Hits its mark but not quite a bullseye
It’s Quake meets Duck Game. At least that’s the tagline developer Code Avarice chose as the hook to draw gamers to its quirky arena shooter, Arkshot. Perhaps a more basic - “bows meet FPS” would have even proven even more sufficient, if admittedly not as creative. At least, this is the core concept that garnered my attention. The idea very much sells itself right of the bat. You’ll either “get it,” or you won’t. You’ll be intrigued to try a zany FPS that swaps guns for bows, or you’ll simply wave it off as another indie game that maybe tries a bit too hard to be ambitious, and return to your marathon session of Unreal Tournament. And for the most part, I’m quite pleased to say that Arkshot has succeeded in pulling me away from my Gears of War and Call of Duty, at least temporarily.
The gameplay is enjoyable and charming as a whole, though I would be lying if I said the game felt fully realized or even sufficiently fleshed out. In its current form, Arkshot just feels stripped down and unfinished, almost to the point of resembling a glorified demo or a beta. There is unfortunately no single player campaign mode, and you are also unable to play against bots either online or locally. Because of this, there is a severe lack of content outside of the online multiplayer. There is a simplistic tutorial which briefly throws most of the core elements at you to help you understand the game’s workings, but this can be knocked out in roughly ten minutes. Add this to the almost comically low tally of players lingering about the vast emptiness of Arkshot’s servers, and you’re left with very little to work with. Put simply, you’ll all but need a couple friends on standby who can meet you online for some old-school archery dueling to get the most out of this title. This is unfortunate, as online play is the vast majority of Arkshot’s gameplay.
Of course, there are a number of factors to consider here: the game has only recently been released as of this writing, and judging from the “version 1.0” blurb on the title screen, one would deduce the potential for future updates is likely, if not imminent. Code Avarice’s indie title also sports a highly attractive price point to even the most financially burdened gamer, allowing for a degree of leniency where content is concerned. Additionally, it’s pretty apparent that this game is essentially designed for a group of friends to purchase and battle online together, and when used for that function, there’s no denying the laugh-out-loud amusement that Arkshot churns out. It offers a thrilling social experience that manages to feel both familiar and fresh, and relies on some solid mechanics that provide the sturdy backbone to what is an otherwise unorthodox spin on an FPS. And despite the somewhat steep learning curve of getting acquainted with the trajectories of the gravity-prone arrows, it shouldn't be too long until you’re firing shots with relative ease and gleeful satisfaction.
As soon as you’ve found your bearings with the tutorial - which unfortunately doesn’t do the game much justice as it feels a bit thrown together and not particularly inspiring - you’ll likely be itching to try out your new bow on some actual players rather than just hovering targets. Of course, first you’ll have to be lucky enough to find a couple other people online at the same time you are, which is a rare occurrence from my experience. Even then, they will either need to be hosting a public server or be willing to jump into yours. Getting into a match with even one other person without waiting several minutes and tediously clicking the multiplayer option, requires being at the right place at the right time.
Yet, on the few occasions in which I was lucky enough to find a game, the wait usually was worth it, and I had quickly forgotten the twenty minutes or so I just spent staring at the title screen. Yes, the game is just that damn fun, even when playing total strangers. It’s just a shame that these oases of enjoyment amongst the barren desert of Arkshot’s online mode weren’t more abundant. But I’m beating a dead horse at this point, so let’s move on to the gameplay itself...
The online multiplayer offers a generous dose of diverse maps ranging in both scope and character, and you’ll find that some certainly stand out more than others. The more open-world ice, forest, and desert maps for instance, while visually interesting, felt rather bland in comparison to the more intricate corridor-laden indoor stages. Aside from map selection, you’ll be granted a choice of some silly and creepy looking character customizations to throw onto your generic wizard avatar, as well as a variety of bows to choose from. Finally, you’ll be asked to select one of five game modes, each with their own dynamics and feel. There is even an assortment of hilarious audible taunts for you to spam with at your discretion. Believe it or not, these taunts actually provide a good portion of the multiplayer’s amusement, ranging from juvenile fart noises and mocking laughter to the somewhat suggestive “orgasm sound.” They also provide a nice supplement in giving your annoyed opponent a good ribbing and add some color during the already wacky battles that ensue.
The shooting mechanics prove to be a far cry from anything you’re probably used to when it comes to your typical FPS. While basic movement, jumping, and crouching are pretty standard - resembling the Halo or Unreal games with its floaty feel - getting accustomed to the time and precision required in drawing and shooting arrows is a different animal. It will take you some trial and error to grasp the somewhat obscure behavior of the arrows. I did eventually get used to it, but my first several minutes were spent shooting around sporadically with a stunning lack of accuracy that would have left seasoned archers like Legolas or Katniss Everdeen shaking their heads. The absence of a reticule makes long range shots particularly difficult to pull off with any consistency. You almost need to rely on sheer luck at times in order to hit an opponent that isn’t right in your vicinity.
The trajectory of your arrows will be affected differently depending on a number of factors, including which direction you are moving, and how long you hold the fire button once your ammo is drawn. You can focus on firing off Hail Mary’s to catch your opponent off guard, or stick to spamming some close range clunkers if that’s more your style. You can add curvature to your arrows via strafing to the left or right while shooting, and even launch an arrow right beneath your feet to propel yourself skyward, providing you with some extra hops. Arrows are essentially “fueled” by your stamina; a blue bar that you will probably need to keep tabs on more often than you’d like. Indeed, this element adds a degree of challenge, and can prove to be a burden that will often seem to bog you down just as you get on a roll. You may find yourself with an empty stamina bar at precisely the moment in which several opponents close in on you, and you’ll be forced to scamper away like a frightened child in a desperate attempt to recharge. In addition to this, you will sometimes need to make a mad dash for fallen arrows, since your supply is limited and will inevitably whittle down fast during the heat of battle. Throw in the intensity of the one-hit kills, and you can quickly see how Arkshot can become a chaotic skirmish that is all but guaranteed to lead to some intense gameplay, along with plenty of yuks and friendly trash talking.
Further adding to the seemingly random chaos are the enjoyable and wacky assortment of power-ups. There are basic enhancements such as super speed and multiple jumps to help give you a subtle edge. Then there are some more eccentric abilities that include decoy arrows - which manifest phony avatars designed to throw off opponents - and concussive arrows that can send a player flying off a cliff to their unexpected demise. These features are amusing diversions to toy around with, and inject a hefty dose of action, excitement, and diversity into the game. You’ll find they are not only one of the main sources of the entertainment, but also help keep the comedic moments going throughout.
Of the various game modes, deathmatch is good ol’ fashion mindless fun that rarely provides a dull moment, despite favoring the simplistic rather than the complex. King of the Hill and Capture the Flag both brought their share of entertainment in their own way, mixing action with strategy and cunning, and upping the ante in terms of sheer intensity. The more unique modes, Headhunter and Slowdown, were a bit less impressive, as they seemed to succumb to random elements and cheap frustration more often than I felt they should. There were more than a few moments in which one player would round up a collection of skulls (which are obtained after landing a kill), only to have someone else swoop in, snag their skulls, and cash them in at a designated “base” for easy points. I’ve been able to get away with scoring some cheap points by snagging skulls of other fallen players in the aftermath of their showdown, and I’ve likewise had mine snatched away from me at the last second. Still, these modes are worth giving a go, if for no other reason than to take a detour from the usual FPS multiplayer suspects. Luckily, you’ll get to vote for your preference in both stage and game type following each finished match, and with only three other players max, you’ll have relatively high odds that your preferences are selected.
While the gameplay as a whole is strong enough to hold its own as a solid shooter worth returning to, it isn’t without its blemishes. Since you’ll be firing off arrows rather than speedy bullets, there will likely be several instances of players killing one another simultaneously. This would be understandable except that this seemed to occur very frequently during my encounters with opponents, even when it appeared that one of us shot well before the other. There is also the strange nuisance of arrows falling from the sky at seemingly sporadic times at random locations. The idea of this feature is perhaps to keep players from camping, and it provides another source of arrows, which is certainly welcome. Yet, I’ve found myself getting unexpectedly ambushed from this raining hellfire, even while I was constantly on the move. In the smaller maps (of which there are many), this nuisance inches towards the level of being a real external threat that you must be aware of.
Despite these nitpicks, and despite the somewhat bare-bones gameplay, there’s no denying that the online multiplayer as it stands is still chalked full of enjoyment under the right circumstances, and the fun is prevalent enough to more-or-less overshadow the minor flaws and weaknesses that occasionally rear their head. There is just something enjoyable in scurrying mindlessly about with a bow in hand as you pick off unsuspecting opponents, or dancing around a barrage of arrows as you and a couple players engage in a drawn-out showdown, fighting for that final point of the game. Arkshot offers a fine balance of simplicity and action that makes for a thrilling experience, while injecting a bit of its own twist to keep things interesting.
If you’ve got a band of friends at your ready, this game truly shines, even with its somewhat watered-down gameplay and lack of features. If you’re going solo, don’t expect nearly as much in the way of satisfaction. You also may want to have a drink and/or snack handy for the amount of downtime you’ll spend hunched over at your desk waiting to jump into a match. If you can accept Arkshot for what it is - a cartoony and simplistic party shooter that provides an amusing twist to the FPS formula, it is more than sufficient.