Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-08-29 Nintendo DS FPS M (Mature) NoWay Studio / Graffiti Entertainment

In the year 2028, a colossal meteor impacted Earth's surface in the Mojave Desert. The site gained instant attention due to its massive increase in atmospheric radiation, and over the next twenty years, a top secret facility, codenamed C.O.R.E. was built surrounding the meteor, allowing both governmental and military personnel to test the extraterrestrial qualities of the meteor that had begun to affect the surrounding environment.

Our story begins as communications with C.O.R.E. abruptly cease. The STU (Special Technologies Unit) has been assigned by the US government to infiltrate the facility and discover the cause of the severed communications, and as Jason Crane, you must help your team solve the mystery.

Almost instantly, C.O.R.E. elicited memories of my time playing Wolfenstein 3-D as a kid. This first-person-shooter takes you through multiple floors of the C.O.R.E. facility, using elevators to signal the end of certain levels, and tasks you with collecting keycards to open not only those elevators, but new areas of each floor, while defeating enemies who hide behind corners or run through doors as you enter them.

There are hidden areas in each level that contain ammunition, stronger weapons, and health restoration items, along with not-so-hidden pillars of glowing energy that allow you to renew both your health and shields.

The game plays very much as you would expect from such a shooter. You enter a room, kill one or two enemies (some human, some alien or mechanical), and enter the next. Rinse and repeat. Gameplay is fairly linear, with normally only one door being accessible in each new hallway, with the exception of your time spent tracking down keycards, which tend to be found at the end of a much more heavily populated dead-end corridor or set of rooms. Some keycards are even held by stronger soldiers or base personnel, like a butcher who fights you early on in a meat-locker after making an attempt at clever trash-talk.

Even on the easier difficulty settings, your enemies are machines - dumb machines, but machines all the same, that require around 15 rounds to put down. And while you're standing in front of them, frantically bashing on the L button to fire your weapon, you're understandably being shot at as well; but, instead of taking as little damage as they seem to, your health and shield stats (red and yellow bars, respectively, on the touch screen) plummet into dangerous territory at most every encounter with more than two enemies on screen at once.

Furthermore, the assignment of damage to your health and shields is arbitrary at best. One shot will deplete a bit of your shields, while the next goes straight for the health. There's seemingly no rhyme or reason for this, no temporary weakening of your shield that would call for such a system, or at least, it's never explained as such in the game. Instead, you find yourself running down corridors with a small blip of red and a half-full yellow bar on the touch screen, hoping against hope that the next shot will damage your shields as opposed to turning you into a corpse.

Not helping matters is the fact that your point-of-view is related to the position of the stylus on the screen, forcing you to keep it on screen at all times, inevitably covering up some enemies with your hand as you fire on those on the far side of the screen.

While C.O.R.E. does allow you to crouch to make your way through air-ducts or take cover behind overturned tables, low fences and so on, with your vision being controlled by the stylus and your forward movement by the directional pad, taking the time to hit the X button to crouch means that you are making yourself more-or-less blind for the few seconds that your stylus leaves the screen. Definitely not a good thing, when enemies can kill you with so few shots.

Unfortunately, C.O.R.E.'s story does little to help matters, as it is very sloppily presented through random conversations between Crane and his team, or through computer terminals and laptop journal entries that you may not even see, unless you thoroughly scour each and every room for them.

The graphics are luckily not as disappointing. While they are a bit grainy overall, the darkness that has overtaken the complex, along with the shattered window panes and burning and broken debris convey the feeling of dread the game wishes to embody. Likewise, the addition of both single and multi-card multiplayer is a nice (and surprising) one. However, the soundtrack, which is mostly up-beat rock and electronica, feels a bit out of place.

All in all, C.O.R.E. is a game I really, desperately wanted to like. With the resounding lack of first-person-shooters on the DS, C.O.R.E. is one that had the potential to chip away at many of the family/child friendly stereotypes often thrown onto the Nintendo camp, but ultimately, is little more than a passable experience when compared to other handheld shooter options, even those on the PSP.

Special thanks to Brandon Price and Graffiti Entertainment for providing a copy of this title.