in UT3.

      I love UT04 because it was the one I play the most so nostalgia punches me square in the face. However, UT3 feels more rounded. It’s just a pity that there’s often a lack of servers.

  7. Arena Shooters are ultra Uber! COD pretty much ruined the Shooter Genre for me. I grew up with Quake 1 & 2 and I could play those for hours and hours without getting bored. Since COD shooters have turned into a grind like they are trying to be a RPG or a MMO. Then they added levels which totally ruined it for me. Everyone should get every weapon and every item at the start and it should be super fast paced like it use to be. Personally I think Battlefield needs to be like UT 2004. It would be much more fun.

    • Whilst I don’t like the more recent CoD games, I wouldn’t say that CoD ruined shooters. Did you ever play CoD2? I loved that game; I played it constantly alongside UT2004 when I was taking a break from GuildWars.

      The XP system in more recent CoD multiplayer modes is a very good way to compel people to keep on playing. It’s not the best method in terms of innovation but it certainly works!

      I think if they made Battlefield more like UT2004, we’d have a more realistic looking/feeling version of Onslaught which only sounds like the best god-damn thing ever, in my opinion!

      • It’s widely known that Battlefield leans more towards (I’ll be first to say it, occasionally boring) realism while CoD plays a bit more arena-y. Not to the extent of being UT, of course. They won’t let you shoot nuclear nyan cats there. (/watch?v=Fs-qfcfnsBw, if you’re curious.)

        Sure CoD has some realism, but, honestly, it lets you shoot down planes with f’ing KNIVES. That much for realism. In my opinion, that’s the series’ greatest strength, to use arena-ish gameplay without having to make original graphics.

        It strikes a balance, and maintaining that is vital to the games’ quality. If they lean too much towards realism, they’ll have to stand up to Battlefield in an actually justified comparison, and that is a fight already lost. (When comparing realistic games, not overall quality.) Unfortunately, it seems that they are in fact trying to push realism without really getting the fine edges of how it works.

        I’m not saying that CoD or being unrealistic is bad, but I cannot imagine a game like it functioning well with a level of realism like Battlefield’s. Just look at how it rewards egoism and being an absolute retard, no army in the world would take such people. (Then again, I’ve seen some interesting people at “We’ll try to make you not find an excuse to worm out of our boys’ choir” military information day. But that’s beside the point.)

        Of course, if CoD tries to put too much into pure arcadey gameplay, say through putting in stuff like nazi zombies, it’d also suffer because then there’d be UT with which to compare it, which didn’t have half the staff trying to bring across realism.

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