One wonders how much more entertaining sports would be if the penalty for losing wasn’t to suffer the harsh words of the press and general public, but to instead be blown to smithereens.
That’s essentially what occurs in Etolis: Arena, a twin-stick shooter set in the distant future. You're little more than a plaything forced to do battle in order to entertain a maniacal monarch, sent into the arena time and again until you succumb to the onslaught or emerge victorious.
There’s a surprisingly deep story behind all of the carnage, involving vast empires and a queen with a penchant for violence, but it’s hidden away in a sub-menu rather than given the spotlight.
Without this expanded plotline you’d be forgiven for thinking Etolis: Arena is little more than a lacklustre shooter – which isn’t a million miles from the truth.Shoot, Rinse, Repeat
First, the positives: the run-and-gun gameplay is decent and there's a handy auto-aim feature that enables the casual players among us to get stuck in immediately.
This can be disabled in the options menu to grant you full control over the direction of your shots. Most likely you'll want to toggle this advanced setting since the AI aiming is somewhat unpredictable when you’re sandwiched between two enemies.
The game’s camera is a little more problematic, however. The default Dynamic setting attempts to give you a more dramatic perspective on proceedings: your character is placed with his back at the edge of the screen, granting a sweeping viewpoint on the action ahead.
The trouble is, the camera moves as you move, and when you’re trying to outrun some particularly vicious foes it becomes hard to see what’s attacking you.Survival of the fittest
The alternative is the so-called Standard camera, which provides more of a top-down view. What it loses in drama it makes up for in practicality: your character is placed in the middle of the screen, granting a 360 degree view of your surroundings.
Surviving waves of enemies grants you credits, which can be spent on new weapons, additional ammo, and extra ammo storage. You can also collect ammunition from fallen enemies.
A sprinkling of special abilities spice things up a little. For example, you can make yourself invisible, which is useful when you want the element of surprise on your side. It’s also possible to unlock unlimited ammunition and other unique skills.Familiarity breeds contempt
The key issue with all of this is that aside from unlocking additional gameplay modes and arenas you never really get the urge to progress. The gameplay becomes overly-familiar within the space of an hour, and the lack of multiplayer severely limits the game’s long-term appeal.
We also noticed crippling performance issues on third-generation iPod touch – during particularly hectic moments the game stuttered like crazy – which is not an encouraging sign when you consider that, graphically, it’s hardly a mobile masterpiece.
With so many other twin-stick shooters on the App Store, Etolis: Arena simply doesn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd. It’s riddled with minor issues that prevent it from offering a truly appealing action experience, and for that reason it’s hard to recommend.