Appropriately enough, I'm writing this review on the 40th anniversary of the moon landings - when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took mankind's first tentative steps on the surface of our closest cosmic neighbour. No matter your opinion of the landings, and there are still plenty who believe that the whole thing was a set-up to nark the Russians and hide the fact that Nixon had doubled the national debt on caviar and prostitutes - pretty much everyone knows the name of the two astronauts who stepped out upon the Sea of Tranquility. You might not be so familiar with Michael Collins, the third member of the Apollo crew who stayed onboard the mothership Columbia and orbited the Moon whilst the other two had their little gad about on the surface.
Given that he was still one of the first members of the handful of mankind to have escaped the Newtonic grasp of our little planet, he's probably not particularly bitter. Nonetheless, I can't help but feel that during those lonely hours, more geographically isolated than any other man in history, he was probably thinking about what might have been were he to have been chosen to take those historic steps instead of old Jammy Armstrong. To come all that way and never set foot on the dusty lunar surface. So close and yet so far.
And that, to cut a long and reasonably hyperbolic story short, is analogous to how I feel having immersed myself in Rengade Kid's new DS shooter, Moon.
Many of you will remember the studio's first effort, Dementium: The Ward - its smooth and slick animation, 60fps frame-rate, efficient and elegant controls. The good news is that Moon houses what is essentially the same engine, tweaked and tuned slightly with a few new tricks. What's less welcome is the fact that this excellent foundation is never really capitalised upon.
It all starts well - a well-voiced storyline emerges across a few short but well-crafted cut-scenes as humanity's mining operations are disturbed by the inevitable discovery of ancient alien facilities buried beneath the moon's arid crust. Playing as Major Kane, a member of the gung-ho Extra Terrestrial Encounter Organisation, you're tasked with entering the catacombs which perforate the moon, sleuthing out their purpose and discovering the cause of the mysterious attacks which have been launched on the human outpost.
It's a classic sci-fi set-up, humanity discovering a slumbering threat at the far reaches of its dominion and briefly getting a sound shoeing before a being rescued from the brink of disaster by a heroic, lantern-jawed uber-soldier. (Or do we? Ahhhhhh.) Trundling inside, it's not long before the familiar tendrils of conspiracy start to flutter around the edges of your narrative vision and Kane is quickly embroiled in the dramatic triumvirate of hero vs. alien threat and human intrigue. Who are the real monsters, hmm?
It's certainly the engine rather than the narrative grunt which will tease out the most appreciative coos, although the storyline could be far worse. Textures and environments are detailed and intricate, with the alien underground pleasingly distinguished from the human emplacements above by their pulsing green lights and Matrix-esque electric filigree. The surface of the moon itself is suitably bleak, although it's a shame that you're forced to explore it almost exclusively in undercooked and disappointing vehicle sections.