Any veteran of Steam will tell you that you have to wade through lots of undesirable stuff in Early Access before finding the real gems. For every critical indie darling, there are at least 10 more titles that fail to deliver. Arc Continuum is more the latter than the former, and while it may have some potential, the prospects don't look so good based on the current build.
The opening cut scene hits almost all of the checkmarks for a typical sci-fi tale. The desert-like planet of Taraan has been under the occupation of the conquering race known as the Kasaar. Their conquest has a purpose, though, as they've been looking for a means to harness and control the inherent power on the planet. You play the role of a simple person who tried to hide a revolutionary who's being sought by the Kasaar. It turns out that she harnesses a device called the Arc, which has tapped into the planet's power. With your own version in your possession, you both seek to find out more about the Arc and get the Kasaar off your home planet.
Before you get to the Arc's powers, you have regular shooting, which seems fine on paper. The Arc is equipped with a blaster that fires in three-shot bursts. The gun doesn't need to be reloaded, but it runs on a cooling system, so you will have to pace your shots to ensure you're not stuck and waiting to fire. While this is the only weapon at your disposal, you have a melee attack that has some power but is slow to execute. You also need to aim at all times to fire, since melee and Arc firing are tied to the same button.
Aside from the fact that you only have one weapon at your disposal, the shooting feels way too basic. The lack of other weapons makes shooting seem repetitive since you never get anything more powerful than what is essentially a pea shooter. More baffling is the lack of some of the basic things we've seen in the genre. You have regenerative health, and you can duck, but that's your only means of taking cover. It works but feels awkward when you're expecting a basic cover system. It also doesn't help that the environments tend to work against you by extending collision boxes far beyond the object they're attached to. While your shots get blocked, those from enemies don't, so you're always getting hit and can only fire back when getting out in the open.
The Arc's time powers are similar to the shooting in that it looks fine at first glance. You start with the ability to shoot a time bubble that slows down enemy movement for a short time but only on the person or area it hits. Soon, you'll get a dash followed by a time warp that lets you blink over to a targeted spot, similar to Dishonored. There's also a time vortex that acts like a grenade, since you can throw it at enemies and watch them get sucked in. Rewind is interesting, since it only affects you and not your enemies, so you can trace back your actions and health within a four-second window.
Where the game fails is in the controls for these abilities. The time bubble is a nice power, but all too often, it can easily be dropped in front of you, slowing down your actions instead of giving you an advantage. Dashing and warping are all confined to one button, with the press duration being the only defining factor between them both. The same applies to the time bubble and vortex, an odd decision that feels awkward on all control schemes. Get into a panic, and you'll execute several moves incorrectly due to that limitation. Since there's no ability to remap controls, this can be enough of a deal-breaker for those who want to check it out early.
All of this combined gets you a package that is uninspiring in its current incarnation. The standard soldiers are crack shots from so far away that you can't locate them when they initially hit you. They're also poor in their strategy, since they throw out a few shots and stand around waiting to fire off another volley or slowly march toward you. Enemy variety isn't there either, so fights quickly become boring. They also become very frustrating, since there seems to be an invisible line you have to cross in a room for them to stop appearing. Play things too safe, and you'll be bombarded by foes until you decide to move forward. This was an old mechanic used in older shooters. Since time powers don't do much to affect combat, Arc Continuum feels like a generic shooter.
The game has multiplayer, which sees you and other players working together to fight countless waves of enemies. Currently, there's only one level to explore, but aside from the lack of an online community at the moment, there's no need to explore the mode. The various portals in the stage don't seem to function, enemies don't show up in the stage for a long time (so you spend too much time doing nothing), and there were several occasions where you fall through the world with no hopes of returning to a menu unless you Alt+Tab out of the game and shut it down.
As for presentation, you'll find that it needs some real work beyond the usual optimizations. Several animations are stiff, like landing from a jump, which somehow lets you land on solid air before dropping you to the ground. Others are too lengthy, like when you decide to change direction and see yourself do the momentum shift or perform a big wind-up for the melee punch. Sound cuts out at odd times or doesn't play when it's supposed to. There's also a lighting problem prevalent throughout, which gives the game an odd fog effect that hasn't been seen in games since the late PSOne/early PS2 days. It struggles on pretty high-end hardware at the moment, so you'll definitely want to wait to see if later versions can fix this.
It would be nice to say that there's hope for Arc Continuum. The sci-fi setting and storyline aren't new, but it's nice to go after a hero's journey again as opposed to another military-themed, sci-fi adventure. The use of time-related powers is also a bonus, even if they aren't new. However, the basic shooting mechanics feel woefully uninspired, and the general time controls are so fiddly that you'll do the wrong thing quite often. We'll check on the game's progress as it inches toward a release date later this year.
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