ARC Squadron Review

When I powered up ARC Squadron for the first time, I really didn't know what I was getting into. I saw a spaceship on the icon and the Unreal Development Kit logo shortly after starting it up and quite honestly, expected a top-down shoot-em-up for my iPhone; boy was I wrong. What was awaiting me instead was an on-rails space shooter that is very much in the same orbit as Star Fox. Now I know what you're thinking: "Joe, that's a pretty ballsy comparison." And yes, I'm actually inclined to agree with you. But for someone who considers Star Fox 64 a paragon of the videogame corpus, I assure you, dear readers, that I don't make this comparison lightly.

The point of Arc Squadron is simple: you pilot a ship, again Star Fox-style, from the back and in 3D, and on rails, meaning that the game scrolls along and all you have to do is keep up. And this is a good thing, as you're never really wanting for exploration while you're busy dodging missiles, asteroids, and gunning down enemies. You have a variety of weapons to help you lay waste to all in sundry, ranging from bombs, lasers, missiles, even Zeus's Lightning. And in a direct homage to Star Fox, press Z or R twice – I mean swipe – and you execute a barrel roll. The gestures work well to control the ship; you always feel like you are in control instead of the game controlling you.One recommendation I do have however is to turn up the sensitivity, as unlike mice and joysticks, your thumbs are pretty well calibrated to high sensitivity.

The game is portioned into stages/levels similar to Angry Birds (although I guess plenty of games throughout the past 40 years have been broken up thus): finish a level, get a star rating. The stars however are merely for vanity's sake  and high-score related purposes. That being said, it behooves you to get the highest score because your score translates directly to your cash with which you can buy upgrades. Fortunately enough, you can replay levels to get a better score and thereby augmenting your coffers.

Occasionally there are offshoots to the main levels hat are completely optional but offer-up interesting scenarios. It's a bit like the side levels in any Sonic the Hedgehog game. Sometimes you'll have to dodge asteroids and girders as you try to make it as far as possible, while in others you're flying into cubes (much like rings in Sonic) without missing any. They're fun and reward you with plenty of loot.

At the start of each level, you're presented with a pleasing, Mega Man-esque, three-by-three grid of the bosses you have to face. After finishing all the stages you have to beat the boss in order to move on. The bosses are fun, offering you different challenges than simply blowing up ships. You have to take down weapons systems, shields, propulsion, and even a clock (yes, you heard me right). And because of this, I really have to give a round of applause to developer Psyonix. The team could have taken the easy route and created predictable end-of-level encounters but instead opted to make these experiences stand out. And the same can be said for ARC Squadron's visuals.

Being developed in the Unreal Development Kit, the graphics in ARC Squadron are crisp and the performance smooth. All the models are 3D, but the hit-boxes do not (luckily, unluckily?) match the models.  The UI, however, is thankfully 2D. It's well designed and unobtrusive. There's combos and warnings, and they're all well placed. What's more to say, the UI is simple. If I were to fault the graphics in any way, it's that the textures are a bit simple. There's a lot of primary colors around, which makes the game pop, but it also gives it a kind of puerile feel. However, like with all things art, this is a bit subjective and I'm just simply not a fan of a Warhol-ian aesthetic.

As far as a narrative is concerned, there isn't one.  ARC Squadron is understandable more arcade than Star Fox was – what I'm trying to phrase nicely is that whereas Star Fox had a fun and engaging story, this game does not. There are voice overs before each level but they're largely irrelevant and don't serve to impact the gameplay at all. Perhaps Psyonix thought a deep story on an iPhone game wouldn't be advantageous, or they simply ran out of time. But at least the game itself is fun enough to stand without a deep narrative.

For a $2.99 iPhone app, ARC Squadron is affordable and well worth the price of admission  Should you feel like a "whale" there's also a store where you can spend in-game currency on customizing for your ship, as well as buy more in-game currency with real money. I floated the developers some cash because I like putting my money where my mouth is, and I also wanted a sick-ass weapon. Cuique suum, eh?

Fun Factor: Make no mistake; this is Star Fox on the go. On-rails titles have never been so much fun.

Difficulty: Not terribly difficult once you get the hang of the controls.

Length: A sixty-four level campaign that clocks in anywhere between 4-8 hours.

On the Negative Side: Aside from the lack of story and art-style that is too bright for its own good, there isn't much wrong with ARC Squadron.

Bang for Your Buck: Additional challenge levels as well as six fully upgradable ships (not to mention unlockable skins) make ARC Squadron worth its $2.99 asking price. Gamers owe it to themselves to try out this gem of a space-themed shooter.

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Critic Score: 9.0

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