Review | DeadCore

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A first person platforming speed runner?  Yes, it’s as difficult as it sounds.

Speedrunners are a special breed of gamer.  They’re players who find every way possible to finish games as quickly as possible through glitches, practice, and frame perfect knowledge of every moment in a game.  I could never manage to get even close to some of these records, but I’ve recently played a game designed with speedruns in mind: DeadCore.

Looks like there’s a long way to go.

DeadCore is a first person platformer with an emphasis on speed and movement.  Right from the first few moments it’s clear that completing the game in the shortest time is part of the design, as your weapon has a timer on it that persists throughout the game’s levels and your deaths.  Your movements and abilities also make it clear that speed is key aspect, as you gracefully move through the air from one platform to another using jumps, dashes, and other abilities to rapidly ascend towers and traverse chasms.  The movement system feels great when you execute it well and that sense of flow and momentum really is one of the game’s biggest strengths.

Beginning at the bottom of a tower, the game teaches you the basics as you climb your way to the top.  You’re given the Switch Gun early on, a “weapon” that allows you to activate and deactivate things in the environment.  You can use it to open doors blocking your way, deactivate problematic jump platforms that will launch you into oblivion, temporarily shut down enemies, amongst other things.  Most of the time it’s fairly clear where you need to use this, but occasionally you may spot a way to use it to open up a faster path, or the route to a collectible.  You’re also given a double jump, but in later levels you gain access to an air dash (that feels great), an energy blast (to turn on generators), and the ability to maniuplate gravity (oh god the mind-bending puzzles!) that all combine to create challenging chains of movements to complete.

There are often a few paths to take. Maybe you want to avoid the turbine, or perhaps you’ll risk it to take a quicker route.

The levels themselves are very satisfying to complete but grow in difficulty significantly as the game goes on.  You’ll find lasers blacking your paths that require precision to evade, enemies and turrets that will bounce you off track or lock out your abilities, turbines to suck you off platforms, and the ever-present abyss.  Deaths rarely cause a problem though, as checkpoints are frequent and returning to them is instantaneous.  Some of the challenges can be a little frustrating when you complete a long chain of movements only to fail just before the next checkpoint, but this sort of challenge is part of the game and learning the route before executing it flawlessly is incredibly satisfying after countless failed attempts.

One type of puzzle did irritate me a bit though, and that may simply because my brain couldn’t cope with it.  Later in the game you can activate certain pads that allow you to walk on walls and ceilings within certain confines.  Some of the puzzles that use this are great fun, but sometimes moving from one anti-gravity area to another became very hard to complete due to not being able to tell which way up is anymore.  As soon as you leave the purple anti-gravity zone, gravity returns to normal and you need to re-orientate yourself to get to the next area before you fall to your death.  I found these very difficult, but they could certainly be completed with enough practice and patience.

There are a number of collectables to find, including logs that tell the story of the towers you’re climbing (yes there is a story!), music tracks and additional power-ups.  One item you can collect opens up parts of levels that previously only appeared as wireframe and couldn’t be stepped on before, and here is where I found a significant problem (only once, but it was a problem nonetheless).  In an early level I found one of these areas and saw the checkpoint pad on it.  Now, I wasn’t aware of an item that would unlock these areas yet and assumed that making it to the pad would open it up (more fool me perhaps).  I made my way over to the pad and promptly fell through it to my death and respawned right back on the same pad to fall again and again in and endless loop.  The only way to get out was to restart the level from scratch.  Being about half way through the level, this was incredibly frustrating and should not have happened.  It feels like a big mistake that should have been found in testing, and seeing as this game has been out on PC for a few years, the fact that this problem exists in the console release is surprising and disappointing.  There was also the disappointment that controls can’t be remapped inside the game.  They are set up to work very well, but the lack of the option was quite noticeable.

Other that that though, the game ran excellently, with no slowdown that I noticed in spite of the game looking gorgeous for the most part.  It’s a great feeling to get to the higher parts of a huge tower, only to look back and see everything you’ve come through so far still clearly visible.  Everything is clearly defined and what will effect what is taught and obvious to the eye (even if you may not have a lot of time to figure out what to do).  As pretty as it looks, it is free of visual clutter for the most part which is great.  The sound is also excellent, with a great soundtrack that suits each level perfectly.  Sound effects are good with powerful “whooshes” as you use an air dash, or threatening “bleeps” as a turret activates nearby.  The presentation overall is excellent.

The purple blocks are anti-gravity areas. Once you’ve traveled through a couple it can be really hard to remember which way is up!

Beyond the main game (and its collectibles, multiple paths and secret ending) there is a speedrun mode to try your hand at beating each level as quickly as possible.  I normally don’t bother with these sorts of modes but I enjoyed the movement in the early levels so much that I wanted to head back and play them again.  You keep all your abilities from later in the game too which gives those early levels more options.  If you’re someone who likes a good score chase, there’s a lot to love here, including the developers putting their best times in the game to try and beat.  I have not come close to any of them…

I really enjoyed playing this.  It’s very, very hard but the satisfaction of getting through a tough section is fantastic and well worth the challenge.  It reminds me of Super Meat Boy in that regard.  You’ll fail and reset over and over again in your efforts to complete a platforming challenge, but eventually you’ll have that moment of zen and flawlessly sail over the pit, between the lasers and around the turret to reach your goal.  This certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re up to the challenge then this is absolutely worth a look.

This review was based off of the recently released Xbox One version of the game, the game is also available on Windows PC, Mac & Linux.

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