Even if you’re not the biggest computer geek out there, chances are you’ll have heard of the nasty computer critter ‘STUXNET’. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about however then let me take you back briefly to 2010, the year in which STUXNET, the horribly malicious computer worm was first discovered, all after causing substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program. As you can probably guess, this caused huge issues, so the idea of a game that points towards that same objective is probably not one that I should have found quite so enjoyable. But to my surprise I did.
ATOMINE is played as a top-down twin stick shooter, with a slightly angled camera. The goal of the game is no simple feat, as players must guide their destructive computer worm – one that has been made available for public use – through multiple levels of layered security in order to take over a nuclear missile control system.
To do this, players must progress through numerous procedurally generated levels full of overbearing enemy security software, with progression only possible by destroying every enemy within the stage. This isn’t easy however, as despite feeling very similar to games such as Geometry Wars, ATOMINE isn’t your typical twin stick shooter in which hordes of enemies come at you and your only answer boils down to how fast your lightning reactions are. Those are still needed of course, but to ensure you at least have a fighting chance once you get past the rather simplistic firewalls, you’ll need to make the most of each level’s data hubs. These are darkened areas that players can go to in order to access upgrades for your viral worm – Modules. These include things such as new weapons and upgraded versions of the worm, which can grant the likes of faster movement speed or come preset with a different weapon and appearance.
Attacking enemies in ATOMINE simple enough and as with the majority of twin-stick shooters, this is done with the right stick firing whichever weapon upgrade you have attached in the direction of the different enemies. Enemies aren’t one-hit-kills however, so you’ll need to learn the different attack patterns, and which weapons are best against certain types, if you hope to proceed through each level without dying, or grab the vital XP and replenishing energy that comes from defeated enemies.
Death is an important factor within the game too, and that is all thanks the included rogue-lite elements found throughout. See, each death is permanent, meaning you will be sent all the way back to the beginning to start over from level 1 should you fall to an unsuspecting stray bullet. Fortunately, you won’t lose all your upgrades, so you’ll be able to start each run with power, but it can still be a rather daunting task to have to trawl through every level once more.
If the first few levels aren’t enough to put you to the sword however, then the boss fights that are encountered on route to the overall objective will certainly prove a test of skill. These are exceptionally difficult, even for veterans of the genre, and even with some notable upgrade modules attached, you may well find yourself failing when coming head to head with the larger overpowering bosses.
That was something that I found to be the case throughout the game, mainly because being underpowered tends to be a common occurrence. At least that is until you’ve spent a fair amount of time gathering the better upgrade modules – something which can prove to be quite a grind in the early stages. Fortunately, the procedurally generated stages mean you don’t spend much time looking at the same things over and over.
Unfortunately, whilst each run may provide players with procedurally generated stages, it must be said that things can start to feel a little stale if you’re playing for more than an hour at a time. The reason for this is due to the repetitive nature of the game, with the main portion of gameplay simply sending you into a new area to wipe out the enemies occupying it, before moving onto the next area and doing the same again.
Something that doesn’t help with this are the visuals, as whilst there are multiple colours, the general tone of things is rather dull, especially in regards both the enemies and the player worm. Of course, the visuals hardly impact on the experience all too much and as far as things go in terms of gameplay, ATOMINE is certainly well polished enough, with smooth movement, fluid firing, and sleek and responsive controls. If I was to be picky though, it would be nicer to have something more akin to that of the brightness seen in Geometry Wars.
So, we’ve covered the sights, but how about the sounds? Well, ATOMINE is definitely a game you’ll know you’re playing, even if only for the thumping soundtrack that accompanies it. With a loud and bass-filled electronic style soundtrack pumping through the speakers from the very first moments, you’ll either love it or hate it. For me it was a case of turning the volume down a little, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t fit with the gameplay.
There is just one more thing that is slightly disappointing and that is the lack of any proper game modes, especially multiplayer given the main game is such an exceptionally difficult one already. It would be lovely to have the opportunity to head in with a second player in co-op to try and hack the missile system together.
Unfortunately though it’s not to be, but that doesn’t mean ATOMINE is a bad game – just one that’s lacking in certain areas. If top down twin-stick shooters are your kind of thing, then ATOMINE has everything you’re likely to be looking for. It has fast paced action, upgrades, procedurally generated stages and one hell of a challenge that truly shouldn’t be underestimated. Sure, it’s a bit bland after a while, but with the gameplay proving so fluid, this is easily a game that can be enjoyed on a quiet afternoon, even if it is just for an hour or so.