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Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Action
Publisher: Conspiracy Entertainment
Developer: NoWay Studio
Release Date: Aug. 11, 2009


NDS Review - 'C.O.R.E.'

by Dustin Chadwell on Sept. 7, 2009 @ 6:03 a.m. PDT

C.O.R.E. is a classic FPS game set in an underground laboratory complex in the year 2050, featuring an advanced graphics solution, multiplayer support, and makes maximum use of the NDS' dual screen and touch-screen control system.

C.O.R.E. is a new first-person shooter for the Nintendo DS, a platform that isn't exactly known for its FPS titles, and after playing this title, I think there's a reason for that. It's not that C.O.R.E. doesn't have a few decent ideas rolling around, but the overall implementation of the touch-screen controls just doesn't work out that well, and I found myself fighting against the gameplay at every turn, along with a tough array of enemies and some old style design choices that might have achieved the feel that the developers were aiming for, but I certainly didn't find it to be very fun.

The story for C.O.R.E. is set a bit in the future and revolves around an impact site in California that hosts a research laboratory that has suddenly cut itself off from the outside world. Your character, Jason Crane, is a member of a squad called the Special Technologies Unit, and things kick off from there. It's a pretty run-of-the-mill sci-fi shooter plot, and there's nothing particularly outstanding or noteworthy about it. There are a few cut scenes and some actual spoken dialogue, which sounds awful on the DS speakers.

The gameplay is where C.O.R.E. is going to make it or break it for most people, and it just never managed to click for me. I don't have a great deal of experience with FPS titles on the Nintendo DS, but there aren't many standout titles. While the DS might be tailor-made for a lot of game genres, like RPGs and adventure titles, the touch-screen controls really don't lend themselves to an action title all that well, and the lack of an analog setup limits the system's ability to mimic a console FPS experience. Of course, I'm telling you something you already know, so let's delve into how C.O.R.E. attempts to handle this.

The d-pad controls a good chunk of your movement, mostly the ability to move backward and forward, and strafe left to right. The top right button is your fire button, the face buttons are for jumping and crouching, and finally, the touch-screen itself controls your ability to look around and aim. There's no auto lock or targeting assistance that I could find, so you really need to get a handle on which sensitivity level works for you. I thought the default was far too slow to be effective, especially against some of the smaller robotic enemies you encounter early on, so I had to crank it way up. Also, since the jump is needed fairly often, it's tied to the touch-screen instead of just being a face button control, but you have to double-tap the screen to get it to work, and I found that it wasn't always reliable. Since the touch-screen controls your camera movement, it's pretty easy to get offtrack when jumping. Thankfully, there's not a great deal of need for precise jumping in the game, so it's a small issue to note.

With that said, I still didn't care for the way the controls worked. This is a tough one for me because I'm not entirely sure I could think of a better way to do it. I've seen FPS titles try to tie movement to the d-pad and the camera controls to the face buttons, but that's also pretty awkward. The thing I don't like about the touch-screen controls mostly has to do with the available space to scroll around and look. I tend to run out of real estate when I'm moving the stylus around, causing me to pick up the stylus and basically pause my character in the middle of a firefight if an enemy has moved too far out of my immediate field of vision. This makes a fight against multiple enemies particularly tricky and really annoying. Even pumping up the sensitivity, which I had hoped would fix this, only managed to alleviate the trouble I had here by a small amount. I could never find an ideal control setup for the game, and it certainly hindered my experience with C.O.R.E.

In addition, the title boasts old-school shooter difficulty, which made it a frustrating game. The enemies have a fair amount of health, some pretty darn good aim, and they tend to diminish your health by quite a bit after just a small exchange. You have shields and health (in essence, two health bars), but they don't automatically recharge like most modern-day shooters. Instead, you're stuck seeking out health packs that aren't generously placed around each stage, so you find yourself relying on odd tricks to get out of a fight with very little damage. It certainly captures an old-school shooter feel, and while certain old-school designs are engaging and fun, one of them isn't having to duck back and forth between a doorway to whittle away at an enemy's health while sustaining little harm.

Finally, the game is pretty ugly on the DS, but it's rare that a developer can turn out passable 3-D graphics on the handheld, and this title certainly isn't one of those cases. The textures are pretty basic and muddy, the environments have a little too much repeated between them (even though the locations change), and, as far as the humans go, the character models are indistinct from one another. The robot designs are blocky, and sometimes it's hard to tell what type you're fighting against until you're nearly on top of them. It's a pretty bad example of what the DS is capable of, and it's not going to appeal to modern FPS fans. The sound suffers from similar issues; it just doesn't feel full or loud, partially due to the system but mostly due to bland sound design.

You could definitely pass up C.O.R.E., and while I like the idea of someone at least trying to put out a genre title that doesn't typically get made on the NDS, I also feel that C.O.R.E. is an example of why FPSes don't make the transition well to the DS. You could rent it to see if the controls click for you, since I'll freely admit that the issues I have with the game come entirely from that, but the overall presentation is still pretty poor and certainly not up to snuff with other titles on the system.

Score: 5.5/10

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