Sheesh, where's the minotaur?
C.O.R.E. is a first-person shooter (FPS) that takes most of its cues from Renegade Kid’s far superior Moon, but fails to deliver an equal, much less superior, product in doing so. In addition to being as generic as you can get, it includes some very boneheaded design decisions that knock the overall experience way down.
The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense. It's something about scientists experimenting with the remains of a meteor that landed in California. You are sent to investigate after communications with the lab cease. The story is told mainly by reading computer screens in-game, which are displayed on the bottom screen for you to read. This genre convention is not handled well here given the awful typeset, spacing issues, and lack of punctuation in the documents you read. I often found myself simply losing my place while reading these entries (imagine a small, compressed "Spider-Man" font), and I began skipping them altogether. It hardly mattered—once the half-scientist, half-alien enemies turned up, the immediate situation became fairly obvious.
The game controls exactly like Metroid Prime Hunters, including double-tapping the touch screen to jump. The most ardent sin is not including any kind of map. CORE is a series of interconnected maze-like hallways, and you can get turned around very easily. I spent way too long walking in circles because I didn’t know where to go next or even where I was at the moment. Hunters, Moon, Dementium, and even Call of Duty 4 (DS) all have maps. The frustration ramps up when you find yourself in need of a key card or password to open a specific door. Finding the card is bad enough, but once you do, you’re forced to wander aimlessly, checking every door you come across for a very small card reader or digital lock. These aesthetic touches are painfully easy to overlook.
At least the game looks good, right? Well, no. Technically, the graphics are on par with Moon, but without any imagination. Aside from a few interesting enemy types, you’ll be shooting faceless goons and out-of-place bosses (a crazy butcher? really?) most of the time. Some of the rooms are well-structured, and there are a handful of ambient lighting effects late in the game, but overall, CORE is as generic as it gets. That half-scientist, half-alien I spoke of earlier looks like a Headcrab zombie from the Half-Life games. The one real technical complaint is that CORE is ridiculously dark. Turning the DS brightness up doesn’t help; the game is just really, really dark in places. More maddening still is that CORE features a single musical track which repeats every ten seconds until your ears bleed. And when your character takes damage, he makes grunting noises that would dignify a Neanderthal.
The weapons are somewhat interesting, but you run out of ammo very quickly, and enemies very rarely drop extra ammo. Most of your bullets and energy cells will be found in distantly-placed stashes which, when emptied once, are emptied forever. The coolest, most useful guns have the rarest ammo, of course. Rarer still are medpack stations, which, like ammo dumps, give out a single health boost. CORE features a bizarre health/shield system: you basically have two life bars that drain together until the shield bar is completely depleted, at which point you basically die after one hit. The shield bar doesn’t drain first, it drains at the same time, at almost the same rate, so when you’re out of shield energy, you’re on your last legs anyway. Both can be refilled at health/shield stations that only work a certain number of times before shutting off forever. The farther you get in the game, the closer to death you’ll be when you stumble into a randomly-placed health/shield station.
The game basically unfolds like this: wander around in search of a key, strain your eyes to read a computer log, get really lost while trading bullets with generic bad guys, limp to a health/shield station, switch guns a few times because you keep running out of ammo, continue being lost, accidentally wander up to a keycard reader, repeat ad nauseum. There are much better choices out there for DS owners looking for some FPS action.
CORE comes with single-card and multi-card multiplayer modes, but they are hampered themselves by the minutes-long download times, lack of bots (computer-controlled opponents), and inability to change game type on the fly. Moreover, the corridor level design makes the game less about killing and more about simply finding your opponents. There’s no reason to spend your pennies on CORE when several other, far superior, DS first-person shooters are sitting right next to it, like Call of Duty 4 and Moon.