Like Steven Seagal movies, when it comes to third person shooters in techno-punk settings, it's clear that little time is spent on plot, let alone character backstory.

"You are Sid Tripp, hard-boiled agent for the government organisation M.U.S.E. and the only thing standing between the cyborg army of the maniacal villain Psychosis and world domination."

So far, so cheesy. Still, even the current genre leader Shadowgun can only manage... "You are John Slade, the galaxy's most infamous bounty hunter."

What lies beneath

Instead, our focus is pointed towards the underlining technology, which coincidentally in the cases of M.U.S.E. and Shadowgun is the Unity engine.

For what these games are judged on is their second-by-second experience. More than just graphics and audio, what matters is our intuitive impression - smoothness of controls, speed of rotation, the flow - basically, it's all about movement and shooting. Making it easy for us to blow things up and crumple enemies to the floor. Everything else is secondary.


As touchscreen shooters, similar games - Shadowgun and Glu's Frontline Commando - deal with this by restraining movement through a playfield of fixed positions between which you crouch, take cover, move and fire. M.U.S.E., however, goes for an mixture of run-and-gun gameplay plus cover-and-fire.

The run-and-gun element is the key, at least in terms of being backed by a scoring system that encourages you to combo kills and environmental destruction for a points multiplier when you've triggered the adrenalin boost system; itself built up by in-game action.

You're also rewarded for your speed through a level, with a great big arrow pointing out where you need to go next.

The points you earn feed into the game's RPG level up system, which enables you to increase Sid's various health and weapons stats - or you can progress much faster by buying the points via real cash IAPs.

Less haste, more speed

Nothing wrong with this of itself, of course, but the confusion of gameplay styles just doesn't work well, at least within the constraints of the control system.

Not only does the user interface's design encourage errors - notably the similar actions for reload and change weapon - but the basic 'dual stick' set up, together with a small dodge button - isn't crisp enough that you can successfully target an enemy while you'll moving around, even with auto aim switched on.

The result is you have to play each level very slowly, sticking to cover points, and waiting for enemy patterns to provide you with a good shot. Their artificial intelligence doesn't add much to the game; merely using 'run towards you', and 'hide in position and fire at you' behaviours.

It's all a bit too old school, really.

From pillar to post

Throw into the mix, end-of-level encounters with floaty boss Psychosis and various of his floaty minions, and a fairly harsh health system, and you'll often find yourself going through multiple death-and-continue cycles to complete a level. At least, you're respawned at each internal checkpoint with maximum health and ammunition, even if for some reason, your weapon selection defaults to the pistol.

Frankly, it's disappointing, given the build up to M.U.S.E., which was first announced almost a year ago.

Not helping the situation is that it's developer Rab Labs' debut, and the game swapped publishers mid-year. The result is an unbalanced experience, also with plenty of rough edges - enemies stuck in the scenery, tiny trigger points for picking up items, bad UI etc - which hopefully will be cleaned up in future updates.

And it's all put into context by the release of Shadowgun, which has raised the bar for this type of game considerably.

Released six months ago, M.U.S.E. would have been an interesting - if still an over ambitious - debut. Now, however, it's merely evidence of how quickly the game is changing.

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