Well, let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room. Savior is spelt without the “u” in ARC Savior. That can mean only one thing… Americans!
Labour of Love
Or American, to be more precise. ARC Savior is the love-child of one Nic Kempsky, CEO and lead-dev of Squid Monkey Studios. The studio’s debut effort is largely a one-person gig, though Kempsky did outsource a little help with the score, some artwork, and coding. But that’s what makes ARC Savior so impressive, all told, it’s that it never feels like such a small team crafted it. And that’s what I had to remind myself of constantly when playing through the game; this is the work of less than a handful of people.
SHMUP me up
ARC Savior is a 3D space shooter, taking most of its influence from one “Starfox”. Fans of that Nintendo classic will immediately feel at home with several of ARCs features; be it in-mission dialogue, ship handling, enemy movement or just the general “Je ne sais quoi”, of it all. Graphically ARC Savior is a modern indie title, but spiritually it’s a 90s space shooter, complete with, at times, groan-inducing difficulty. That’s not a bad thing, of course, but be aware that there are no mid-mission checkpoints, so death infers a mission restart, or return to HQ, to think things over.
The 16 missions themselves are not overly long, ranging from 10 to 30 minutes in length each. This will, of course, depend on how quickly and smoothly you can achieve all set objectives. Mission types are somewhat varied; basic combat, escort, intel gathering, defending key ships/structures, or, ultimately, all-out war. The penultimate mission was a personal favorite, taking the form of a large scale battle above the home planet of our hero race. I actually played through it a second time immediately after finishing, because it was so fun.
The Next Level
ARC Savior is the gaming equivalent of a page-turner. For you youngsters out there, that’s a book reference. The game lends itself to the “one more mission” scenario, each level zipping by, and the story carrying the player forward. You will play as 3 separate characters over a decade long story arc. The 3 protagonists are inextricably linked, and without spoiling things, there are a couple of nicely executed twists. The actual characters are all military types, the dialogue is therefore direct, and straightforward. Don’t be expecting any midnight soliloquies here.
Ship selection is linear, with new boats being unlocked as you progress. The later ships are awesome, with direct nods to shmups gone by; the Gladius, or Foxfire, for example. Ship modules take the form of energy weapons, ballistic weapons, missiles, and a perk. It’s up to you how to deck out your boat, but most people will just follow the natural, linear route. Unlock something new, use it until the next unlock. A little variety in ship balancing might be nice, but that’s a minor gripe.
Gripe Em Up
On the subject of minor issues, I do have a couple. First, turrets have a habit of shooting through some solid objects. Second, the weapon range is a fixed 750 meters. With no variation to this stat, it’s too easy to cheese fixed enemy positions. In my roughly 6 hours of playtime though, I encountered literally no other issues. The game ran smoothly on my 5-year-old laptop, as well as my more modern desktop rig. A sure sign of good optimisation. The music largely takes a back seat, with only one or two stand out tracks, the rest being fairly forgettable. You’ll hear the same enemy ship exploding sound a lot, but weapon sounds are otherwise a good fit, with the “Ripper Cannon” being an audible standout.
Textures can be grainy up close, and when I say close, I’m talking within a hundred meters. But again, we’re reviewing objectively here, and this basically a one-man project, so a few non HD textures are forgivable. All in all, ARC Savior is quite a pretty game to behold. Environments seem spacious, backdrops are beautifully drawn, and environmental assets are never repeated. You’ll blast your way through city-sized space stations, large destroyer ships, an asteroid belt, and some eye-catching dust clouds.
Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake I did. On booting up ARC Savior for the first time, I plugged in my controller and tried playing. Hereby I could barely handle my ship. A quick switch back to mouse and keyboard and all of a sudden the fluidity and quick-twitch reactions I desired came to the fore. WASD for the win. I don’t know whether the controller support is just not optimised too well, or was an afterthought for the developer. I can only equate trying to use a controller with Elite: Dangerous’ “Flight Assist – OFF” mode. Try it at your peril.
ARC Savior is a massively impressive debut for such a small team. Squid Monkey Studios have blasted their way into our “One to Watch” list for Indie devs. I would only wish for more ARC Savior to burn through, but at roughly 5-6 hours, the campaign can seem to end all too quickly. I have absolutely no problem recommending ARC Savior to anyone, but especially for the “R-Type” or “Starfox” generations. ARC Savior is currently available on Steam for PC for €12.95. GamEir.