Disclaimer (because ethics in games journalism) I got Arc Continuum in early access for free... somehow. They claim it was a prize for taking a quiz, but I wasn't even aware that this was going on, let alone took part in it. I just suddenly received a tweet on Twitter going "Congratulations! You won a prize!" from some game dev account I'm familiar with and follow. Naturally, I didn't object, kept my mouth shut, and accepted the prize anyway. It's entirely possible there was an error, or it's because I'm a semi-popular GamerGate developer, or it's because they liked the joke comment I made on it a few days prior. They said "Name the power in this GIF." and I said something to the effect of "Clearly that's called the Time Dilation Field... Power... Thing. Duh." But that was the only one I responded to related to the game. It's possible that was the quiz, but even if Time Dilation Field Power Thing was right, or at least partially right, I only answered one question out of the quiz.
Regardless of how it happened, I still got the game in early access for free. So I decided to do a review.
Before I begin, two things to readers, and two things to the developers of the game.
1. I am not Total Biscuit. I don't do reviews for a living, and I'm not getting anything for this, so don't go into this expecting a TB level review. I'm just a guy, I made my points, and I'm now making a simple review.
2. I am one of those assholes who can receive a free gift and still criticize it. You don't have to worry about this being a free gift coloring or altering my review.
To the dev team if you somehow end up reading this.
1. I am a game developer as well as a life-long gamer. Everything I say, I'm telling out of a place of master level experience. From arcades, DOS, and Atari all the way to Xbox One and PS4, I've played it all, and though I haven't managed to release a game of my own, yet, I do know how to develop games.
2. I'm blunt. This is going to be full of language, snide remarks, and maybe some sarcasm. But I'm going to be honest.
Let's begin. You play as this dude. What's the first thing you notice about this image?
The graphics are a lot dated. This looks like Original Xbox tier graphics, and according to the options, this is "ultra" on all settings. But since I'm as classically trained as they come, I'm always willing to look past looks. Graphics really aren't that important.
Moving right along, this guy has no name that's given, so I'm calling him Shepard's Brother. The game starts with a cut scene of Shepard's Brother in... somewhere. There's no establishing shot, so I haven't a clue if it's his house, apartment, whatever, or if he's even on Earth. He looks out his window at what we're meant to assume is a violent protest. It never shows what he's looking at. It just shows him looking out a window at a cityscape, in a downward angle. I'm assuming there's a riot on the streets below his window, because you can hear noise, but it doesn't bother to show it, so this is just a guess with a little hint from a radio he has going. What are they protesting? Haven't a clue. We're given little more than it's a protest. Would be nice if they rendered some smoke rising up in the scene we're able to see from his window. That would at least give us a sense of urgency and tension.
Anyway, Shepard's Brother is suddenly smacked over the head by the plot. A woman shows up at... place... and urgently begs to be let in.
Her name is Anna. Already you can tell more effort went into her model than went into Shepard's Brother. She looks a damn sight better. Quite the attractive model, and quite the attractive woman.
After that, she hides in... place... I'm not kidding, he has little in the way of furnishing in this place, so I really don't know what to call it. Then people... aliens... hobos... cyborgs... I'm not sure what, burst in through the door. They're dudes in admittedly badass armor that the game calls the Kasaan, if I remember correctly. It's only said once, and spelled out once, so I'm just going to call them the badguys.
They want Shepard's Brother to give up Anna *Garbled* because she escaped from some island prison recently, I think. Sorry dev guys, without subtitles, his badass voice is really hard to understand through the audio effects. Just before they rip Shepard's Brother a brand new face for one, being a dick, and two, refusing to tell them where she's hiding.... literally without searching any of... place. They walk in, spread out, and made demands. Either way, just before Shepard's Brother suddenly has to learn to live life as a new cripple, Anna comes out of literally the next room, and kills all three badguys. Not sure why she needed to hide if she could literally one-shot all three of them in the space of 2 seconds, but... sure, why not?
She then explains that Shepard's Brother is the chosen one. I'm not kidding. She explains to him the thing on her arm is called the Arc, and that it's "in your DNA" to have that kind of power.
Suddenly this thing is floating in the middle of his apartment. Again, I'm not kidding. She says "It's your destiny!" and he goes "But how?" she gestures off screen and tells him to see for himself, the camera pans right and it's just floating there, inexplicably.
Props to the art team, though. I really like how the Arc looks.
Shepard's Brother puts on the gauntlet without another word, and finds that it fits. Right after that, the game just begins.
Ok, I'm willing to assume this is just the rough draft of the game's intro, because the acting, cinematography, and character movement are all abysmal. There's a point where he's pouring himself an imaginary drink, because no liquid comes out, and when he sets down the bottle, it floats a good 4 to 5 inches off the table for the rest of the scene. I've now watched the intro three times, and I'm still confused. Not enough is explained, and he just goes along with it, and runs after her when she leaves. Why? There is no motivation, he just takes her word for it, puts on a robot arm that he has no idea what it is, without hesitation, and she abducts him without a word.
"It's your destiny."
"Oh, ok. That makes sense."
"Here's a glowing robot arm like mine."
"Neat, let me put it right on."
"Okie dokie. I don't got anything better to do anyway. Might as well follow a prison escapee I only met 20 seconds ago."
Alright, after that painful opening cut scene, you're thrown head first into game play. She runs out of... place... I'm sorry, I still don't know what it is. He has a radio, a speaker, a chair, and some bottles and cups, and that's it. I don't know if he's living there, squatting there, or what... I assume it's his place, because he apparently knows the code to the door, but it's not exactly a home. It's barren, and you only see the one room. It would be nice if he had a little more stuff, and interacted with more of the scenery to show that he lived there. Maybe instead of opening with him fiddling with the radio, have him reclining in a chair and he turns it on with a remote. Or maybe it's beside him. Have him take part in the scenery a little more.
Thankfully I don't have to refer to it ever again, because as I said before my rant, she runs out, ordering you to follow her. Now, I know a lot of you are going to be giving the "Oh boy, here we go! Another crapfest Steam game!" remark. And I don't blame you. After Day Z, Day One: Gary's Incident, and other high profile falls down a flight of stairs, the opening screen and intro cut scene really had me bracing for the worst.
Imagine my surprise when the game performs not only better than expected, but better than I'd hoped even before my first impression.
The controls aren't just tight, they're buttery smooth. But almost immediately I ran into my first real issue. I'm a Y-Invert Player, and the game is uninverted by default, and there's no way to invert the Y-axis. In fact, there's no way to change any of the game's controls... yet. I really hope that's a 'yet'... I really want to enjoy this game, but I can't if I have to play non-inverted.
For you non-invert plebs, my first FPS ever, where you even had a Y-axis, was 007 The Golden Eye on the Nintendo 64, which utilizes the Y-invert by default. I didn't know any better, and that's the control style I ended up learning. Y-Invert players can't just play the other way. It's like trying to write with your opposite hand. Unless you're ambidextrous... then try putting the pencil in your mouth and writing. It's like that.
And for you "Inverted Y controls doesn't make sense" peons. It makes perfect sense. It's like flying a plane. You pull the stick back to go up, and push the stick forward to go down. Uninverted is the control scheme that doesn't make any damn sense! If you play uninverted, YOU are the abnormal one.
To say this game is rough around the edges is an understatement. I kept seeing weird, white artifacts in the scenery as I was going around corners and things, as if the game was loading assets a little too slow. There were times when the frame rate would dip, or at least, it would feel like it dipped at least a little, but I wouldn't really say that it made things harder to play. It only seemed to be when trying to fix those artifacts that the game suffered negligible frame rate issues.
As mentioned, the graphics aren't great, but the environments are reasonably nice, if barren. But again, I don't really care how a game looks, as long as it's not butt-ugly, and as long as it plays good. And it plays very good.
I've been waiting for the chance to get to this part, I'll start with the part of the game play I liked the most: No hand holding. I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I quickly became thrilled that the game just sort of opened the doors and aside from "press this to jump" and "press that to crouch" and "press the other to shoot" the game was totally hands-off while I was playing.
Example: There's this part where I was trying to progress, and I couldn't figure out what to do at first.
But it didn't. I figured out what was going on, what the devs wanted me to do, and how to overcome it all without a word of dialogue, or a single pop-up text, and it felt great to overcome that hurdle all on my own.
I know, I know. That shit's been around since the SNES and Sega Genesis. But today's games make it feel like the devs think you're a retard. So when I see a game returning to letting the player make their mistakes and figure out the puzzles on their own like that, it makes me so happy.
So almost right out of the gate, the devs allow me to feel confident and feel like I've accomplished something.
Sadly, that feeling of accomplishment was dashed rather quickly. It's extremely linear and you don't really gain anything for looking around (yet anyway) or killing enemies, so I hardly felt driven to care what was going on around me, so long as it wasn't shooting at me.
This simple fact is probably going to kill it for a lot of people: but this is a third-person shooter. And from this point on, everything I have about this game is complaints.
Big complaint 1, there's no way to hip fire. You have to hold down the left trigger (I was using an Xbox USB controller) and press the right trigger in order to shoot. Attempting to shoot without holding the left trigger first only charges up a fairly useless, short-range punch blast that temporarily stuns enemies. I'll get back to this.
The lack of an ability to hip fire means that enemies that get right up in your face are going to be frustrating to kill, because third-person and point-blank combat don't mix when you have to aim at the enemy and can't see where you're going. It also slows down combat by quite a bit. It's not so bad at first, when there are only one or two of the badguys. When it gets up to 5 and over, the slow aiming becomes a big problem. You can't see where you're going while aiming, so you have to go in and out of aim mode, and when you have 3 or more guys shooting you at once, you can very easily die because you got caught on something. Every shot counts, too, because the Arc overheats.
Back to the punch thing. I called it useless, because the range is too short, the radius is too narrow, charge up is too long, and the stun is too short-lived to justify using it, especially when you get the power to slow enemies in time, later. I think the punch should either be improved, or just get replaced (or moved to another key) in favor of being able to hip fire.
Combat - The Cover System
The game uses the cover system, where you hide and your health regenerates. The thing this game does right is that it doesn't take that long to recover health, so you aren't spending much time ducking. However, the cover system is abysmally limited. You can't lean into cover, or fire out of cover. No you have to stand up to shoot, so I found that cover was more of an inconvenience than a strategy. Allow me to explain.
The game only allows you to aim over Shepard's Brother's right shoulder, and since you can't hip fire, if you plan on coming out of cover on the left side of what you're hiding behind, it means the enemies are going to get to see and shoot you long before you can see and shoot them, because you have to move the entire character's body out from behind cover in order to aim over Shepard's Brother's right shoulder to hit them. Since there's no leaning, and no firing while in cover, it means you're going to waste precious seconds looking more for cover that has an open right side, or making like a whack-a-mole and standing up out of cover to shoot, and ducking back into it.
The cover system might have been slightly more helpful if ducking behind something and moving to another place gave you a logical element of surprise, but no... that's not a thing that's possible. Just like that crappy Turok Evolution game that absolutely destroyed my ability to enjoy Turok games ever again, enemies have inexplicable x-ray vision and can see you no matter where you go. I even tested this. I ducked behind a wall of crates and watched where the enemy was shooting. No matter where I moved to, he was shooting straight at me, even though I never once came out of cover. So any time I came out of cover, they were instantly ready to shoot me. Like I said, the only thing the cover system is good for is to keep the enemies from shooting you long enough to get your health back up. There is no using it for stealth.
Combat - Fairness
To say the combat system is balanced would be a lie, and I refuse to lie. It's left completely unfair.
First of all, like in Turok Evolution, enemies have perfect accuracy. Unless you're moving, they can shoot across a 300 foot gorge and still hit you. Combine that with the fact that they know where you are at all times, and the combat becomes extremely skewed in their favor. Keep in mind, I was also playing under a severe handicap with the Y-invert being off.
It wasn't so bad until I got to the first "boss". It's not really a boss, more like a bigger enemy with a bigger gun. That's where the combat system's flaws started to come out in full black and white. In fact, that battle gave me quite a few complaints to work with.
Enemies Break The Rules
Like in most shitty games, Arc Continuum's enemies don't have to follow the rules. First was the fact that enemies could see me through walls and other objects, and I couldn't see them.
Second, and most egregious was the fact that enemies could shoot through solid objects, and I couldn't. In the arena area just before the big enemy and right after I obtained the power to slow down time, there were some crates and different random objects that I noticed enemies could shoot though. One of the things I hate more than anything in a game is when enemies can shoot through something, but I can't also shoot through it. It's fucking cheating, and it's god damn bullshit. Sorry, devs, if this is an oversight, but I have to bring it up, because I absolutely cannot stand it when this happens.
Sometimes they were able to shoot through crates, sometimes they were able to shoot through a fence-like structure, and sometimes they were able to shoot straight through a wall.
The "boss" himself was no more fair. He neither had to actually be pointing his gun at me to shoot me, nor did he have to have bullets in his gun to shoot me. I found out, while trying desperately to find a way to beat him, that he can pull the trigger of his shot gun, and no matter what direction it's pointed, the bullets will still fly in my direction. Even when I was standing beside him, and his gun was pointed 90 degrees away from me, he was still able to shoot me.
This boss also has a reloading animation, where he tilts his shotgun up to pump it so he can go on shooting. And yep, even during this animation, he's still able to shoot me.
You might think I was mistaken and that maybe he's quick and it just looked like he was able to shoot sideways out of his gun, and shoot while reloading. But thanks to the ability to slow the boss guy down, I was able to prove that I wasn't just mistaken. I'll bet that just like that shitty game White Knight Chronicles, enemies are even able to face away, and fire backwards, through themselves, just to hit me. I have not proof, but I'm also willing to bet they can shoot through each other, too.
A lack of a dash mechanic also made it hard to fight this thing. I'm aware that the Arc gives you the power to dash later, but that broken mechanic wouldn't have saved me during this fight, anyway. This guy is a massive bulldozer, and he knows it. He's not afraid to walk right up to you, unlike other enemies. And since he has a huge shotgun, you go down fairly easy if he does manage to get between you and any form of cover (that he can't just shoot through, that is). The lack of an ability to run quicker meant that if he managed to corner me, I was more than likely to die, because there was no way to get around him without taking a ton of extra damage, due to another cheap ability enemies have that even defies the game's own mechanic.
You might be wondering how the "boss" was so hard to beat when I had the power to slow him in time. Well, much like the punch, the Arc's main claim to fame is also rather useless.
Unlike the punch, the Arc fires off instantly, but that doesn't mean it's better. In fact, it's much more useless. The stun punch actually worked, the time dilation field power thing, not so much. It slows the enemies down, but not by a lot, and they can still attack you.
But the worst part is that is that it can also affect you. You aren't immune to your own power. The problem with that being, if you're too close to where the blast hits, you'll also be slowed, however, the blast is so big that even at medium-close combat, I still ended up slowing myself down as well as the enemy, and when the enemy isn't afraid to get up close and personal, like the "boss" for example... well, it isn't going to help anything to use it, because most of the time, he'll be far too close to you. Yeah, that lack of sprinting makes its self known in spades, during that fight.
On top of that, it only lasts about 5 seconds, so there's really no good in using the game's own name sake.
But as I hinted at before this section, the power to slow time is rendered even less helpful due to the enemies being able to defy the game's own core mechanic. I found that even while slowed by time, enemies had perfect aim. The ability to slow enemies in time seems to have no effect on their turning speed. While running past the big boss guy, I noticed that he was able to turn and keep pace with me, even while he was slowed and I wasn't, meaning he was still able to fire away at me while I ran by him.
Remember the blast radius I was talking about? Unlike most games that use time as a mechanic, the Arc only seems to be able to shoot a localized area of time dilation, so while you may be able to slow down one or two, maybe up to 4 enemies in a group, any enemies outside the blast areas are free to shoot you... as well as the ones you slowed down, because the effect isn't really even that great. They can still kill you, it will just take a second or two longer for them to kill you, while anyone not caught in the area is free to kill you at normal speed.
I kind of feel bad about saying it, but the Arc is crap. At the end of the level, Anna stops moving, I assume because her AI wasn't finished and there's no cut scene. So you just go through a large portal into the next area, and this is where I had to stop playing. In this area, you get the most broken power yet. And I don't mean broken as in exploitable. I mean broken as in it doesn't work. By this point, I'd switched to mouse and keyboard because I just can't play on a controller without Y inversion. Anyway, you pick up an ability that allows you to do a Sonic-style light dash for a short distance by pressing shift. The game wants you to do a dash parkour puzzle over an insta-death drop, but the only problem is.... the dash doesn't work.
It took me so many tries to get over the first gap, simply because hitting the dash button has a 50% chance of doing nothing at all. Even when I figured out that sometimes the ability just wouldn't respond, it took 3 additional tries, mashing the shift button over and over as I ran headlong at this first gap, just to make it across... only to find out that there are several more ahead. And this game's not so generous with its checkpoints. It might be more generous in this area, but after seeing all the gaps I had to get over, I didn't bother. I loaded it back up to check just now, only to find that my continue file didn't bother to save, and I'm back at the beginning. There's no manual save, either. So if there are other abilities, enemies, and weapons, I can't review them. Sorry devs, I'm not willing to put up with a broken mechanic just to see the rest of the game.
I'm sorry to have to report that the camera isn't good. It's not the worst camera I've ever had to deal with, but it's pretty bad, especially while in combat. Sometimes the camera was too close and I couldn't see where I was going, and sometimes the camera didn't bother to turn around when I was running in the opposite direction.
The fact that the camera hovers over his right shoulder is also a problem in combat, as I mentioned before.
I can't say that the camera got me killed, save for one time. I couldn't figure out what I was running up against while in a fire fight, and so I couldn't get out of the line of fire and died. Regardless, this does need to be worked on before the final release. A sub par camera can really hurt a game.
The collision detection needs some serious work. There's a 4 inch invisible field around all objects, making navigating in a fire fight a big problem, because I'd always forget to account for the extra large collision box on objects.
The blast wave that comes off the time slow effect needs to be increased, because I found that even when I was clear of the visual area of the field by a good 2 feet, I was still caught in the effect.
It seemed to be down to pure chance whether I was slowed or not, because some cases I was nowhere near the time field, and yet, I still sometimes ended up getting slowed down.
The dev in me leads me to test things, so naturally, when I came to the area with the hover trains, I found that they could be slowed down, too. However, just like FarCry Instincts Evolution, objects not in motion stay lethal. In that game, you could knock over sniper towers, but the devs forgot to make them no longer lethal after they've come to a complete stop, so if you touched them, you'd still die. Same with the trains in Arc Continuum. The trains slow down, but if you touch them even when they're slowed, they'll still kill you, even though they're moving slow enough that it wouldn't be deadly. You might argue that they still keep their force, but then when you get to the area where you have to slow down giant fans to get through, those should also remain lethal to touch when slowed. They do not.
Sometimes the health display wouldn't even show up. I thought that meant I was invincible when that happened, but after testing that theory, I found that I was still quite able to die.
I noticed that enemies that were required to run out through a door to attack me were in rooms with only the one exit. At least make a locked door or a blocked or unreachable entrance for them to get into that room from, so they're not just sanding around in a dead end room waiting to jump out at me.
There was an odd glitch where if I was on stairs, or at the top of them, sometimes enemies at the bottom of the stairs would stop moving and stop responding, even if I started shooting them. Even though I was fully visible, they'd stand there and do nothing, even as I killed them.
You're able to skip the "boss". I'm not sure if this is an oversight or not, but you're able to completely bypass the first big boss guy. I honestly couldn't beat him after trying for an hour, so I decided to see if I could just leave. Turns out, I can. And then I can kill him from the other side of a fence. (To the gamers tisk-tisking me for taking the easy road, there's a second one almost immediately after that, and I did have to kill that one to progress.)
And last... the game doesn't allow the merciless slaughter of innocent, unarmed NPCs. Sorry dev guys, I know this is more of a technical complaint, but any game that has NPCs, and guns, but doesn't allow me to kill the innocent people gets a black mark from me. There's a bar scene in the game with a bunch of pointless NPCs, but you can't use your Arc in that room, so you can't attack the people. "Does this mean Mass Effect also got a black mark for the same reason?" Yep.
Despite having more complaints about the game than good things to say, I don't hate it. Naturally, since it's in early access, I'm willing to give the game a free pass on being in a fairly crappy state.
Now, I'm not saying this just because I got a free gift: I actually did kind of enjoy it. I think it has quite a lot of potential, especially the lack of hand holding. I greatly appreciated that. The entire game, there were no bells or whistles going off in my ears, no tutorial, no omniscient NPC partner feeling the need to rush me to my next goal or explain crap to me. No, I was literally on my own after Anna and I got separated, and I loved it. For a change, I felt like I was able to fucking play the game. I don't want to understate how happy I am to see that. True, it's still a fairly generic shooter, but I didn't think it was awful.
Trust me, if I hated the game, I would have said so. I'm too much of an asshole to pretend like I thought a game was good just because I got it as a gift. I'm one of the industry's toughest critics.
The Last Guardian? Don't give a shit.
Overwatch? Go away.
Titanfall? Gimmicks don't impress me.
Kingdom Hearts? Boring.
Knack? Crap. Saw that one coming 200 leagues away.
Watch_Dogs? Let me know how much it sucks when it comes out. Oh wait, it's out and it sucks...
Life Is Strange? Hipster shit.
Mario Galaxy 2? Yawn. The first one wasn't good enough to justify a second...
Firewatch? You mean Walking Simulator 2016?
The Last of Us? I asked myself if I cared, and the answer was no.
Bravely Default? Bravely Meh. No RPG will ever be as good as Phantasy Star 4.
Undertale is one of the greatest games of all time and I hated it before I knew anything about it, because people wouldn't shut up about how perfect it was.
(Though I do like Castlevania 64, so take that how you will...)
To the Devs: don't think that I won't 180 on my opinion of Arc Continuum if you fail me, and release shit. I'm also too much of an asshole to lie to myself and others and pretend I enjoy it just to try and save face. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt, because I think your game has a lot of potential. When next I play this game, I want to see a massive improvement. I'm giving this game my recommendation, something too few modern games get, especially ones this early in development. Try not to let us down. I'll be keeping my eye on this project. I want to see greatness, because I hate to see wasted potential. (Like Fracture.)
Readers, you can buy the Early Access version on the Steam store for a little over 7 USD. Play it for yourself and see what you think. Despite the time I had with it, I didn't rage. I think that's important to point out. It's tolerable in its early access badness.
And remember, I'm neither involved, nor invested in this project. I gain nothing besides a good game if it succeeds, and I gain nothing for this review. I'm not being pressured to tell you that it's good, and even if I'd been given expensive gifts by the developers, I still wouldn't lie about my experience with it. My opinion can't be bought, so you can rest assured that when I say "It's in a rough state, but I can't say I regret trying it out" I mean it.
So go support them. I'd really like to see this turn out to be something excellent.