One of the coolest things to witness on iOS is when a developer creates a game that successfully makes a complete transition from traditional controls to touch mechanisms. Sure, a lot of games can get by through simply adding virtual control pads and buttons, but it's the games that make perfect use of touch controls that feel much more natural and fun. ARC Squadron [$2.99 / Free] by Psyonix is one such game and is a blast to play on iOS. By including a simple but highly effective control scheme, a decent selection of beautifully detailed levels, and a great upgrade system, ARC Squadron embodies what makes an iOS game great and is a must-play.

As an elite pilot in the aptly named ARC Squadron, players are tasked with taking down the Guardians, a nefarious race bent on destroying the universe. You'll fight the Guardians through a variety of on-rail stages that have you destroying enemy ships, collecting energy cubes and avoiding planetary obstacles. Clusters of levels culminate with boss stages, each of which require their own strategies and techniques. While the story is rather cliché, there's still a lot to do in ARC Squadron, as completing the story unlocks harder difficulties to try. Normally, the basic formula and story described above would be enough for a decent game, but ARC does so much more.

While the majority of your effort in ARC Squadron will be spent simply getting from level to level, a deeper secondary goal is available for players looking for perfection. Each mission completion is rated on a four star standard based on score. Sure, you earn points for destroying ships and collecting energy cubes, but the true strategy for hitting high scores lies in the potential for multipliers. Players earn score multipliers for destroying ships in rapid succession as well as for collecting energy cubes in succession. Additions like Game Center leaderboards and endless bonus missions that test your reflexes in a variety of different ways are appreciated as well.

I'm a huge fan of this dichotomy of gameplay mechanics. Not only does the star system provide an incentive to play levels again (thus increasing replayability), but it does it in a way that doesn't feel like a chore. A lot of games with multiple objectives typically force players to choose between one or the other, effectively forcing you upfront to have to play multiple times. However, with ARC, the goals of passing the level and trying to get a 4-star rating work hand-in-hand, with skilled players accomplishing both simultaneously. It may sound like a small thing, but I think it's indicative of just how tightly integrated all facets of ARC Squadron work, especially considering how scores double as currency.

Another element that expands the gameplay in ARC Squadron is the wide variety of ships and upgrades available for purchase. Points earned in each stage act as your currency, which can be used to purchase and upgrade both weapons and ships. While new ships and upgrades are relatively benign (raising shields and laser power), weapon purchases are a little more interesting, with power-ups ranging from the offensive minded homing missiles and smart bombs to defensive options such as decoys. An IAP system for currency exists, but it's so non-intrusive that it's hardly worth mentioning.

When it comes to a game focused on accuracy and precision, pin-point controls are an absolute must. This is an aspect that ARC Squadron nails, and I think puts it above any other similar games. Rather than focuses on virtual joysticks or buttons, ARC utilizes a simpler control scheme that allows you to move your ship with a simple touch-and-drag. Swiping makes your ship do a barrel roll, allowing you to dodge attacks faster than with normal movement. Meanwhile, your standard cannon is on autopilot, shooting at anything that gets within its sight while secondary weapons are launched with a tap on the screen.

I'm a huge fan of the control scheme in ARC Squadron. Movement feels so intuitive, and the auto-fire is an excellent move, letting players focus on other aspects. Maneuvering your ship simply feels natural, which is a rarity for me. Also, if you think something like auto-pilot makes the game easy, trust me you'll be way too busy dodging lasers and collecting energy cubes to worry, especially on harder difficulties. In fact, my only complaint lies in the fact that its too easy to launch your secondaries with an errant tap.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention ARC Squadron's graphics, which look absolutely beautiful on current generation Retina-enabled iPhones and iPads. ARC's framerate is incredibly smooth, which is a must for twitch-based gameplay. Meanwhile, the visuals themselves are extremely detailed, with ships and environments looking just as good as other space faring titles such as Galaxy on Fire II.

It's obvious that Psyonix put a lot of care and effort into ARC Squadron and it certainly shows in all facets of the game. With a ton of content, smooth controls and visuals worth talking about, there's little to not enjoy about ARC Squadron. Do yourself a favor and give it a try.

TouchArcade Rating

  • MidianGTX

    Aileron roll.

    *runs toward nearest hills*

    • MrAlbum

      My Dad was a pilot for a while. I appreciate the nod to the real world ^_^

  • scdude

    Do a barrel roll ....................

    • Benjamin Rodriguez

      Lol, if only more people remembered that one.

  • Fep52

    A spot-on review and thoroughly deserved 5 star rating.

  • MrSHakerEsq

    For 69p it's criminal not to buy it. Great stuff.

    • Maniacfive

      When reading the reveiew i was convinced it would be much more money or non-universal. Instabuy at .69p,

  • runliketurtles

    It must have taken great restraint to not mention Star Fox even once... 🙂

    While I wish you could increase the sensitivity some more, I agree that what makes this game special is its excellent (non-virtual button) control system.

    • PsyonixCorey

      The next update will offer a big more leeway on sensitivity settings, though we can't offer you insane sensitivity without trivializing all of the cube challenges, etc.

  • Benjamin Rodriguez

    Great game, and I do agree with the controls, but I think I prefer using tilting controls.

  • riChchestMat

    The controls are average at best on an iPhone because your finger blocks the view most of the time. And it's just 8 or so on-rails levels repeated serial times. Might be better on an iPad. Too shallow and flawed for such a high rating in my opinion,

    • Phoenix24

      How big are your fingers dude? 😉 Seriously though, I think the swipe controls work really well on iPhone where a virtual stick wouldn't work at all especially with the cube multipliers.

      A worthy 5* full game, paid for at the point of purchase, which is well balanced with all ships achievable without any feeling of grinding.

      Challenging and great fun.

  • JaysUsernam

    On-rails and auto-fire, seems like solving the control issues of iOS involves taking them away?

    • Fep52

      On rails shooters were a sub genre well before iOS came along, and besides, this game only auto fires provided you are aiming at a target. Cave shooters are on perma auto-fire, does that diminish the quality of their gameplay? I think not.

    • Ryan Bach

      Autofire just makes sense in this game - having a manual fire control would be 100% a chore for the player and would not add any gameplay depth whatsoever.  As for being on rails: yeah, it's a rail shooter.  Thus the many comparisons to Star Fox.  It's a classic genre, and this is a great rendition of it.  I don't think either of these are evidence of 'dumbing down' in any problematic sense.  The movement controls are great (once the sensitivity can go a bit higher it'll be perfect imo - drag to aim, flick to dodge / collect difficult cube sequences), and it pulls off being a fun, polished, skill-based rail shooter with no virtual buttons and all controls based on your basic tap/drag/flick touch gestures.  I think that deserves a fair bit of praise for good use of touch controls.

      • grits


  • Galley

    Parts of it reminded me of NanoTek Warrior on the PlayStation.

  • Dan Spark

    Can't find it in the Japanese AppStore, but it's listed a Universal? Will there be any future updates for people to buy it in Asia?

    • PsyonixCorey

      There was a delay getting the description / App Store details localized for Japan and Indonesia, i'll try to follow up with more details.  Should be soon.

      • detourne

        Could you please release it in Korea too?

      • PsyonixCorey

        Korea's in the same situation as Indonesia/Japan, so yes

  • DannyTheElite

    Bought downloading now...
    Hope I enjoy it

  • Torkin

    Tried the lite version but the controls are really annoying. So I deleted it very fast.

  • rco

    Tried the lite version. Rails. Meh.

  • Dogs in hats

    Not sure about five stars. It's good but failed to meet my expectations. Too repetitive and lacks a compelling narrative.

  • Kalahan6

    I really find the controls not that good.

    When you have to maneuver your ship from one side of the screen to the other you often have to reposition your finger in the process, making the maneuver too slow to avoid objects or catch boxes.

    Really frustrating and it kinda breaks the game for me.

    • Thaurin

      Do a barrel roll.

  • grits

    Game is amazing for .99!

  • grits

    I find the controls to be good on ipad. Loving it.

  • Decaf Table

    I agree with the perfect rating. I'm thoroughly enjoying this game! Just need more sensitivity on the controls and we're good to go.

  • Firetruck94

    Title of the review should have been "one barrel roll to rule them all"

  • extol4000

    Great game! The review is accurate.

  • Scott Rogers

    I never thought I'd agree with Brad Nicholson, but this game is fantastic - gorgeous art, great sound and music, the controls are mostly well done (I feel the collision on the cube collection is a little too close given the amount of space you have to fly to collect them in a row - maybe I'm just not barrell rolling enough!) but overall, this is a great app to show off you iPad or iPhone to your friends.

  • Acidbottle

    It's not bad but as others have pointed out, it kinda lacks a certain something. Just seems the storyline isn't compelling enough to immerse you into this world.

    The controls are oki but with your hand flailing around the screen it's difficult to fully enjoy the games greatest asset, the visuals.

    Cant say ive been addicted to this much, it has a nice flow to progression and the grind isnt a huge chore but meh. Not a 5 star for me, 3.5 tho.

  • Maniacfive

    On iPad sensitivity does need a tweak, moving hand all over the screen is exhausting! Otherwise great game, takes me back.

    Is there cloud save support to switch progress to other devices?

    • dalglir

      Moving your finger over the iPad screen is exhausting?

      Try using a PC. I'm still feeling pumped from using the mouse.

  • MinorOS

    Recently bought ! Nice feels, touch system is easy and fun to play, nice game awesome price !

  • P00K

    Why is it that the first completion bonuses are jacked up in the lite version?

    Full game, 3 stars gives me 2500. Lite version, almost identical performance gives me 10000. Since there's absolutely nothing to buy in the lite version, my only guess is shenanigans.


    Wanted to try it on my 3GS but it won't install because the game needs a front-facing camera. Might want to mention that in the review...

  • bashnasha

    Best game ever

  • Karzay

    I agree with the review. Fantastic game!

  • Tyler Piderit

    Amazing game. Fully enjoying it. Really brings me back to Starfox 64 which is one of the best games ever I think.

    Great work here guys!

  • Mirkwood

    Can't get into games like this. Idk why

  • Decaf Table

    One of my favorite games. Normally I hate space shooters because of the annoying controls and camera panning. The on rails aspect solves the camera issue and allows you to enjoy the beautiful graphics while the touch controls give freedom of movement unrivaled by stick shooters.

  • Mark Herron

    Having sound issues on iPad2.

ARC Squadron Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 5