If there was one genre I could pick to win the “over-saturation award”, it would be first person shooters. Over the years, we’ve been introduced to a myriad of different iterations of the genre: RPGs, squad based shooters, MMO shooters, and narrative action FPS titles. A small handful of these break the mold, and earn their place into the golden circle of quality: others fail silently into the night.
When I first heard about C.O.R.E., I expected great things. Maybe it was going to be one of the few successful DS shooters with wi-fi support; perhaps it had a gripping narrative, and would take the crown as this year’s portable Bioshock . The sad fact is, it’s just a sub-par shooter.
C.O.R.E.’s plot is relatively simple: there’s a spooky underground lab that was doing peculiar experiments, and their communications suspiciously ceased. There are also aliens involved, and meteors (!). As you can probably guess, the story never really goes anywhere, and isn’t serviceable by any means.
Once you accept the shallow plot and move on to actual gameplay, you’ll find that the facial models are so blocky it’s hard to take the game seriously (which is a problem, because the game does take itself way too seriously). In fact, C.O.R.E. never really makes any strides to be it’s own creative entity.
Modeling a 2009 game with elements from Doom (1993) is a really odd approach: it even uses the same exact red key cards as Doom, and the character looks similar to the Doom marine. C.O.R.E.’s doors also all look exactly the same: but some open, and some are just walls. It’s really hard to figure out how to get around if any wall could potentially be a door needed to progress through the level.
Also, don’t be fooled: while it may seem like C.O.R.E. is one of the DS’s only “realistic” first person shooter efforts, there is another relatively unknown title called Moon that was released earlier this year, and it looks much better. In fact, nearly every other FPS on the DS looks better than C.O.R.E.
C.O.R.E.’s odd take on a few key FPS elements are a bit dis-jarring. First off, you never need to reload any of your guns, eliminating the thrill of a tactical reload in the midst of a battle. You also you run out of ammunition rather quickly, and instead of gaining ammo from your fallen opponents, it’s available at various “stations” throughout the level. This basically translates to a dry spell of ammo throughout the entire game, forcing you to resort to your underwhelming pistol.
Speaking of the pistol, the actual weapons C.O.R.E. has to offer are probably the worst part about the game. Your stock pistol is more like a peashooter, and instead of making a cool “BAM!” sound, you’ll hear something more like a near silent “pew pew“. C.O.R.E also offers generic pulse gun, laser beam, and rocket launcher. Basically, it translates to a wussified version of the of Doom/Quake arsenals.
When it comes time to actually use your weapons, you’ll find that C.O.R.E.’s AI is maddeningly bad. For instance, if you’re on the ground level, and your opponent is above you with a clear vantage point, he’ll walk all the way around, and down the stairs: all the while you can blast away as he tries to get you (these are ranged units, by the way). Despite their stupidity, they will shoot invisible bullets at you at a constant rate: all of which are nearly unavoidable. Add in a generic, repeating metal soundtrack, and a complete lack of a map system , and you’ll be pulling your hair out in no time.
Actually controlling C.O.R.E. will no doubt cause some cramping and discomfort, especially if you have large hands. Somehow, the developers expect you to operate the d-pad and stylus, use your right thumb to duck, L to shoot, and R for alternate fire. As a result, your hand cramps up in a matter of minutes, and it’s near impossible to use the alternate fire button without creating a situation where you’re a sitting duck. Double tapping the screen to jump also either doesn’t work when you want it to, or happens when you are trying not to do it.
The game does have a multiplayer option, but it’s bare bones at best. Single cart multiplayer is a bit of a disaster. While most normal DS games are relatively simple to set up, C.O.R.E. takes anywhere from five to ten minutes per match (so make sure you set the kill/capture count high!). It was fun for the first three minutes or so, but once you realize how bland your arsenal is, you most likely won’t want to play for much longer.
C.O.R.E.’s biggest success is causing early-stage arthritis due to it’s uncomfortable control scheme. However, if you’re a hardened FPS veteran, and longing for some portable action, you could always go in with three other people for a single cart, but don’t attempt the story mode.
Nearly every FPS on the DS looks better, including Moon, Metroid Prime: Hunters, and Call of Duty DS. Some sections are passable, but when nearly every door blends in with the wall, it's hard to enjoy them.
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C.O.R.E.'s controls are a mess, and inconsistent to boot. The AI is also frustratingly poor.
Enemies are lifeless, the score is generic, and the first time you shoot your pea-shooting pistol, you'll cringe.
As long as you have a few hardcore DS player friends, you could get some enjoyment out of the simplistic multiplayer: but there's no wi-fi support, and the local mode only supports four players. The story mode should only take five or so hours, max, to complete.
C.O.R.E. borrows a lot of mechanics from other first person shooters, and brings a whole lot of issues along for the ride.