Review: Moon (DS)

A science fiction FPS on DS? Lunacy!

The DS’s heritage for first-person shooters has been a little – wait for it! – hit and miss over the years, with Metroid Prime: Hunters singlehandedly flying the flag as titles such as GoldenEye: Rogue Agent drag the poor machine’s name through the dirt. One developer determined to craft the handheld’s definitive first-person experience is Renegade Kid, whose first title Dementium: The Ward took a horror-based approach to the genre, but Moon sees them taking the FPS into sci-fi territory.

The first thing you’ll likely notice about Moon is the quality of the graphics – Renegade Kid’s engine is among the most advanced on DS and the resolution is extremely impressive at first. Seeing the astronaut’s suits rendered so crisply is a level above the vast majority of other developers’ output on the system, and the accompanying CGI videos are every bit as impressive, although there is some unfortunate blockiness in certain videos. There’s some fantastic detail in each level too – computer screens and readouts displaying schematics, machines packing and transporting unidentified vials and some nice lighting effects as glowing bullets pass down corridors.

Once you’ve managed to look past the engine’s crispness and smooth frame rate, you’ll find it handles exactly as you would expect – the stylus is for looking, the D-pad moves your character and L-button fires, although you can switch to the opposite buttons if you’re a lefty. This streamlining of controls is striking: there’s no use of buttons to scroll weapons or open inventories for example, and it makes Moon extremely accessible from the start.

Just as important as the controls is Moon’s story, and here it’s clear Renegade Kid has taken inspiration from other games, films and novels, both sci-fi and otherwise. It’s 2058 and you play Major Edward Kane, an astronaut who travels to the Moon to investigate the discovery of a strange hatch near Lunar Outpost Alpha. As soon as the hatch is opened, a strange energy envelops your comrades and they disappear, so Kane – being a brave sort of chap – jumps in to investigate and recover his troops. As you progress through the story, it becomes clear that your commanding officers haven’t been entirely truthful about how much they know about the Moon, or certain notorious events that may or may not have occurred in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947...

A good deal of the story is delivered in voiced cutscenes or speech, all of which is generally well written and crystal clear. The game’s sound on the whole is pretty good, and we recommend using good quality headphones, although if you do find the music or sound effects getting on your nerves you can turn them down or off in the options menu. The game’s aural presentation certainly adds to the alien atmosphere, although it never quite reaches the frightening heights of Dementium: The Ward.

Quite early in the game you’ll come across the Remote Access Droid, a tiny remote-controlled vehicle that’s used to overcome some of the security systems you’ll find in the game, usually by sneaking through tunnels and shooting electricity bolts at key targets. It can’t destroy enemies but it can neutralise them temporarily, so it becomes important to go about your business quickly, and you can switch between the RAD and Major Kane at any time by sliding the stylus over the appropriate icon. The only problem is the RAD has to be collected after every use, meaning a lot of backtracking, although as it is a truly invaluable piece of equipment it’s a necessary evil.

Speaking of equipment, unlike most first-person shooters you don’t begin with a piddly pea-shooter, but rather a rapid fire “Super Assault Rifle” with unlimited ammo, before collecting weapons including high-powered pistols, shotguns and sniper lasers, each of which can have its maximum clip size upgraded by seeking out the upgrades within each level in one of Moon’s many Metroid-inspired features: your health bar can be upgraded in the same fashion. These aren’t the only collectibles you’ll find, though – each main episode contains three hidden artifacts, which when retrieved allow you access to extra training missions upon the level’s completion. They’re not essential but, combined with the game’s three difficulty levels and “quick play” mode that lets you see your best time, accuracy and other merits for each level, certainly extends Moon’s lifespan past the eight or so hours it’ll take you to complete the story mode the first time around.

The only real complaint you can hurl at Moon is that it just isn’t varied enough. Impressive though the game engine is, it’s essentially powering near-identical corridors for hours on end, although the above-surface exploration sections in LOLA RR-10 work well to break up the monotony. What’s worse is that you soon realise that the enemies all have very similar attack patterns – some will fire a single energy bullet, others three in a spread, but they can all be taken down with a simple strafe and shoot technique. It’s a shame there isn’t more variety in the game’s enemies as they sadly bring the game’s quality down, and make it feel less like an out-and-out first-person shooter than an adventure game with some flawed shooting sections.

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of first-person shooters on DS, you really only have a few decent options, and Moon is certainly among them: it looks and sounds great, has a well put-together story and controls very smoothly indeed. Although the shooting sections are fun, and some of the game’s boss battles are very impressive, there’s not a huge amount of variety in the standard levels or the enemies that inhabit them, so although the story is compelling be aware you’ll be doing a lot of the same between the start and the game’s climax.