Games Review: Moon

Nintendo DS, £29.99
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The Independent Tech

It's hard to escape reading about the Moon just lately; our only satellite, contributor to the Earth's tidal systems which helped shape our civilisation and object of human fascination from time immemorial. Of course the latest stories regarding the Moon have been written to celebrate the 40th anniversary of NASA's first 'giant leap' on to the lunar surface; it is here where similarities with 'Moon' for Nintendo DS can be drawn. You see, in the non-too-distant future humanity has set foot on the Moon once more, but unlike the last time, we are not alone.

The year is 2058 and aboard Lunar Outpost Alpha; a military outpost built on the Moon's surface, all is far from tranquil. The discovery of a metallic hatch of unknown origins has thrown everything we thought we knew about our satellite into a state of disarray. 'Who built it?' 'What's inside?' and 'Is it still occupied?' Are the questions on everybody's lips and as Major Edward Kane, Chief of Military Operations for the Extra-Terrestrial Encounter Organisation (ETEO), it's up to you to find out. Unfortunately for the Major and his associates, discovering the answers proves more difficult than they planned and the astronauts of ETEO are soon fighting for their lives as they begin to unravel the secrets of the hatch.

Expect plenty of twists from the well driven plot told via a combination of well rendered movies and one-on-one dialogues with scientists based both on the Moon and back on Earth. Of course, without sufficient gameplay, action and well implemented controls, even the best storyline in the world wouldn't be enough to entice DS owners to part with their hard-earned cash. Luckily, developers Renegade Kid, have managed to address those necessities successfully too, with their most impressive feat being the creation of a successful control mechanism that makes playing a first-person shooter (FPS) on the DS feel like second nature. Controls make use of just three inputs: the control pad moves your character back, forth and side-to-side; moving the stylus on the touch screen allows you to look around and the left should button fires whichever weapon you happen to have equipped. I found myself always in control and - other than the occasional twinge of cramp from clutching the DS too hard - enjoyed guiding Major Kane around the Moon's interior immensely. The clarity of the graphics also helps proceedings enormously, with wall textures and objects well defined and easy on the eye. Enemies too are distinct from background scenery, so you never feel that an enemy has simply appeared from nowhere due to the muddying of polygons.

Action comes in the guise of gun battles with a variety of hovering sentry bots, walking sentry bots and wall mounted sentry bots. While that's a lot of sentry bots, to be fair to the developers, there is a decent amount of variation in the design of enemies who also get tougher to despatch as the game progresses. To counter the ever increasing strength of the sentry bots are a selection of guns, some man-made, but most alien in origin. While not the most lethal sounding guns in the history of FPS games, they largely look the part and deal out sufficient damage to get the job done. Once the shooting is over most rooms will present you with some puzzles to solve in order to progress. Often this consists or guiding a remote control buggy through small nooks and crannies that the Major (decked out as he is in a rather fetching red spacesuit) is too cumbersome to fit through. By using the buggy's onboard pulse cannon, electronic devices can be disabled and force-fields downed to allow the Major to proceed deeper into the alien installation. While this formula is repeated often, I found that the need to complete my current objectives and get to that next boss-enemy (yep you guessed it: giant sentry bots) was enough to keep me plodding onwards; the game also rewards exploration by unlocking additional levels upon discovery of alien artefacts scattered throughout the levels. To break up the 'walk, shoot, remove force-field, progress' formula even more, the developers also included vehicles within the game. Major Kane has access to a lunar buggy, which again is well implemented and very responsive within the control system; if you have even handled a vehicle in Halo you will be right at home here.

'Moon' then is a well crafted, good looking game and an excellent addition to anyone's DS game library. Perhaps the largest praise I could heap on it would be to say I personally prefer the title over 'Metroid Prime: Hunters'. Also for the DS, Hunters is one of the consoles more hyped and well received forays into FPS territory. For me, the simplified controls and engaging storyline of Renegade Kid's title trump Hunters and surely that is recommendation enough. Just remember, when walking on the moon, 'giant steps are what you'll take'.