It shoots, it scores….
The AppStore seems to have the lion’s share of shooters these days. CAVE have the whole bullet hell genre sewn up, but apart from a few fixed gun asteroid shooters out there, or action based open-worlders like Galaxy On Fire, nothing has come close to offering up a solid 3D arcade shooter of the likes of Nintendo’s Starfox. Well, it looks like Psyonix may have brought us the closest thing yet, and thankfully there’s no Slippy in sight!
Nintendo recently re-released Starfox on 3DS, but, despite some 3D stereoscopic shenanigans, visually it hasn’t aged well. ARC Squadron on the other hand – thanks to the Unreal Engine – looks fantastic. Each level is crammed with detail, be it the enemy ships or the giant flotsam floating through space. Being on-rails has allowed the artists to create scenes with an epic sense of scale. A particular highlight being that of a huge space cruiser flying by – echoing that of the Star Destroyer opening scene in Star Wars – all while you dodge and engage the enemy just inches from its metallic belly.
The game’s objective – as with most shooters – is to work your way through level after level of enemy infested space, in order to hunt down and destroy nine bosses. There are 38 levels in total, consisting of nine themed areas – such as a frozen planet, reactor, junk yard, and space station etc – so you’ll find yourself revisiting these three times over, but with greater difficulty each time. At the end of any four levels you’ll encounter a boss (which you could also class as a level). Again, much like Nintendo’s shooter, each boss has its own unique attack patterns (such as throwing space junk at you) and, unlike the waves of enemies you encounter throughout the main levels, these bosses will require skill and firepower to take them out.
The level structure is more linear than Starfox, and so doesn’t offer any branching paths. It does however, give you access to bonus wormholes or other challenge based levels. These are voluntary missions, but completing them, or score high scores, will earn you more cash to spend on upgrading your ship, and its weapons. Generally, these consist of taking out enemies, or collecting chains of point cubes for bonuses. But, you’ll also experience a Wip3out Zone-a-like challenge, that pits you against a continuously accelerating section of tubes and gates which you must navigate for as long as possible.
As an iOS gamer you’ll no doubt either love or hate virtual controls. Many prefer having a joystick and buttons mapped to the touchscreen to allow for a more traditional gaming experience, albeit without haptic feedback. While others like the more unique and intuitive touch-based controls. ARC Squadron falls into the latter camp, opting for a setup similar to that of CAVE’s shooters – though instead of a 2D path, your ship is in third person view. The principal is the same though, and it works beautifully. Drag your finger around the screen, and your ship will follow. Plus, in yet another nod to Starfox, you can even perform a barrel role by swiping quickly left or right.
While your primary weapon is set to auto-fire when an enemy is in your sights, your secondary weapon is activated by tapping an enemy directly, locking on and firing what ever you have available to you. It’s these secondary weapons that makes ARC Squadron an absolute joy to play. You’ll need to complete the levels on 100% mind, and collect as many cubes for bonus points to get enough money to unlock most of them (or cheat with In-App-Credtis), but when you do you’ll have a field day. Missiles, Shield Generators, and Lasers are all available at a price, but you’ll want to save your cash for the real good stuff. ‘Squadron’ for instance, lets you bring your wingmen along for the ride, tripling your firepower. Or, how about ‘Chain lightning’? Which shoots bolts of energy through all enemies on screen. The ultimate weapon though is ‘Blackhole’, which does pretty much what it says on the tin – creates a Blackhole which sucks in all enemies. The catch, well, you’ll not only need a size-able amount of cash, but also will need to have unlocked and purchased a compatible ship.
ARC Squadron is easily one of the best shooters on the AppStore right now. It has a strong Triple-A feel to it that only a few games have so far accomplished. Shooters are repetitive in their nature, so it won’t be for everyone, but shooter fans will not be disappointed. The graphics, sound, controls, ramping difficulty, ship and weapons upgrades, and the awesome bosses makes for an addictive mix that’s hard to put down.
I’ve tested the game on both an iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and iPad 3, and all play it beautifully. However, I’ve found that the iPad Mini is the best device to play it on. Not to big, not to small… just right.