Deadcore Review – A Masochistic Mirrors Edge That’s Lacking Polish

Deadcore has made the speed run to consoles so here’s The FingerGuns Review;

487. That’s the number of times I died in my first playthrough of Deadcore. It has been years since I’ve wrestled with a game as much as I have here. My hands were sweaty, my head was bobbing up and down as I moved on screen and I regularly shouted profanity at the TV when I died cheaply. Deadcore is a test of your reflexes, memory, persistence, observation, determination and patience and, if you like to be pushed to your limits, you might just like it.

First Person Platforming is hard to get right. Portal got it right, Q.U.B.E. got it right. Mirrors Edge got it right and Dishonored got it mostly right – but there are hundreds of examples of when it’s done poorly. Because you can’t see the feet of your character, it’s a hard type of game play to measure, balancing weight against momentum and maneuverability in just the right amounts. Deadcore does most of this perfectly. The game feels floaty but measured, with just enough heft to your actions to keep the freedom of movement in check. There’s no grasping at ledges like you do in Mirrors Edge – you do all you platforming with your legs – but you do move at that kind of a pace. The only change I think the movement needed would be a more pronounced landing noise/animation. This is because the double jump is reset as soon as you land and I often found myself thinking that I had landed and could jump again – only I hadn’t actually touched the ground and fell to my doom without the double jump.

The aim of the game is to reach the top of a sci-fi looking tower that stretches miles into the sky. There are shades of a plot here that are told through collectable text logs but it’s so out of the way that you might not notice it at all.

The game is broken down into 5 sections, each of which provides a new skill or challenge. During the 1st section you’re performing simple jumps across elevated blocks and using a “Switch Gun” which turns on/off enemies, turrets, doors, switches and jump pads. As you proceed up and through other sectors, you unlock the dash move which propels you forward and the blast which enables you to pull off rocket jumps and charge generators. The game stacks its puzzle and platforming elements upon one another. E.g. Laser barriers are introduced in Stage 2 but become ever more elaborate and challenging the higher you go. Towards the end of the game, you’re using the Switch Gun to turn on purple gravity zones which stick you to a wall, dashing between laser barriers and then blasting a generator to open a door, all while you’re under attack from floating blocks that’ll bash you into the dangerous laser grid below if they catch you.

Most of Deadcore is well designed and has a nice flow about it. It’s setup with an emphasis on speed running but, at least for your first “Cycle”, just getting through the deadly obstacles feels like a massive accomplishment. The game is easy to understand – more often than not, it shows you what you need to do with visual clues or interactible parts of the environment – but there are some sections that are overly complex and confusing. An example, There’s one section where you must dash between posts, using the gravity zones to stick to each structure before dashing to another that is simply perplexing. I expect that there was some kind of branching path here but the combination of being side-on to the world as well as having to rush through before the gravity zone fails as well as every post looking identical to one another means that it’s just too complex to be enjoyable. There are a number of these areas, where the world looking all sci-fi and shiney seems to override the need for it to be readable by the player, and they sap a lot of the fun out of Deadcore’s usual challenge instantly.

Then there are the cheap sections that are designed to catch you out. As you proceed higher in the tower, the distance between checkpoints grow so that you’ll have to bomb through lengthy sections untouched. These sections are tough enough – flipping between multiple gravity zones and avoiding moving lasers that are spiraling towards you then dashing through a wall of turrets – without there being a cheap death waiting for you towards the end. Putting a hand full of enemy blocks at the end of a mind-bending section that’ll knock you down as soon as you pull off the final jump is enough to cause a rage quit or 10. What’s worse is that these cheap deaths are often something you can’t adequately predict. The enemy blocks move randomly until they see you so you can’t prepare for their positioning because they’re almost always in a different spot.

Deadcore also has a few questionable design choices that could have easily been rectified. The biggest of these is the colour of the lasers and gravity zones. The gravity zones are purple and the lasers are red. When you have lasers inside a gravity zone they look purple from afar and it’s only when you’re half way through your jump that you notice you’re about to plough face first into a rotating laser. If the gravity zones were a less complementary colour, Green perhaps, then this wouldn’t be an issue.

Lastly, Deadcore lacks a little bit of that final polish and has occasional performance slow downs. There are typos in some of the UI and the game often stutters when you start a new section. This is most prominent when you start a new session of the Speedrun mode which is when you want the game the game running as good as it can be. There’s also some significant screen tear when turning and moving quickly which, incidentally, is for large portions of the game.

It’s a damn shame that Deadcore has so many niggling issues that spoil the otherwise exhilarating game hidden underneath. It starts poorly and, for a game that focuses on speedrunning, has far too many cheap tricks to kill you but the middle to late levels are some of the greatest, most challenging first person platforming I’ve played in years. I’ve been close to drop kicking my Dualshock 4 out of the window because, while I know what to do, my fingers can’t keep up or I forget a vital step in a sequence of movements that end up costing me. Deadcore is a game that says “Hey, this is tough. It’s unforgiving. It’ll give you sweaty palms from the effort you’ll need to put in and I bet you can’t beat me” but always leaves that tiniest sliver of success within grasp. It’s a game with fine margins for error and if you like to feel that weight lift off your shoulders after finally besting a part that has been kicking you around for half an hour, Deadcore might be your new jam. Unfortunately, the list of issues hidden under the sci-fi exterior make it hard to recommend to anyone other than masochistic thrill seekers.