Damaged Core supplies an outstanding overall FPS experience that provides fast and furious combat, excellent visuals and a clever movement scheme that helps prevent the kind of VR sickness an action game might otherwise be prone to causing.
Things start off simply enough as Damaged Core puts you in the role of an entity capable of jumping from one robotic body to the next. Your adventure spans eight levels as you take the fight to protect humanity from a somewhat hive-mind like robotic threat. Your character gets some early exposition as things fire up, and small touches like the digital readouts on your display to the solid visuals of those characters looking you over early on help to sell the setting before all Hell winds up breaking loose.
Make no mistake, this is a quality FPS game through and through that happens to hide one of VR's biggest weaknesses inside of a clever gaming mechanic. In games with lots of movement, VR has a tendency to cause people to feel uneasy if they run around too much. Your character however, can hijack other robots, leaping seamlessly from one body to the next. This is not merely optional, it is a matter of survival. Even the biggest, strongest of robots you take over will eventually succumb to the hail of enemy fire cascading down upon it, and your options are to remain in your body and perish, or jump into a new one.
From a practical standpoint, this mechanic serves to make the playing field feel quite large as you can cover significant ground in a matter of seconds. It also cuts down on the amount of motion you would experience if your character was running from place to place. All of this is neatly wrapped up in your character's story so it makes sense within the narrative as well. That being said, I know this mechanic will not work for everyone. I have ready plenty of comments on various forums and gaming sites with a handful of people who absolutely refuse to play games that have to make 'compromises' like this. I am perfectly fine with it as game design is something that varies from title to title. Some people have voiced concern that this game should be free-moving like other FPS, and that's fine - but that is like saying every FPS also needs a crouch/prone, double-jump, parkour or some other specific movement mechanic. For me this works within the game's story and delivering a comfortable experience.
However, this is more than just window dressing for making sure the experience is a comfortable one, as it proves to be one of Damaged Core's best gameplay hooks as well. Different robots have different weapons. Instead of running around picking up new weapons, you just jump from robot to robot, getting their shotgun or their assault rifle as a result. Some robots serve as 'jammers' however, so you need to take them out first or you might struggle to jump into their squad mates as time is running out on your current body. Bigger, more impressive robots can wield massive energy laser - but first you need to knock out the jammers on each shoulder before you can hijack them. Overhead flying units that can launch missile strikes? You need to weaken them first before you can take control. This element of hacking for both gameplay variety and survival makes for a compelling experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed jumping into one enemy near the back of their horde, only to start shotgunning unsuspecting enemies right in the back. Taking a few licks of my own, I would shuffle off to another. Lather, rinse and repeat, but the formula is an addicting one to say the least. It helps that the mechanic is so intuitive. Sure, I died once right off of the bat as I failed to fully grasp the idea behind jumping as a means of self-preservation, but after that the idea of jumping bodies was as natural as aiming at enemies to blow their robotic heads off as well. One moment your current body is dying, with distorted audio and darkening vision, but if you manage to slip your fast-fading body you find bright vision and a fresh weapon in your hands.
That is not to say everything is perfect. At times I feel as though I am facing the wrong way when I take a body over, and that can be disorienting. Additionally, while the controls are tuned for a controller and work just fine, it would have been interesting to see how motion controls might have been used in a title like this. I know that is the big elephant in the room when comparing the Vive to the Oculus, and the upcoming Oculus Touch will no doubt open up a new range of experiences for gamers, but trust me when I say aiming and firing works just as well as any other FPS out there. Admittedly there is no movement, jumping, crouching, etc but the core mechanics behind aiming and shooting work just fine, controller and all.
Also, for as immersive as the overall experience is (my son and I were spinning around like tops taking on waves of enemies), the solid visuals are somewhat lost on the excitement of the moment. That is not in and of itself a terrible thing, but with so many VR titles focused on letting the player immerse themselves and soak in the environments, you seldom get to let your eyes settle on anything for long. I'd almost love to just be a spectator with a headset on looking around without the concern that something is shooting me in the face, as the overall game's pace is a breakneck one to say the last. The soundtrack is equally energetic, with a loud, pumping vibe that is only enhanced by the positional audio that comes to your rescue when sometimes there is too much going on to take everything in visually.
Also, while I enjoyed the futuristic setting, the story is more or less summertime popcorn blockbuster fare. There are some interesting characters, the overall world built around the game is cool, but the narrative is a somewhat shallow one that really lacked much punch until the very end. Additionally there is a lot of repetition to be had here. Certainly different levels nestle the action around different plot points and differing environments, but at its heart Damaged Core is essentially a horde shooter where you are taking on wave after wave of enemy. The core gameplay is exciting, but it does not have a ton of variety either.
All in all Damaged Core is a polished experience that is a lot of fun for shooter fans. The teleportation mechanic is clever and helps to combat potential motion sickness. For a game with so much going on, I was stunned at just how comfortable it was to play. You will want a spinning chair or to stand however, because you will need to look in every direction, especially when the occasionally odd robot hijacking starts you off looking in the wrong direction. All in all, it was a really solid experience and one of the more entertaining VR games I have had the chance to play so far.
High Voltage Software, Inc.
High Voltage Software, Inc.
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Article by Nick