Before the Review: Arcadegeddon

Arcadegeddon is visually and aurally overwhelming. Bright neon environments and a pumping trap soundtrack complement chaotic gunplay, as my co-op partners and I mow down robotic enemies who explode into gushes of pink liquid with little resistance. The killbots we fight aren’t built to strategically outmaneuver us, but rather to overwhelm us into submission. As a result, as the difficulty level ramps up, so too do the number of enemies, leading to spectacular combos and screens exploding with color as the body count rises.

Arcadegeddon is a third-person shooter and roguelite, with players embarking on runs through a series of stages that will see them armed with increasingly over-the-top weaponry fired at increasingly powerful enemies. Up for four players can group up and take on a run, with the game also encouraging a competitive edge by way of rewarding each round’s MVP and implementing PvP mini-games, which see players periodically taking on one another in brief free-for-all modes. The further you progress in a run, the more tickets you earn, which are used to unlock the game’s rotating cycle of cosmetics for its visually customizable characters and weaponry.

Though developed by IllFonic, the team behind Predator: Hunting Grounds and Friday the 13th: The Game, Arcadegeddon feels like a mad idea dreamed up by a new studio. Perhaps this is because Arcadegeddon is the first IllFonic game in nearly a decade that hasn’t seen the studio using an existing IP, as they’re let loose with their first self-published project made up entirely of their own ideas. And maybe it’s also because there are a variety of loose ends and improvements that need to be made if this early access title wishes to flourish.

Gameplay

Without the confines of a movie license to work within, IllFonic has created something unlike anything the studio has developed before. A far cry from the grittier, bloody battles of Predator and Friday the 13th, Arcadegeddon takes place in a vibrant, alien-but-familiar world populated by Osmosis Jones-looking characters. Each stage takes place in one of three biomes, with the futuristic Nerve Center, the lush and cavernous Mystic Isles, and the post-apocalyptic Aftermath each containing their own randomly generated levels. More biomes are planned according to IllFonic’s roadmap, but what’s currently here offers a good amount of visual variety, though there’s a notable lack of different enemy types between stages.

In terms of gameplay, Arcadegeddon has more in common with Risk of Rain 2 than it does the asymmetrical multiplayer horror of its previous releases, as players take on hordes of enemies with the threat of permadeath following them at each turn. When you and your teammates die, save for the single ‘continue’ you’re equipped with, the run ends. The tickets and XP you’ve earned will carry over, but the weapons you’ve picked up and everything else you’ve acquired will be lost.

As there’s no progression to an ultimate end goal, players are instead driven by the urge to improve their score and to complete various objectives set by the game’s NPCs who reward XP, cosmetic items, and Surge Gauntlets that activate special abilities. Its arcade hub world features various gang leaders who will assign you missions that can be as straightforward as activating your special Surge ability a certain number of times, or as extensive as defeating numerous bosses within a single run.  Each player can have their own individual objectives, meaning that your ultimate goal in a run will likely be different from that of your co-op partners’.

Progression

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Gilly is the arcade owner who sets you off on your virtual adventures.

While this adds additional incentives to each run, Arcadegeddon’s first big stumbling block is that progression towards completing these objectives cannot be carried over between runs. In one run, I was working towards an objective that saw me needing to heal my co-op partner for 500 hit points. The run lasted for over an hour and I had healed for 484 hit points, meaning that it reset all the way back to zero. Given that the average run tends to last for over 45 minutes, completing one without much to show for it is off-putting. This isn’t helped by the rotated cosmetics in the in-game store, which fail to even show previews of the new weapon or character skins you’re purchasing.

Roguelites need a reason for players to feel compelled to take on another run. In Risk of Rain 2, you’re driven by wanting to unlock new characters. In Hades, you unlock equipment that helps you progress the next time around. However, Arcadegeddon doesn’t give players much to show for their accomplishments, and considering that each run requires a big time commitment it can be hugely deflating to not achieve any of your objectives on a single run. Allowing players to rotate their activated objectives or have progress carry over between runs would be favorable to the current system.

Weapons

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Shooting is satisfying and fast-paced.

Fortunately, the gunplay just about counter-balances its laborious objectives. Its weapons aren’t wholly unique, though are impactful and differentiable enough to be memorable; one gun sends a saw blade ripping through enemies, while another harpoons them and causes them to inflate until they explode. Most are variations of shotguns, assault rifles, snipers, and pistols, though the slim health bars of the majority of the robots you fight means that they’re each satisfying to utilize.

This satisfaction is amplified due to the forgiving aim assist, which is particularly complementary to sniper rifles. I rarely aimed down sights with the rifles I picked up, finding it much more viable to instead no-scope enemies. This also helps with some of the more “spray ‘n’ pray” weapons such as the particle blaster, and while some may balk at the lack of skill required here, as the difficulty ramps up it’s still an almighty challenge to overcome swathes of robots.

Before the Review: Thoughts so far

Arcadegeddon is an early access game that’s clearly in the early stages of its life cycle. It has a whole bunch of good ideas but all of them are flawed in some capacity, with it recommended that early buyers should either be confident in IllFonic’s continued support of this project, or eager enough to play what is currently an exciting but limited shooter. If IllFonic focuses on improving its progression system and sticks to its planned roadmap that includes more biomes and more weapons, then it could have something great on its hands when it receives its full launch in 2022.

Arcadegeddon will be released in 2022. We previewed it on PC via Epic Games Store. It is also available on PS5 via the PlayStation Store in paid early access.