ArcRunner review

‘Live service’ games have been the source of contention of late, fuelled by reports of numerous publishers having at least one in the pipeline. Publishers love the concept as there are countless ways to implement microtransactions while retaining player engagement. Gamers, however, tend to audibly ‘sigh’ whenever a new one is announced – they’re demanding experiences based around daily revisits and grinding. ArcRunner couldn’t be any more different, offering co-op shooting thrills while being remarkably respectful of your time.

First released on PC in 2023, this is a streamlined third-person shooter with randomised elements, playable solo or co-operatively. You’re out to save a sci-fi world overturned by a sentient computer system turned rogue, and upon being ‘re-atomized’ (reborn) by the sole remaining uncorrupted AI you’re presented with two character classes, with a third (hacker) unlocking after making a decent chunk of progress. The soldier class carries an energy shield and a heavy-hitting energy hammer, while the ninja class brings a sword into battle and can turn invisible, making it possible to stealth kill the majority of enemy types.

ArcRunner review

Flitting between these two classes allows for a degree of variety when it comes to tackling runs, and while having just three character types may seem stingy initially, you’ll soon realise that ArcRunner prides itself on being bloat free. Instead of overloading on ideas and mechanics, it employs just a handful, all of which feel refined. Coupled with stylish visuals, including ground reflections, searing neon colours and alluring, explosive, energy powered weaponry, this amounts to noticeable polish.   

A run involves choosing a class, picking a weapon from a gradually increasing pool – starting with typical energy pistols and rifles, and ending with disc throwers and lightning cannons – and then heading into randomised linear locations, forever heading towards clearly marked exits. After completing a section, an augment can be chosen, boosting damage or health. The soldier’s shield can also be improved to rebound fire, and a shoulder mounted missile launcher can be added, along with the ability to hover. To add further variety, stages feature unique elite enemies sporadically, in addition to end of zone bosses and infrequent protection objectives.

ArcRunner review

Enemies often drop weapons and secondary ordinance (turrets, shield drones, grenades, etc) and if you search the environment, supply boxes that contain health, weapons, and armour can be found. Handily, loot drops don’t vanish over time, meaning you’re free to blitz the battlefield before mopping up the spoils. Unlike many other rogue-likes, this one isn’t centred around becoming overpowered effortlessly. You may find a rare weapon occasionally, but you’ll likely have to scour the environment fully and perhaps take on a challenge room to be appropriately rewarded. Secondary weapons are handled similarly, providing a pool after the first wave that never changes. I found myself sticking with the auto-turret, switching to a shield-drone whenever a boss loomed, making drops between negligible.

Incidentally, sometimes it’s vital to take on a challenge in the hope of gaining a health kit, which adds a welcome hint of ‘risk and reward’ to the proceedings.

Mechanically, ArcRunner isn’t particularly deep or nuanced. You could even say it’s edging towards the more casual side of things. There’s no cover system or aiming down sights – and initially, just a single weapon can be carried. This puts the focus on aiming with precision, covering yourself with the shield and only exiting while enemies are reloading, dodging explosives, and ensuring you’re never flanked. There’s just enough tact to all this, and later the difficulty rises by introducing shielded enemies. Each location, starting with a neon-drenched city that leads into a spaceport, has its own enemy roster too. But while stages are randomised, they aren’t heavily modified – imagine a sequence of square and rectangular rooms, only shuffled slightly from one run to the next.

ArcRunner review

In some areas, ArcRunner excels thanks to the developers aiming to keep things simple. In others, though, it’s a little lacking. This is mostly evident within its replay value. Each location takes 20-25 minutes to complete, and having to restart anew each time does result in tedium, albeit after several hours of play. There is some incentive on top of the ultimate, story-concluding, goal such as unlocking all starting weapons by achieving kill quotas, along with investing in permanent upgrades that unlock an ‘ultimate’ and a second weapon slot, but you may have to spur yourself on when it comes to dusting off and trying again.   

Despite this, ArcRunner is visibly polished and well designed, clearly opting for a ‘less is more’ ethos. It gets straight to the point and has style to spare; within moments of starting, you’ll be clearing the city streets with a mindset on which ‘build’ to aim for next. Had the developers implemented more of everything, it would cease to offer a streamlined experience, doubtlessly losing its identity in the processes. Damned if you do? Perhaps, but by knuckling down on the fundaments ArcRunner gets most things right.

Trickjump Games’ ArcRunner is out April 18th on consoles. Published by PQube. A PC version launched in 2023.