Go up to any of your tech-savvy friends and whisper, “STUXNET!” in their ear and don’t be surprised if they break out in cold sweats. This nasty little number was first discovered back in 2010 and it used no less than four zero-day exploits on Windows operating systems to spread and lay dormant in thousands of systems, looking for specific software responsible for the automated operations of industrial control systems. The stuff of nightmares for any IT professional and not as glamorous or science fiction as one might be led to believe.
A realistic video game adaptation about malware might not have been the best approach to some proper entertainment so instead Broken Arms Games opted for the ‘TRON’ school of thought. ATOMINE is an unashamed old-school twin-stick shooter with a few ‘new-school’ rogue-lite elements such as procedurally generated levels.
Your ultimate goal is to take over a nuclear missile control system, but you won’t believe that to be even remotely possible when you first start the game and notice how under-powered your only available ‘worm’ is. Unlike single screen twin-stick shooters you actually need to explore around the randomly generated interconnected rooms, looking for data hubs where you get to upgrade your default pea-shooter default weapon and ‘compile’ your worm with more efficient weapon modules
You can only proceed to the next stage after clearing the level of all enemies, in this case security software represented by different shapes ad attack patterns that will do their fines to hit you. Despite not being a one-hit kill type of twin-stick shooter you will quickly get overwhelmed if you charge blindly into new rooms. Disposing of enemies will drop green shapes representing experience that you need to collect to level up and sometimes they even drop bigger green chunks that will replenish some of your worm energy. When you are destroyed, it’s all over. You do get to keep any modules you have unlocked along your sessions, but those rogue-lite elements we mentioned earlier mean that once you’re dead, all your progress is lost and it's back to the very first level.
Along your trek towards the nuclear missile controls you will stumble upon defense systems that translate to boss encounters. These do break the standard exploration gameplay by presenting enclosed arenas much more familiar to twin-stick shooter fans. The difficulty spikes really high if you happen to come into these fights under-powered, so it pays to make sure you shoot everything in the explorations levels - secret walls can be destroyed and usually lead to dangerous areas with big experience boost so it does pay to explore levels patiently instead of immediately jumping out to the next area.
The visual aesthetics are very plain, using flat, shaded polygons to represent everything from the player worm to the defence programs and the systems themselves. They are functional but somehow lack a bit of the visual spectacle we are used to from other similar offerings within the genre. The soundtrack on the other hand is very much what one would expect from a hacking-themed twin-stick shooter: Very electronic and very loud.
Multiplayer is sadly completely absent so only consider picking up this one if you are okay with the life of a lonely Kevin Flynn. At least there is enough locked content to certainly keep you going beyond your initial runs that will again likely end rather quickly due to the initial state of your lowly underpowered program, but stick with it and begin unlocking modules and new worms to see the game rewarding both persistence and patience… not at all unlike real hacking, really.
ATOMINE delivers a solid albeit somehow mundane interpretation of the twin-stick shooter that will still satisfy those with cravings for something new within the realm of the genre but will probably not convert any newcomers to the format. We still give it a recommendation despite feeling that while polished, its premise might have allowed for a more extravagant visual experience. Hack away humble little program, hack away.