One Small Step for the FPS Genre, One Giant Leap for Indy Development

User Rating: 7 | Moon DS
The term "linear" in video games has, I believe, gotten a bum rap. It seems that after the release of Grand Theft Auto III, a game's quality was often measured by its ability to let the player wander away from the main story. Games that do allow for that can, of course, be fun, but just like a great movie, often it's equally entertaining to simply be taken for a ride. Moon for Nintendo DS is a first-person adventure that sets out to do pretty much just that. It pushes the player along a fairly straight path, but it offers an interesting story with generally strong dialogue for a handheld game.

As its name implies, the game takes place on the Earth's moon. You play as one Major Kane, a specialist for the Extra Terrestrial Encounter Organization. A subterranean structure of unknown origin has been located on the moon, and you're on a mission to investigate the site. Shortly after your arrival there, however, a great explosion occurs and some of your team members go missing. You must search for survivors and unravel the mystery of the events taking place around you.

Similar to both the Metroid Prime series and Resident Evil, you'll gain most details about the story via logs that can be found throughout the game. However, you'll also be in constant communication with a couple of the game's other main characters, which helps to keep the experience from ever feeling too isolated and plodding.

Since it's the first thing players will likely notice, I'll say right off the bat, Moon looks great on DS. The game's loaded with full-motion videos that add a wonderful, cinematic flair and break up the gameplay nicely, and the real-time, 3D graphics are something of a technical marvel on the dual screen. Renegade Kid (the six-man development team for Moon) has stated that the game runs at 60 frames per second, and there's no disputing that here. The game runs great, looks fantastic, and the overall presentation is very tight and polished. That said, the environmental variety is pretty sparse, and conceptually, the game never really opens up.

Readers may remember the developer's last DS title, Dementium, a survival-horror adventure, also played from the first-person perspective. Moon borrows heavily from Dementium's gameplay design, as opening doors, interacting with objects and controlling your character are all handled in pretty much the same fashion; it all worked well in Dementium and, likewise, it works well here. Actually, the controls in Moon work great, and it's yet another example of how well the FPS genre can perform on DS. The only drawback here, really, is that the low resolution of the DS screens can cause the aiming reticule to appear to shake, and Renegade Kid likely would have done well to be a tad more generous with hit detection.

As a military officer, you'll start out with an automatic rifle – the Super Assault Rifle, to be exact – though you'll acquire other, alien weapons along the way (Halo, anyone?) Undoubtedly, the most unique item you'll come across (early) in the game is the Remote Access Droid (RAD). This tiny robot will play a huge role in the game, as you'll use RAD to access areas Kane cannot, and working through puzzles (as well as boss fights) together is necessary to progress. It's a shame, however, the developers felt the need to prohibit Kane from having the ability to make small jumps or crawl under areas that would otherwise seem accessible to him simply to justify RAD's value to the gameplay. I wish they had created level elements that made a bit more sense in terms of the areas only RAD could access. Since Kane is a badass of sorts within the story, it's awkward when he can't make a simple jump over a crate that stands in his way, nor kneel down and move under sizeable crawl spaces.

If you can suspend disbelief, however, you'll enjoy the tightness of the level design. Though you're led down fairly straight-forward paths, the game has a decent pace and the shooting is enjoyable. Moon does grow a bit tiresome early on, though, as its formula becomes more transparent and you find yourself doing many of the same things over and over.

Additionally, certain areas of a given level can feel really cramped. Some of the game's more challenging (and interesting) boss fights are made unnecessarily frustrating due to a lack of maneuverability; you can't always see where enemy fire is coming from because the boss is almost on top of you. That said, the game's bosses are mostly fun and rewarding, though there is some definite recycling as you progress through the game.

Another integral gameplay element to touch upon is the LOLA, a moon buggy of sorts. If you've played Bros. in Arms for the DS and remember its Jeep missions, the LOLA sequences in Moon are very similar. You control movement by pushing up on the D-pad (or the X button for lefties) to accelerate, push left or right to strafe, and use the stylus to steer and direct the vehicle's built-in turret. It's a little wobbly at first but easy to get accustomed to. You won't spend a great deal of time driving around, as it's used mostly for getting from one subterranean site to the next, but it's definitely an element that helps break up the repetition of the game's many corridors.

It should be noted that most of the problems in Dementium have been rectified in Moon. Perhaps Dementium biggest, almost game-breaking issue was its save system. You could play through an entire level, get to the boss, die, and rather than restart you at your last manual save, the game would literally erase your last save data and restart you at the beginning of the level. Moon takes a nod from the Metroid Prime series and provides hard-save rooms sprinkled generously throughout the game's levels.

Whereas Dementium offered little more than a shell of a story that was a throwback to the amateur FPS days of early PC games, Moon manages to create a cohesive experience from start to finish. Again, you'll have to suspend disbelief in order to get around the notion of how the information is relayed to the player, but it still works and is mildly entertaining. The actual gameplay, however, is a bit archaic. There are elements of the game's story that are reminiscent of Half-Life 2, and though the visuals in Moon are pretty much on par with the original Half-Life game, the developers stuck with a more rudimentary FPS formula.

The aural presentation does a pretty good job of bringing everything together, though gun sounds are a little disappointing. Since there's no rumble feedback for most of us on DS (though the feature is offered here), it would have been nice to hear more punchy and visceral gunfire. What's here just doesn't carry much weight. The music, however, is fitting, and though it's all synthesized, themes do a good job of elevating the mood when action is about to kick in.

When you step back and look at the DS' library of games, there aren't a great deal of first-person shooters to choose from, especially ones worth playing. Moon actually sticks to quite a few very old-school gameplay styles, but its beauty and technical prowess somewhat make up for its lack of gameplay innovation. The level design is predictable and often repetitive, but it's also polished and paced well. There isn't any multiplayer, but there are artifacts that can be collected throughout the game to unlock secret training missions; these missions offer straight-up shooting scenarios that should satisfy folks looking for more of a Halo-like experience. The bottom-screen interface is slick, and overall, folks looking for a quality FPS to play on the go should at least give Moon a look.