When it comes to flight games, I prefer a third person game to a cockpit view. Maybe it goes back to the days of playing After Burner in the sit down sensoramic arcade machine, but it’s continued through console games like Heroes Over Europe. Even back on the PC, the X-Wing/Tie Fighter games (or Wing Commander), felt mechanical to me, like the cockpit was right but I didn’t feel the thrill. From the outside though, seeing the plane barrel roll, it was visceral. Now the ultimate 3rd person flight game, Arc Squadron, is on iOS.
Arc Squadron lets you captain a fighter in deep space, viewing the spacecraft from behind. The forward momentum is taken care of as space or planet surfaces whiz past you automatically. You only have to worry about maneuvering around asteroids and enemy fire, shooting at the bad guys and collecting power-ups along the way. Drag your finger across the screen and the spacecraft follows. You can even do a barrel role by swiping left or right.
The controls are so easy I feel like I could really pilot a spacecraft. Just give the aeronautics industry a few decades to invent one of these ships, and I’m their man. The ship fires as soon as you line up a target in the crosshairs, so you don’t have to worry about coordinating flying and shooting. That makes so much sense, because if you’re a real pilot, you have a gunner handling the firing. Heck, this game takes place in the future so it’s probably computerized targeting. Just line up the target and the shot is taken for you.
It’s easy to line up your targets, but doing so while dodging their incoming fire becomes the challenge. In later levels you have to hit your targets while dodging space debris and squeezing through tight spaces. There are boss ships you have to fight too, taking out their weapons systems one-by-one until they’re vulnerable for the killshot. You can tap a target to use your secondary weapon on it, fire a homing missile, or another weapon of choice to take out formidable opponents, or hit someone while you’re firing your primary guns elsewhere. The problem you may find is seeing around your own finger. Try to place your finger away from the actual ship so you can see who’s shooting at you.
Combat levels are great but Arc Squadron has wormhole levels too. These are more pure flight exercises with unique individual challenges. One wormhole has you dodging asteroids, another is purely collecting power-ups, another is an obstacle course with corridors rotating so there’s only a narrow path to hone your reflexes. This is all based on the Unreal engine, so that game engine is still kicking and creating smooth graphics for exciting new iOS games.
You can upgrade your ship and weapons with money you’ve earned in the levels, or purchase with real money. New ships get expensive so save up to get them. You can buy new secondary weapons and upgrade them too, so instead of a homing missile you could have a laser. You can buy new skins too, if you just want to pimp out your exterior.
The graphics are gorgeous, just freaking stunning. Each level makes space look uniquely beautiful, like Stanley Kubrick’s leftovers from the cutting room floor of 2001. The music is a fast past synthetic beat that pumps you up for space blasting, and the sound effects make you feel like you’re in a sci-fi movie.
Arc Squadron looked intimidating at first, with those high definition graphics and complex looking environments, but it’s actually the best kind of casual game. It’s simple to control but compelling to master. I really want to be the best Arc Squadron pilot around. What's great is I can get there one level at a time, pick up and play, and dream of deep space barrel roles until I can play again. It's worth every penny of the price and every megabyte of space.