We are being overwhelmed with football games again at the moment, but for some people no amount of new moves, stadiums and fresh signings can suffice. These are the folk who saw Rollerball and really thought it was the future. The future sports people.
Dodgem Arena is a highly competitive game that simulates one of those bizarre cross-over sports that we are all expected to be watching in our billions come the millennium. In this case, it’s kind of like Wipeout mixed with a spot of hockey. Intrigued? So were we.
One of four competitors, you pilot a streamlined hovering craft (the Dodgem) that looks like a Wipeout ship after an unpleasant steam roller accident, and you race around trying to find a puck with which to score a goal. The task would be fairly easy, but the three other guys like to get hold of different projectiles and launch them at you, knocking the puck from your grasp, and the goal is nothing more than a column of light.
The arenas are not particularly conventional either. Coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, it’s like playing in a drained swimming pool from an enormous leisure centre. You need to get a puck from the lowest level of the arena where the puck generator is, then make your way to the highest level using momentum and an odd hopping motion that the craft has. The goal beam is constantly in motion, travelling around the highest area, so you’ve got to locate it, chase after it and finally shoot the puck into its depths.
Each time you play an arena, one of the four pucks is removed to increase the competition between the players – good for building up the difficulty, but bad for your attention span to play the same place four times in a row. Even though we are told the arenas are in glamorous settings, you are prevented from viewing any detail and their abstract shapes and colours make them feel synthetic – the city names are interchangeable.
Not caring whether you see the next stage or not, you turn to the multiplayer options, which are actually extremely comprehensive. Split-screen is perfectly smooth, like the one-player game, and can be played co-operatively as a two-man team or against each other, with the computer players remaining active. You can do similar things with up to four players using the link cable and two copies of the game.
Human players certainly help bring some excitement to the field instead of the eerily removed, autonomous opponents, but the novelty angle of the sport will not provide long term appeal even with your mates round. The nagging impression is that if Dodgem Arena was a real sport on television, it would be cancelled after two seasons due to dwindling audience figures, in favour of something altogether more Running Man in content.
Graphically the game is clean (besides some grubby FMV used on ship selection screens and other front end bits) but at the same time it all looks rather bare and clinical. The fact that it moves very smoothly and that there are such good multiplayer possibilities show that Dodgem Arena was no half-hearted attempt, it just seems that the sport itself is not destined to catch on. The armed racing of Wipeout 2097 and the all-out brutal sport of EA’s NHL games work so much better independently – why choose anything less? A wasted effort really…