Reviewed: September 6, 2009
Released: August 11, 2009
Upbeat repeating music…Check. Narrow corridor and sliding doors…Check. Gameplay from 1993…Check. So, you think I’m talking about Doom? Well think again. NoWay Studio’s debut title, C.O.R.E., for the Nintendo DS harked back to some of my favorite moments growing up with video games. Only C.O.R.E. doesn’t give me the same satisfaction that Doom does.
The background story of C.O.R.E. is pretty simple. In A.D. 2028 – a massive meteor slammed into California’s Mojave Desert. A Top-Secret research lab codenamed C.O.R.E. was built on the site to study the extraterrestrial radiation that was transforming the environment and the life in that area. For 20 years, experiments were carried out until one day communication with the lab ceased. You play as Jason Crane, a member of STU short for Special Technologies Unit. STU is an elite military outfit assigned to penetrate C.O.R.E. and unravel the mysteries that surround this lab and survive. So with the basics out of the way I’ll get down to the heart of things.
C.O.R.E. borrows several FPS game concepts but doesn’t seem to be breaking any new ground. I feel that the developers were going for a title that plays more off of the nostalgia of years past than trying anything truly new. Like the era of old, C.O.R.E. is also not without its problems. The biggest problem for me are the controls.
The layout alone is enough to make my hands cramp up within the first couple minutes of play. There is just no comfortable way to play. Character movement is done with the D-Pad while looking is performed with the stylus on the touch screen. Firing your weapon is done with the left or right bumper depending on you settings. While this doesn’t sound like a wrong execution it will be as soon as you try to use the alt fire or zoom on your current weapon. You pretty much eat lead while you stop aiming with the touch screen long enough to hit the alt fire(R bumper). Another issue is the jumping. Not that I actually used it that much but when the secondary method to jump is done by double tapping the touch screen it makes for some awkward movement or undesirable jumping in fights.
Level design feels like it was adapted straight out of Doom with a more modern look in some places. The overall effect though is one of confusion as I often times got lost due to the real lack of navigation. The tight corridors also make it hard to get any type of drop on the enemy, which sometimes resulted in getting mowed down by several blind side attacks.
The weapon selection of C.O.R.E. features your conventional assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher and pistol. You also have access to a pulse gun and laser gun. Ammo is another issue with this title. While I can understand that it adds a challenge to the game is it almost in excusable to not be able to pick ammo up off fallen enemies. Instead you are reduced to getting ammo from “stations” located somewhat sparingly around the levels. I often found myself relying on the weak pistol while I fought my way to the next ammo station. The only thing more limited than ammo are health kits, adding a whole new level of difficulty and frustration to the game.
While the overall gameplay is taken very seriously in C.O.R.E., I felt that graphics were sort of a second priority for the designers. Retaining a look that again references back to the days of Doom, I quickly let out a bit of a laugh upon seeing my commander’s blocky face for the first time. The character models are, to say the least, barely plausible. I can make out the different type of enemies barely by their outfits, but as to which weapon they are using its usual as I die.
The lighting often becomes an issue, especially in darker areas where it’s really hard to spot the enemies at a distance and when you do finally see them its when they're within firing range. You can adjust the brightness which helps a little but not by much.
The sound quality for C.O.R.E. is varied. The enemies make no noise unless you actually hit them. The environmental sounds such as doors opening, elevators running and even the sounds of the weapons are pretty good…minus the pistol. The pistol sounds like someone tried to mix a Covenant pistol and a UNSC issued pistol. It just doesn’t fit with the rest of the weapons. The background music is classic metal/rock but it almost never changes and get real repetitive.
Besides the single player campaign, C.O.R.E. offers up a local based multiplayer mode. Sorry no Wi-Fi capabilities. Players can choose to engage in Single or Multi-Card play. Here you can play the usual DM, Team DM and CTF. Gameplay is decent for what it is but the controls make anyone I tried it with not come back for seconds.
So in the end C.O.R.E. is decent. If the controls scheme was better it would have been a lot more enjoyable. For the most part it is a system of trial and error, as I became Swiss cheese for more times that I can remember. The levels are basically large labyrinths that you may find yourself getting lost in, but other than that it’s a passable game. C.O.R.E. retails for $30 dollars but I wouldn't even consider this title until the price drops.
Editor's Note - I have to agree with everything Jason discussed above. I originally tackled this review myself but after about an hour my hand was so cramped I could no longer play it. FPS games are hard to pull off on the DS but it has been done, usually with the four main buttons becoming the equivalent of your mouse-look. The only FPS games that have ever worked with the touchscreen have made use of that thumbstrap nub which was discontinued when the DS Lite arrived. Sadly, without that nub your thumb alone will not replace the stylus creating all sorts of awkward gameplay issues for C.O.R.E. The game cripples itself even further with its Mature rating. What little blood and violence that is depicted is so pixilated it's hardly controversial. Mature games don't sell well on the DS, especially below-average ones. This game should have been rated Teen. -- Mark Smith