It’s probably safe to say that making technology too intelligent isn’t good for us as a species, in the long run at least. There have been umpteen movies, games, and books detailing the carnage caused by out-of-control AI and none of them ever really end well for us intrepid humans. This is very much the case for our protagonist in ArcRunner, the PC title we’ll be looking at today. In fact, even in a half-decent scenario, this is a living hell for our commander. We’ll see why as we go.
ArcRunner is set aboard a space station aptly called The Arc. All was going relatively well until the station’s computer lost its marbles and decided it would be lots of fun to go on a killing spree. To make things worse, the computer acts as a sort of hive-mind for all of the other very lethal contraptions acting as security about the place, which means everything with a gun follows the same protocol. Fortunately, Chip a very clever bot was able to firewall itself in a disused part of the mainframe and hasn’t been affected by the madness. He’ll be your guide as you attempt to make it to The Arc‘s core and reset the system manually. The rogue AI knows exactly what you’re up to and will be doing everything it can to stop you. All you have to do is survive.
As I’ve just mentioned there really isn’t any happy scenario here while the insane computer is active. This is dystopian action at its finest because you aren’t even going to escape the hell you’re in by being killed. You’ll just get cloned, dumped into another body, and sent out all over again. So either the computer wins or you succeed after being killed ad infinitum. Basically, have fun. The only small mercy here is that at least most of your new iterations will be coming back stronger. You’ll gain nanites on your runs into The Arc that will make your future selves stronger and harder to kill. Choose your upgrades wisely. You’re definitely going to need them.
On the subject of upgrades, something I really like about ArcRunner is that your permanent upgrades go for all of the classes in the game. This means that you aren’t starting from scratch just because you fancy a change of playstyle. This is good because I’d invested quite a lot of time into the Soldier class before deciding to give the Ninja class a go and realizing I liked it a lot better. I was giving up a reflective shield for bursts of invisibility, (seriously, what’s not to like,) and that class felt more fluid and less clunky. Don’t get me wrong, the Soldier is hard as nails but I like something a little less tanky to run around with. There’s a third class that you have to unlock so I’ll let you find out more about that one when you play.
There aren’t really any bells and whistles when it comes to ArcRunner. This isn’t a game where we’re looking for sparkly new mechanics or a deep and intricate storyline. In good old-fashioned shoot-em-up style, we’re picking a class, being armed to the teeth, and facing off against wave after wave of things that want us dead. Think a much more modernised version of Doom or Team Fortress and we’re kind of in the right territory. I love both of those titles and all of the others that spawned from the run-and-gun genre so I’m not a bit mad about this. Oh, add the fact that this is a rogue-lite so everything is randomized. Sound fun? You bet your backside it is!
As you can probably imagine this title is hard. Really hard. The levels are a collection of arenas that need clearing of enemies before you can move on with a few challenges and other bits thrown in for good measure. This means you can expect to get absolutely mobbed and being blind-sided happens a lot. I lost count of how many times I died because something behind me drilled me with bullets and being on your toes is imperative if you’re going to get anywhere. This being said, this probably isn’t the sort of game to go into if you’re brand new to the genre. I’m not new to the genre and I’m playing on easy because I need to review this title and I value my sanity. Playing in normal mode was creating far too many game-over screens for my liking. Part of my problem, though, might well have been that I was playing on my own.
ArcRunner feels like a game that’s designed to be played in a team and I can imagine a blast-fest with your mates would do a hell of a lot for the experience. If you’ve got someone watching your back and giving you a chance to breathe and reload every once in a while I think you’ll find yourself standing a much better chance than I did. It kind of feels like this is a multiplayer game that’s been adapted to a single-player experience as opposed to the other way around. This being said, I’m not sure how well the difficulty has been scaled to make for fun solo runs. I’m not saying we don’t want a challenge of course, but even in easy mode, I felt like I needed eyes in the back of my head and that I was against pretty insurmountable odds. You will obviously get better a this title with practice, but I feel like the odds are very much stacked against you. Incidentally, that feeling of being totally overwhelmed is great from a stylistic standpoint in that it all helps the mood of the game. That doesn’t necessarily need to cross over into the playing experience though and it does a bit.
One thing I like less about ArcRunner is the graphics. Unusually this isn’t for the reasons you’d expect. I actually like the graphics and the way everything is designed but there’s a hell of a lot of neon going on and although everything is gorgeous this is headache material. I absolutely wouldn’t recommend playing if you suffer from epilepsy. My eyes started getting sore after a few runs, I’d hate to see what it would do to someone who suffered from seizures or migraines. This can probably be alleviated in the settings but I’m not sure it will be enough to stop your eyes from going funny. On a more practical note, I found that enemies were blending into the background, making them harder to hit and more likely to get the drop on me. As always, this might just be my experience but, equally, as always, it’s still worth noting.
ArcRunner is an addictive blaster that brings the action in spades. This is the sort of high-octane game that fans of the shooter genre will love but it absolutely isn’t perfect. As I’ve mentioned the difficulty curve feels a little too steep even on the easiest setting. Part of this might be the roguelike trope of playing the whole game on one life bar. There doesn’t feel like there’s enough opportunity to replenish your life as you go and this can leave you hanging on by a thread pretty quickly. Personally, I’d have been happy with one life bar per stage. I’m not asking for continues and I totally understand the score when it comes to the genre choice, (roguelikes are some of my favorite games,) I’d just like a little bit more help than I’m getting.
All in all, this is a fun little game that I think would be made a lot more enjoyable in a team. The solo experience is still an enjoyable one aside from the few small wrinkles that I’ve mentioned but it definitely isn’t perfect. All the nuts and bolts aside from the graphical direction that I have the odd reservation about are fine, so no complaints there. This is going to be a great night’s gaming with your mates just take heed if you’re going in on your own.
An Explosive Run
Team-play at its finest
ArcRunner has a lot to love about it. This is an action-packed romp in a dystopian world. This is a game that isn’t without its floors, though. A steep difficulty curve makes for a solo experience that can feel frustrating at times. This is a game that’s designed for a group and would fit very well in that scenario. Outside of team play you’ll either need to be very skilled or very lucky to really get far.