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ARC Squadron Review: Slick Space Rail Shooter

Remember when all the Unreal games on iOS felt like Infinity Blade? In recent months, though, we’ve gotten great RPGs (Horn, Lili), hack-n-slash adventures (Wild Blood), and now a space-themed rail-shooter in ARC Squadron. It’s a crafty little rails shooter that engages.

In ARC Squadron, you are a pilot for humanity, dogfighting with neverending waves of enemy alien ships called the Guardians. [Guardians of what? I never quite figured that out.] As a member of ARC Squadron, you must defeat enemies in various sectors  then return to the hanger to repair and upgrade your ship before the next fight. This premise isn’t the most original, but the game is executed with such polish that you can forgive its unambitious concept.

One reason the game is so good are its touch controls. They’re simple and well-implemented. Sliding your thumb across the screen moves the ship, while swiping to the side executes a fast barrel roll. The primary weapon shoots automatically whenever you get an enemy in the crosshairs, which is good, since you’ve got so little control over your progress forward; and the secondary weapon — which starts as a missile but which can be swapped out for other options — is triggered with a tap. It’s a small, neat packet of gestures that combine to give fluid, intuitive control over your flight.

The controls also require some practice. While wild flying is often enough to get you to the end of a level (just barely), if you intend to rank high in the game’s 4-star completion system, you’re going to have to learn a softer touch and better precision, so that you can score big multipliers and grab chains of bonus cubes. While getting 4 stars can be downright frustrating, it does add replayability.

The other reason the game is so good is the way that it flexes the muscles of the Unreal Engine. Graphically, of course, this game shows that the Unreal Engine isn’t just for medieval landscapes and monstrous bad guy. The game looks good! In fact, it looks much better than it sounds; while the graphics are Unreal quality, the soundtrack is just a bit generic.

Being an Unreal game, ARC Squadron also takes advantage of a robust weapons and upgrade system. Word of warning: some of the upgrades get pricey, such as if you want to buy into a new ship; and if you don’t feel like buying IAP currency, you’d better be ready to replay a lot of levels. Not a big deal if you’re chasing 4 stars, but a little annoying if you just want to try a different ship or two. Luckily, if you’re a fan of great shooters, you will probably want to replay levels.

ARC Squadron is a great game on most of the levels that matter. I only wish they’d married their high technical achievement with a slightly more interesting plot. Still, I can’t wait for ARC Squadron 2!

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5

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