ARC Squadron raises the bar for quality among iOS games

ARC Squadron is a new iOS game from Psyonix. It’s available now as a $4.99 Universal download for iPhone and iPad via the App Store. At the time of writing, the game is incompatible with the 5th generation iPod touch, but a fix will be deployed imminently, according to the developer.

ARC Squadron is an Unreal Engine-powered 3D space shoot ’em up heavily inspired by Nintendo’s venerable Star Fox series. Taking on the role of a pilot in the titular Squadron, players navigate their ship from a third-person perspective through a variety of perilous battlegrounds, shooting as many enemies as they can along the way in an attempt to score as highly as possible. Like Star Fox, it is a “rail shooter” — the player’s pathway through the level is predefined, but the player may freely move their ship around the screen in order to avoid obstacles and aim at specific enemies.

ARC Squadron’s control scheme is simple, elegant and well-suited to touchscreens. Pressing and holding on the screen then moving your finger around moves the ship, while swiping quickly both moves and performs the “barrel roll” manoeuvre so beloved of Star Fox fans. Performing a barrel roll allows the player to shake off weapons interference and avoid certain attacks, so learning to perform it effectively is essential to success. The ship’s weapons automatically fire when the on-screen aiming reticle overlaps an enemy, and the ship’s secondary weapons systems may be fired simply by tapping on enemies.

During a level, players will find themselves battling various types of enemies, each of whom has its own attack patterns to become familiar with. Some levels end with a battle against a large “boss” which requires significantly more effort to defeat. Levels are also populated by colored energy cubes which players can collect — these are worth points and also help add to the player’s “combo” meter, which provides them with larger score bonuses the more enemies they defeat and cubes they collect in rapid succession. Taking full advantage of the combo system is essential to attaining high scores and achieving the maximum four-star rating on each level.

At the end of a mission, the player’s score for that level is converted directly into in-game currency, with additional bonuses for significant achievements or if it is the first time that level has been completed. This currency may be spent on upgrading and purchasing ships and weapons or acquiring one of a huge variety of alternative “skins” for the game’s various playable spacecraft. It doesn’t take long to earn enough currency to buy many of the in-game items, particularly if players are willing to replay earlier levels in an attempt to attain a higher score, but the option is also available to acquire additional currency via in-app purchase.

ARC Squadron is a all-but flawless experience throughout. Its sound and visuals are exemplary; its gameplay is fun, fair but challenging; it has a huge number of levels for players to test themselves against; it has the potential for strong monetization without being obtrusive to those who just want to play; and its control scheme has been well-adapted to touchscreen devices. Feedback from App Store reviewers has been universally positive so far, with many praising the game’s resurrection of what has become a somewhat under-represented genre in gaming in recent years. It is proof positive that the iOS platform is more than capable of playing host to experiences that rival anything dedicated consoles and handhelds have to offer, and will hopefully serve as a good example for other developers to follow in the future.

As a brand new release, ARC Squadron is not yet ranked on our tracking service AppData. Check back shortly to follow its progress through the App Store leaderboards.