Etolis:Arena, a stylish dual-stick shooter developed by Facet Studios and published by Chillingo, is now available from the app store. Despite its flashy graphics and wealth of modes and weapons, Etolis:Arena fails to win us over due to awkward viewpoints and monotonous gameplay.
- Great graphical style
- Terrific audio
- Crystal and GameCenter integration for leaderboards and achievements
- Lots of weapons and upgrades
- Several modes and maps to play
- Repetitive gameplay that gets boring quickly
- Auto-aim focuses on distant enemies instead of closest
- Camera viewpoints are not desirable
Finding yourself captured by an alien race and forced to defend against hordes of enemies in a gladiator-style setting, you must be fleet of foot and quick on the trigger to make it through. Etolis:Arena contains 4 game modes: Classic Survival, Dronez, Rockets, and Hammers. Classic Survival allows you to play an infinite number of rounds, while Dronez limits you to a single round of endless waves of enemies, Rockets contains a 5-wave round with infinite rockets, and Hammers is a melee-based round of 5 waves. The latter three are locked until you reach specified point totals. Six maps are available to play, with half locked until you reach similar point totals to unlock. The maps we played were all fairly small and similar in style. You have access to one of four special powers during the course of play: Invisibility, Infinite Ammo, Radius Blast, and Invincibility. As you may have guessed, only the first is unlocked from the start, with point thresholds needing to be met to unlock the others. There are also 3 difficulty levels selected via a slider.
Gameplay involves wending your way around a fairly small map, using barriers and objects to block incoming gunfire while taking advantage of lulls to return gunfire. We found the default Dynamic camera angle to be awkward, as we spent the first several minutes absent-mindedly swiping the screen in an attempt to rotate the view. The alternate camera view, Standard, gives a bit more of a top-down view, which feels a bit more comfortable. However, we were frustrated by being unable to see enemies until they were right on top of us or firing on us. There are also parts of the map that cannot be seen due to the angle, and it is not always clear where the invisible wall will prevent you from going into certain areas, despite looking open. An eye-level third-person style view would really make things a lot more interesting. The auto-aim function is also kind of annoying, as it didn’t seem to focus on the nearest enemy very often. We switched it off and had a bit more luck. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself just isn’t very enjoyable or compelling. It feels like the game is full of eye candy, but the fun factor is simply lacking. We didn’t enjoy the speed of play, and the sprint button didn’t help much. The weapons don’t feel all that powerful and the upgrades don’t improve the game all that much.
As mentioned, the graphics are top notch, with a lot of neon coloring and dark, foreboding areas in each map. Destroying some enemies results in temporary cloudiness as the dust settles, giving you momentary cover while obscuring your view of your surroundings. The HUD is a bit cluttered, with sticks for movement and firing. There are also buttons for sprinting, tossing grenades, and switching weapons. The screen bottom contains info about the current round, wave, point total, and honor points earned, which are used to buy new weapons and upgrades. The screen top contains your health bar and icons float around the screen edges to indicate where enemies are coming from. Destroyed enemies often drop ammo, which can be picked up and used on other enemies. The audio is great, featuring a movie-score style track. Weapon sounds and the like are also powerful and fitting. The controls are serviceable without being great. They get the job done, but the firing stick doesn’t feel all that responsive and aiming without aim assist isn’t as intuitive as expected. Tapping the weapon indicator swaps weapons and tapping the grenade button tosses grenades in the direction you are looking.
There is some replay value, as the game centers on survival and earning points. The longer you stay alive and the more damage you do, the better your score will be. Crystal and GameCenter integration allows for global leaderboards and a bunch of achievements. At $1.99, Etolis:Arena is priced competitively. In its current state, it’s a solid 3.5-Dimple game with room for improvement.