Ghostware: Arena of the Dead Preview - Ode to the Arena

Ghostware: Arena of the Dead looks to pay homage to the glory days of the arena shooter. How's its Early Access release? Look inside to find out.

Published: April 12, 2023 11:00 AM /

Previewed By:


Talk of LAN parties and heated matches involving Quake and Unreal Tournament back in the mid-to-late 90s sounded like way too much fun. If you handed me a mouse and keyboard in the 90s I'd have to play the game in my crib, so needless to say, I missed out on these experiences due to being a bit too young. That said, I can still relive the glory days by playing older titles or even boomer shooters releasing in the modern day. Ghostware: Arena of the Dead is one such game that, specifically, looks to instill players with a sense of longing for when arena shooters were all the hype. While I feel the passion and appreciate the mysterious narrative in Ghostware, this Early Access title is undercooked in most other areas.

Quite the introduction.

Ghostware: Arena of the Dead is Your Own LAN Party

Ghostware is an ambitious title -- not necessarily in its gameplay, which plays like most old-school arena shooters. No, I'm talking about its narrative. A strong narrative isn't something you see in this genre very often, but I appreciate the story Ghostware is cooking, and it's important to understand this when looking at the rest of the game. Ghostware puts players in the role of Molly, who apparently died and is resurrected and transported to, essentially, an old FPS game from the 90s. The outside world from which she hails is far into the future, so arena shooters are a thing of the past, all but forgotten.

The individual that summoned you, the Wizard, pits you and other similar opponents against each other for seemingly his own sick amusement and nothing more. It's not really certain what his true motives are as I played through the three initial chapters of Ghostware, but I can see the overarching mystery developing. It's a goofy premise to allow players to partake in FPS tournaments against your will. The confusion of the situation and dialogue from the main and secondary characters have me yearning for more lore. That said, the dialogue is incredibly cheesy and typos are frequent, so it's not as polished as it should be.

Who knew bubbles were so powerful?

I admit, the first two chapters didn't really captivate me as much as the third, but I'm glad I let the plot develop before making a definitive opinion. You and other characters within the story are inexplicably transported into the real world. After some shenanigans, you're stuck in this world and need to fight your way out of a facility filled with robots. Quite imaginatively, players utilize different, more realistic guns in the real world as opposed to the video game they were just in. Movement is much more grounded in reality here, so you're not able to double jump or jump nearly as high. What a fun twist on a shooter, I thought. I only hope the gameplay improves, because it didn't hook me nearly as much as the narrative did.

Indeed, my time with Ghostware was met with many bugs, janky AI, and downright unpleasant gunplay. The overall feeling I get from Ghostware is unpolished, and that is most evident while partaking in the various rounds of King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, and Deathmatch. Guns as a whole have no impact on them whatsoever -- the standard pistol, weak as it may be, sounds like a baby chick. The double-barreled shotgun has absolutely minuscule range and, along with the rest of the gun roster, sounds weak. Some weapons behave in unique ways, like this one gun that shoots explosive bubbles, but I can't get over the fact that none of them sound impactful nor do they feel particularly powerful. Give us, I don't know, a rare gun to spawn that will grant you a one-hit kill like rocket launchers and other overpowered weapons from the very games Ghostware takes inspiration from.

Sorry Wendy, but your fast food ain't that great.

The way in which your enemies are programmed is to behave and resemble the movements and actions of real players. It's a pretty cool spectacle to see the wild and unpredictable behavior of enemies, but it also makes combat extremely frantic in less-than-stellar ways. It's extremely hard to hit enemies when they're zigzagging around like they're on some kind of drug. This same behavior is reflected in your teammates when you partake in King of the Hill and Capture the Flag matches. In fact, it would be a stretch to say you even have teammates. In every match where I was on a team, the friendly AI would run into walls, stand completely still, or walk around the same area and do absolutely nothing. This creates an artificial difficulty where I have to contend with three enemy NPCs while I try to accomplish objectives by myself.

Other than the story being intriguing, there's some silver lining in the map design. The arenas in Ghostware certainly resemble the old-school map design players fell in love with in the 90s, and it's evident there's a lot of care put into them. The developers even reward players with collectibles by going back into these maps and exploring. It's actually pretty neat to go into these empty maps without players and freely roaming around. It's a bit eerie to explore these environments, and I think the theme the developers want to push in doing this is that these maps players used to fight in during the 90s are now completely empty and left to rot.

We'll see how the plot develops, I suppose...

I don't want to be harsh on Ghostware so much that it discourages players from checking it out. The cheesiness of the story adds a lot of charm, and the underlying mystery pushing the plot forward has me genuinely interested. On the other hand, there is so much work to do to make the gunplay and AI work in an acceptable way. With plenty of time in Early Access, I have faith Ghostware could become a great game, and I'll be rooting for it to succeed.

Ghostware: Arena of the Dead was previewed on Steam Early Access on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.

Previews you can trust: To ensure you're getting a fair, accurate, and informed review, our experienced team spends a significant amount of time on everything we preview. Read more about how we review games and products.


Have a tip, or want to point out something we missed? Leave a Comment or e-mail us at

| Staff Writer

Austin cut his teeth writing various  fan-fiction stories on the RuneScape forums when he was in elementary school. Later on, he developed a deep love for… More about Austin