Arena Breakout first impressions - "An incredibly promising and tense tactical shooter"

Arena Breakout first impressions - "An incredibly promising and tense tactical shooter"

In the mobile gaming realm, the assumption is that people want something to play casually and only in short bursts. This is reinforced by the sheer number of match-3 puzzlers and idle RPGs that populate the app stores. And it makes sense. Both genres are well-suited to playing on your commute, on the toilet, or, basically, whenever you have a spare five minutes.

But the short bursts concept even extends into multiplayer games with a less casual slant. A deathmatch on Call of Duty: Mobile isn't going to take up a lot of your time, while a match on Rocket League: Sideswipe lasts three minutes - although it's usually less if you're stomping your opponent. Let's be honest.

What is Arena Breakout?

With Arena Breakout, Tencent and MoreFun Studios are targetting an audience that wants a more hardcore experience, one where you actually need to sit down and focus for extended periods, with the volume turned up and preferably using headphones. It's targeting a niche, and I'm not entirely sure how big that audience is. But given the game's steadily increasing popularity on Twitch, despite it not being fully released, it's there to some extent. Regardless, one thing is undeniable. It will undoubtedly help Arena Breakout stand out on mobile.

If you've missed our previous coverage, Arena Breakout is a tactical shooter with plenty in common with the PC game Escape from Tarkov. The basic idea is to gear up, loot valuable items, and get out before someone kills you. If you don't escape, you will lose all the precious loot you've collected. It sounds simple, and in essence, it is, but it's far from easy in practice.

As mentioned, before heading into the fray, you will need to gear up. This involves selecting more than you might be used to from a shooter. Alongside a gun, ammo, and healing items, you will want to consider equipping a helmet, face cover, chest armour, rig, and earpiece, among other things. None of these items is technically necessary, but properly gearing up will increase your chances of survival.

Obviously, a helmet and chest armour offers additional protection, while an earpiece improves your hearing, allowing you to hear enemy footsteps better. All of these are useful, but the rig is potentially the most crucial part of your loadout. On it, you can store additional ammo and healing items for quick access in battle. If you mistakenly - as I did once - stash first aid kits in your backpack, you have to open a menu to use them, which is far from ideal in the middle of a gunfight. Instead, reserve the backpack for the loot you hoover up while sneaking about each map.

Risk versus reward

Part of what makes the gearing-up process so interesting is that you're risking any items you take with you. If you get killed, everything is lost. Either the player who killed you or any loot goblins lurking nearby can rush over and take your hard-earned gear. The more you take, the greater your chances of surviving, looting valuable items and extracting. Equally, the loss is greater if another player takes you down. It's the ultimate risk/reward shooter, and this serves to make every run incredibly tense. Nobody wants to lose their favourite gun.

For that reason, you will try to approach every situation tactically. Arena Breakout is a slower-paced shooter than most, where running around the map mindlessly is a surefire way to receive a bullet to the dome. Instead, you will want to check your corners, stick to cover, and scout out areas before leaving the safety of your current position. Oh, and looting everything in sight when you get the opportunity. Of course.

Because of this slower pace, hearing footsteps or gunfire gets your adrenaline pumping. I would often hold my breath - as though it made any difference - when I heard boots thudding along the ground before trying to get the drop on my opponent. If I emerged victorious, looting their body and stealing their hard work is incredibly satisfying. On the flip side, getting killed and losing all my stuff was genuinely devastating.

It makes every encounter with another player feel significant, something that's lost in game modes where you respawn in a matter of seconds. How the fight played out can even affect you beyond the battle itself. Even if you won, scurrying away injured with no healing items is a genuine possibility, leaving you scrambling for an extraction point to try and salvage all that loot. At that point, the last thing you want to do is run into another player. In those situations, it's best to head in the opposite direction if you hear gunshots.

PvP is incredibly tense, PvE not so much

That's encounters with other players. With Arena Breakout's NPCs, it's a different story. Once you realise you're not up against another human, you can probably relax. The AI-controlled characters aren't especially threatening and have dreadful aiming. I appreciate they're likely cannon fodder to some extent, but I feel like they should pose some semblance of a threat. Perhaps they do at higher levels, but initially, they pose no challenge.

Still, that takes nothing away from the overall joy of looting a tonne of items and successfully extracting them. Knowing you're heading back to the main menu with a backpack bulging with valuable loot to sell is a great feeling. It's particularly wonderful if you've managed to snag a few human players' dog tags to keep in your collection – an obsession that got me killed on multiple occasions. Yet I still can't seem to kick the habit.

Alongside the risk/reward element, my dog tag obsession highlights another intriguing aspect of Arena Breakout, the greed/escape conundrum. After taking out a few enemies and still having space in your backpack, it becomes tempting to try and find even more loot for the ultimate haul. If you pull it off, it's an epic moment. If not, well, you know the drill by now.

After extraction, we come to a part of the game that probably won't get talked about much by many - inventory management. You can spend ages organising your gear, selling items and stashing your loot after each run. There are ways to speed up this process, but I preferred taking the longer route. There's just something therapeutic about doing admin to balance out the intensity of being on high alert for over 10 minutes. For some, it won't register much, but I thought it was worth mentioning for anyone who also enjoys sorting things in video games.

Could it become stale?

So it's all sounding fairly promising, as it should. I've enjoyed my time with Arena Breakout so far. However, I do have a few concerns. Firstly, I wonder how much time newer players will be willing to give it. There are a lot of layers to Arena Breakout, which is to its credit alongside being a potential hindrance to its success. I can see plenty of people giving up because there's a lot to grasp and a tonne of on-screen buttons, which can be off-putting. If I wasn't already familiar with the Escape from Tarkov-style tactical shooter, I think I'd have been quite lost myself.

My other issue is wondering what happens when everything becomes too familiar. For now, the moment-to-moment tenseness of trying to extract my hard-earned loot is exciting. But I doubt that can last forever. After players learn all the maps intricately and develop an agreed-upon best loadout, it might become quite stale. Only time will tell if this ends up being the case, naturally.

Regardless of my reservations, Arena Breakout has the potential to be a big deal in the mobile gaming world. It brings something unique to a scene known for providing a more casual experience. The slower-paced yet intense gameplay might not be for everyone, but I can see it becoming a go-to multiplayer title for many people.