Developer Illfonic has been gradually making a name for itself with licensed multiplayer games, like Friday the 13th: The Game and Predator: Hunting Grounds. However, the studio has yet to make something truly standout. Arcadegeddon is its latest effort, and while it lacks the appeal of a recognisable movie franchise, it's probably the team's best effort so far.
It's a third-person shooter you can play alone or in co-op, with both a rogue-lite adventure mode to follow and competitive multiplayer. Mega-corporation Fun Fun Co. is absorbing independent arcades in the game's futuristic city, and Gilly's is the last one standing. The owner creates the titular Arcadegeddon, a supercharged game to draw in business, but it attracts the attention of the FFC. Installing a virus in the game to take it over, it falls to you and up to three buddies to enter the game, fight back the baddies, and save the arcade.
It's a simple premise that gets out of the way pretty quickly, letting you crack on with the game proper. Essentially, the loop has you blasting your way through as many stages as you can before you lose all your health. Each attempt will reward you with some XP and Tickets; the former goes towards leveling up your character, while the latter is a currency used for purchasing cosmetics. Back in the hub, you can customise your avatar, buy outfits, and boost yourself with passive buffs and special abilities. Then you go again.
That's the gist, but there's a bit more to it. Through use, each individual weapon also earns XP, which is important. A weapon you've leveled up at least once can be selected as part of your starting loadout, meaning you can eventually begin a run with all your favourite boom sticks. Leveling weapons up further increases their base rarity, and each grade makes them more powerful, so you'll slowly be equipped with super strong gear to carry you through to the later levels.
Additionally, gang members hang out in Gilly's, and you can recruit them and their followers to the arcade-saving cause — provided you can complete their challenges. The dialogue gets a little obnoxious, but these additional tasks give you something else to think about while you're blasting robots, and you'll also earn Power Tokens and other rewards for completing them. Power Tokens are needed to unlock Plugins (perks) and Surge Abilities (special moves), so they're pretty valuable.
This all sounds like a lot of busywork, but it all comes together pretty naturally while you play. The good news is that the action itself is really strong. Guns feel great to use, and feedback from the presentation as well as the DualSense's haptics make dispatching baddies feel satisfying. Weapon variety is good too; most are based on typical gun types, but often mix things up with elemental effects. For example, electrical rounds are great for crowds as the electricity arcs between foes, while peppering enemies with fiery bullets builds up a burn effect. Exploring the arsenal and finding your favourites is fun, though we'd say some are definitely better than others. They're reasonably well balanced, but we'd often avoid icy guns; freezing foes solid never seems more useful than just killing them.
While the core shooting is fun, enemies continuously spawn and you have objectives to meet, so there's little reason to hang around. The game nudges you forwards with simple tasks, like capturing spots in a map, destroying glitches, or finding keys and their respective locks. Like the order of environments, loot drops, and other aspects, the objectives you receive are randomly generated. Half-way through a stage is a shop, where you can spend the coins you collect on new weapons or buffs, and if you're feeling dangerous, you can also manually increase the difficulty, which goes up automatically after each level. The objectives are fine and generally quick to complete, but repeat often. Having to fend off enemies as you go keeps you on your toes at least, but a bit more variety of tasks would be nice.
Optional boss battles crop up from time to time, unlocking after you've built up a meter. They can be extremely tough, but reward you handsomely if you pull through, and they help to mix up the pacing. You'll also advance to the next stage immediately if you beat them, acting as a sort-of shortcut. We've fought four bosses, and they're decent fights but nothing spectacular, and the difficulty varies quite a lot. The CEO is straightforward, but we couldn't get to grips with the FFC Mech.
Visually, Arcadegeddon is heavily stylised, with colourful, varied environments and characters who look like cousins of Osmosis Jones. It looks good but not great, and can actually get in its own way sometimes; it can be visually noisy with all its effects and flashing lights, and some text is far too small to read. The soundscape is similar — sounds from enemies alert you to their presence but they quite often blend into the thumping music. Combine all that with some occasional bugs and performance hitches, it can come across as a bit messy.
Fortunately, playing with others will make you forget some of the game's shortcomings. It feels like it's built primarily for co-op, with some support weapons only useful while playing with a group. Interestingly, the mid-stage shop area also has a booth at which you can activate a sort-of mini-game, if you're not playing solo. These are quite simple — a little team deathmatch, one where the floor falls away, and other quick-fire activities. They break up the main attraction nicely and reward you for winning with yet more loot. The dedicated PvP mode folds these short rounds into more traditional action. It's about what you'd expect, and the solid gunplay means it's enjoyable enough, but it's clear the main attraction is the adventure mode.
Arcadegeddon is Illfonic's most well-rounded multiplayer title yet, with a fun, engaging core and fast-paced gameplay keeping you going. Its rogue-lite elements don't get in the way, and it's a great game to let loose in with a friend or two. We can take or leave some of the surrounding fluff, like the largely forgettable characters and cosmetics, and there are definitely one or two rough edges. Even so, it's worth jacking into this solid third-person shooter for some scrappy fun.