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    ACE - Arena: Cyber Evolution

    Esports. Electronic sports. The cyber revolution. Here we are, at its doorstep.

    The team at Spearhead Games is polishing a title much closer to real sports in nature than say, something you would find in the traditional MOBA genre that has escalated eSports to new heights of popularity. And yet while Arena: Cyber Evolution does feature a few multiplayer-online battle arena elements, it sticks to far clearer prerogatives that make games like Soccer and Hockey long-lasting entertainment. The game calls itself the first MOSA multiplayer online sports arena.

    ACE brings you into a futuristic arena where one sport dominates viewership. Three players on each side compete using a single disk, which acts as a bigger hockey puck of sorts, facing off in short, timed matches. With the simple objective of attempting to score the most goals, the rules for ACE are as easy to grasp as that of most traditional sports.

    Currently in Steam Early Access, Spearhead Games has sort of hit a 2.0 version in development progression. As such, the tutorial is greatly revamped compared to its predecessor. A selectee in a competition to determine who is worthy of playing in the arena, you receive guidance from an enthusiastic match announcer, taking the shape of a floating little cyborg man. The tutorial not only introduces controls, but reveals a lot of the background flavor of the futuristic competition, and also teaches basic concepts.

    The traditional mouse and keyboard combo takes center stage, so game pad fans may feel a tad disap pointed for now. This works without fail, however, as there are very few buttons to worry about. WASD takes care of character movement, but the most important action is pivoting with the mouse and left-clicking. The characters don’t just kick the disk, but hold it in a small gravity grab for as long as the left-mouse button is held. Since this only lasts a limited time, it doesn’t let anyone hog it indefinitely, which makes you think a bit more strategically, training to use it just as it’s passed to you. There isn’t really a “tackle” button, but the disk can simply be grabbed out of the holder’s zone who can in turn pivot around, basketball-like, turning his or her back at the right time to elude the blocker.

    A certain “stickiness” governs the disk, which takes a bit of getting used to. In addition to just holding the object, each character type has two special abilities: One with a short cooldown, and an ultimate power, with limited charges per match. Thankfully, the developers added an equippable bonus to grant more charges to use the special abilities, which are fun. It’s clear that they want to limit how much people rely on them, forcing players to focus on good disk control instead.

    It’s also enjoyable to switch between champion types. The game offers classic sporting roles like defenders, strikers, and goalies. The strikers feel the most dynamic, as they are adrenaline-rushing types. For instance, The Stalker, a cybernetic ninja, can either go invisible at will to surprise opponents or instantly blink ahead. He can’t do it while holding the disk though, so although the ability is very fun, he can only do it twice, which actually feels far too little. Both goalies also have interesting skills: One of them has an ultimate that teleports him back to the goal, which lets the team perform more offensive setups. The other’s ultimate feels lacking: It’s basically a wall that goes very far from his position, which seems good on paper, but doesn’t equal the first goalie’s teleportation.

    One important concern for players is to take a careful look at the system requirements. Commendably, the Spearhead team has made good progress in terms of optimization throughout the Early Access period, which helps matches run smoother and prevents slowdowns in the menu, which were previously grievous on many machines. Due to the competitive nature of the game, even the slightest hiccups impact match outcomes. In this regard, ACE can get frustrating at times because the disk starts behaving very unpredictably. But provided the system requirements are met, ACE usually plays smoothly. Still, some kinks should be worked out in terms of holding the disk, because there were a few times when a teammate would shoot it, yet the opponent would somehow grab it from behind.

    The biggest drawback to ACE is currently its empty servers. There are only a handful of players, which means matches with real people as opposed to bots rarely occur. The AI, for the most part, is quite good, except it frequently messes up when you are defending your own goal in most cases, it inadvertently likes to pass to you, which leads to frequent interceptions. It’s admirable how much effort the developers put into the game though, supporting the community through daily live streams and constantly tweaking the build based on feedback, so hopefully the game will attract a larger player base as it progresses.

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