DeadCore has a sliver of a plot, in that you must run, jump, and shoot your way to the top of a tower and cross the finish line in a one man (or robot?) race. There’s obstacles and aids along the way, with Quake-style jump boosters and propulsion units shooting you higher and further up tower. The actual point is to learn the course and master it in order to attain a cracking best time, but that takes a bit of learning.
You pick up a rifle of sorts soon after learning the run and jump game. It is a mostly defensive multi-purpose weapon. You’ll fire it at turrets to briefly deactivate them, fire it at doors to unlock them, and fire it at propulsion units that would otherwise send you flying in the wrong direction
Whatever you are, you need to engage your thinkbox and reaction speed simultaneously if you’re going to go for that quickest time. Most platforms in the futuristic, fragmented tower and walkways are suspended in mid-air, with a perilous drop the reward for any slip. At first this means you take things a bit slower, get an understanding of each section of a run to maximise speed later on. While this is necessary, especially as there’s a modicum of exploration to the game that demands you look closer, it does mean the early experience of DeadCore is a clunky, awkward one. There’s no doubt that DeadCore is meant to be played at speed because playing it in a conservative manner highlights glaring flaws with the mechanics of it.
For instance, dawdle a little too long on a small platform and occasionally, the character model will continue to slide off, resulting in some infuriating deaths. A forgivable enough fault on its own, yet DeadCore’s biggest control issue stems from the platform of its origin. A controller lacks the nuance and dexterity of a mouse and keyboard setup. The twitchy, precise jump and gunning screams out for a PC setup, and while there has been a real effort to map the controls to the PS4 controller (keeping actions to the shoulder buttons being the smartest choice), it just doesn’t quite fit the level of responsiveness needed here, whatever pace you’re playing it at. It’s not to say DeadCore is unplayable, it definitely remains an enjoyable thrill ride when you have things going at top speed and you just about manage to keep yourself on course by the narrowest of margins, but that honestly just doesn’t happen frequently enough to be consistently good.
Outside control woes, DeadCore is a pretty competent game. Its future-tech world, filled with biomechanical surfaces and swirling, ominous clouds lurking hundreds of feet below you, is simple enough not to distract from the job at hand, and the design of the obstacles clearly defines the message of what action is required. The tradeoff for this smart simplicity is that DeadCore isn’t overly impressive-looking, nor distinctive enough to be identifiable as its own thing. To be fair, without that tradeoff, DeadCore would be a far more frustrating game, so it’s comforting to see design take precedence over simply adding extra visual flair. I certainly feel there’s a way to have both though, hopefully next time round developer 5-Bit Games can find that balance, because they’re clearly onto something here.
Can puzzles, fast-paced platforming, and first-person shooting co-exist? Portal almost had it done to perfection, though a little more measured in its pace, and generally passive in combat terms. Then there was Mirror’s Edge, which got the fast-paced platforming down, but could not gel with firearms. DeadCore attempts to marry the speedy arcade twitch-jumping of 90’s shooters with weapons-based puzzling, and in doing so, births a speedrunning child. Does it work though?
The important thing is that DeadCore moves fluidly, even as you gain momentum and chain movement and action together at a quickened pace. Anything less would spell instant failure for a game so reliant on speed, and DeadCore delivers in this department.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with DeadCore. Its biggest problem is that it isn’t entirely suited to console controls, and the solution presented isn’t enough to remedy it. The idea of a platformer infused with FPS and puzzle traits is still relatively fresh, and 5- Bit Games has ensured the game’s design relays all relevant information as cleanly and simply as possible to make the idea work. If everything is going at a breakneck pace, and the control issues are in hiding at the time, then DeadCore truly excels at what it is trying to achieve. A shame then, that it doesn’t occur nearly as much as you’d hope.