A Star Fox like experience for iPhone and iPad. That almost describes ARC Squadron to a T. Created by the obviously talented developers at Psyonix, this on-rails third-person shooter sends players through 64 challenging missions, where the evil Guardians seek to make life difficult with lasers and missiles. Add space debris and humongous asteroids to the mix, and there's a whole lot to love.
The two features that impress us most about ARC Squadron are the graphics and sheer number of levels. Powered by Unreal Engine, the game has no shortage of pretty things to admire, from highly detailed space stations (even ones ripped to shreds, the pieces floating lifelessly through the void) to the wonderful ballet that ensues as bad guys glide and spin across the screen. Throw in an untold number of vibrant colors pulling this together and smooth gameplay without a hitch, and it's one of the more beautifully clean games we've seen on smartphones and tablets.
Next up, the content. Psyonix deserves a ton of credit for jam-packing ARC Squadron full of stages, and there's more to this game than blasting enemies and bosses. Special bonus levels called Wormholes test your skills as you attempt to score virtual currency shooting targets, gathering collectibles and dodging obstacles for as long as possible. Bottom line, it'll take a while to see everything the app has to offer.
As for the controls, again, ARC Squadron delivers. Controlling the ship involves dragging a finger across the screen, then swiping left/right to roll out of harm's way. To fire the primary weapon, you line up the on-screen reticule and the ship handles the rest; on that note, you can activate a secondary attack by tapping the button on the top right corner. Battles are at times intense affairs, with projectiles flying in multiple directions, which leads us to another highlight, upgrades.
Playing the game, and succeeding, results in virtual currency pouring into your account. From there, you can visit the hangar to upgrade your current ship, purchase more powerful craft and weapons, like burst missiles, smart bombs and chain lightning. Making an in-app purchase is the easiest way to afford this stuff in a hurry, but so long as you replay missions, there's no need to spend another dime.
Does ARC Squadron come up short? It's all a matter of perspective. Comparing it to Star Fox is somewhat unfair, as it simply cannot hold up to that lofty standard, as the game lacks the over-the-top presentation and memorable heroes and villains. To that end, we wish Psynonix put more effort into fleshing out the plot. We're also not big fans of the secondary attack, since using it often puts us in harm's way, and there's a natural reaction to remove a finger off the screen, leaving the ship vulnerable.
These small complaints aside, ARC Squadron satisfies with a combination of gorgeous imagery and intense, arcade-style gameplay. There's always room for improvement, but considering what's here, and the fact that it costs $0.99, you should definitely play and enjoy this impressively polished shooter.
Review code provided by Psyonix.
What's Hot: Excellent touch controls, auto-fire eliminates random shooting, Unreal Engine-powered (and sweet looking) visuals, 64 levels to complete.
What's Not: Story comes up short.