Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.

DURHAM, N.C. – Gamers wanting new levels of action for entertainment via their iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch but who are tired of social game fair can dine on a first-class shoot-‘em-up just in time for Christmas.

“M.U.S.E.,” the stunningly life-like shooter from Durham startup Lab Rats Studios hits the Apple apps store on Thursday.

All in 3D.

Be forewarned – It’s not anything like Angry Birds or FarmVille.

The headline on one of the first blog posts about M.U.S.E. states that quite clearly:

“Was that bad a– or what?”

Lab Rats, a company formed by a team of students at Wake Tech Community Studio and incubated along by tech accelerator Joystick Labs, is working with publisher Ayopa games. Their rapid development as a team and the creation of a game in just 10 months in a remarkable story in itself. But let’s talk about their creation.

Episodic content is promised for for M.U.S.E., which is a government agency fighting crime. Its lead character in a burly, scar-faced, non-nonsense warrior named Sid Tripp.

The first trip, er episode, is titled “Beyond the Shadow.”

“Play the shooter that rises above the competition with eye-popping graphics, RPG-style upgrading, high-octane cover shooting, destructible environments, and a fast-paced scoring system that rewards quick kills and chained destruction,” Lab Rats promises.

“You are Sid Tripp, hard-boiled agent for the government organization M.U.S.E. and the only thing standing between the maniacal villain Psychosis and world domination. Use your arsenal of weapons to annihilate his army of robotically enhanced super-soldier Vorgs in this third-person 3D shooter for iOS and Android that features eye-popping graphics, an episodic storyline, high-octane cover shooting, destructible environments, and a fast-paced scoring system that rewards quick kills and chained destruction.”

RPG, or role-playing game, format puts you in Sid’s body as you take on all manner of creatures and criminals in action-filled scenarios.

Tech Wire Gamer reviewed an early rendition of M.U.S.E. this way:

“M.U.S.E. is a third person shooter, with a focus on destructible environments in addition to combat.

“Most of the shooters available on iOS that I’ve seen have been knock offs of console shooters such as Halo or Call of Duty, but M.U.S.E. is much more original. It runs super smoothly, and its high definition graphics make you forget you are even looking at a mobile device rather than a TV with an Xbox hooked up to it.

“M.U.S.E. features single player content as part of a campaign mode, with competitive scoring and leaderboards that you can climb by racking up huge combos of kills and environmental destruction. Once you rack up enough points in-game, you can enter ‘adrenaline mode’ a power-up that gives you a heightened state of awareness of your surroundings, highlighting enemies in red and slowing down the action to give you even more combos for your high-scores.”

The visuals truly are gorgeous – but this is combat, not nature. Lab Rats promises environments “rigged for maximum destruction and pyrotechnic mayhem.” (Watch video trailer here.)

Upgrades are available to make Sid even more powerful.

Technically, the game also supports “AirPlay mirroring” so you can splash the game across an HDTV screen. Plus, thanks to Apple’s iCloud, players can move from one device to another and pick up where they left off on another.

Lab Rats’ founders – Rion Holland, chief executive officer; Alan Rueda, president; Shadie El-Haddad, vice president; Adrian Schmettau, lead programmer – have received plenty of mentoring from John Austin, who runs Joystick and is a videogame industry veteran. Lee Williamson of Vicious Cycle and Chris Port, a veteran of Red Storm Entertainment, have provided mentoring. The original four team members has been expanded to eight with Steve Jacques, Daniel Rodriguez de la Viuda, Robert Zamber and Hunter Lanier signing on.

If the first episode of M.U.S.E. is an example of what’s to come, they are all in for quite a ride with Sid and the gang.

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