Platformers come in a variety of flavours and dimensions, yet their perspective is almost always in the third person. Critically acclaimed titles such as Metroid Prime, Half Life, Portal and Mirror’s Edge have shown that platforming in first person can work remarkably well, but their frequency is still relatively low. DeadCore touts itself as a first person platformer with an emphasis on speedrunning – much like Mirror’s Edge. Originally released on PC almost three years ago, DeadCore has now been released on consoles, but has it survived the transition?
The basic premise is to use your traversal abilities to climb an impossibly floating tower surrounded by cataclysmic storms. The main tools available are a jump and double jump, dash and an energy gun used for shooting switches and enemies. Levels are broken up with basic platforming: floating geometry that requires varying jumps and dashes to navigate, and a mix of environmental hazards and obstacles to be avoided or disabled with the energy weapon. Generally, and particularly at the beginning of the game, the platforming using the basic abilities feels fast and fluid. The sense of speed that builds up from seamlessly using your aerobic skillset to navigate the tower feels good, the jumping and double jumping feel tight and at this moment I thought this could lead to some fun speed running. Then it got sour.
The game’s single player pits you against 6 levels in total, each with branching paths and two Sparks to collect, which unlock new speed run routes to try. The in-game world is punctuated with floating flavour text for basic tutorials and guidance, but offer limited insight for either. Alongside collectables for things like additional music tracks and ability upgrades, there are the text logs. Attempting to justify the “story” label to the single player, their content is completely forgettable, featuring standard bumf about a previous explorer, but there’s also no consideration for their placement within the world and feel generated, much like the quite uninspiring title.
DeadCore very quickly devolves into a game of avoiding multiple insta-death red lasers, increasingly infuriating drones and a menagerie of obstacles that seem designed with a preference for challenge over fun. Often appearing in mobs, the drones come in a few flavours, mostly looking like they fell out of Aperture Science’s bins. These blast the player away, almost always with insta-death if they land a hit, and reactivate after about a second, which becomes problematic when ammo is limited between checkpoints and shots are required to activate platforms to continue. They’re best left ignored, as it quickly becomes apparent that they’re not worth your energy – both in-game and literally.
Playing through DeadCore I was reminded of the original Mirror’s Edge, and how the pace of that underrated 2008 gem was always mired by sections that forced its poor combat. DeadCore manages to make this worse by relying more heavily upon its least fun elements, regularly feeling like you’re hurtling down a slide only to suddenly lose all momentum and skid to a halt part way down. It happens again and again. Anti-gravity sections are introduced later on, but the pattern repeats itself and these are then also dragged to a stop when the game attempts to be a puzzle game. This change in pace is unfortunate as the puzzles are not taxing but often require a string of deaths by trial and error to solve.
The frustrating elements to DeadCore’s design feel particularly exacerbated by its transition to console. Whilst the jumping controls feel tight, movement doesn’t always and aiming is positively arduous. The developers clearly found this too, as the console version includes a generous auto-aim. While generally a positive for console gamers, the auto-aim in DeadCore overzealous in its correction. I lost count of the number of times my on-target shot towards an incoming switch bizarrely veered off at a 45 degree angle to a nearby drone I was ignoring. Worst of all, the auto-aim can’t even be turned off, let alone adjusted. Curious to see if my assumption was correct, I watched videos of the PC version which appears unaffected by these problems.
A typical sequence will involve jumping onto or through moving platforms, avoiding laser walls which can be stationary, rotating, moving or a combination, whilst shooting switches or enemies and obnoxious laser windmills. The latter rotate close to platforms and violently drag the player to fall and die, but can be deactivated by shooting a target upon one of its blades. In theory, these are fine, but when placed within a jumble of enemies, instant death and the abysmal aiming they become an object of angry frustration. Overall, the challenge feels completely hamstrung by the controls – DeadCore isn’t anywhere as difficult or challenging as say, Super Meat Boy, but it lacks that game’s absolute precision for both level design and controls.
The experience is further sullied through various technical issues, most of which feel like they could have been avoided. Common bugs are frequent, such as falling through platforms or the floor, glitching switches and jump pads. Minor quality of life touches are absent – menus can only be navigated with the analogue stick, and options are threadbare; there’s no ability to change controls, turn off the auto-aim or even invert look for those who prefer it. Furthermore, when respawning the viewpoint doesn’t reset, meaning most of the time you’ll respawn looking at the floor. Screen tearing on PS4 is also rampant, even on the Pro model, leaving an impression of poor optimisation. The game also appeared genuinely broken at first, forcing me to replay the first level an extra three times before the continue button at the end actually proceeded to the second level.
Not everything is terrible, however. When the momentum starts flowing it does have moments of fun and frenetic platforming. The soundtrack is decent and is often wonderfully interlaced with the rest of the sound. The paths are also intuitively positioned; even amongst a jumble of alien structures the way forward often feels instinctive, until the anti-gravity sections are introduced, that is. The HUD design is also well thought out, with all vital information displayed on your weapon.
Challenge fiends may still have a good time with DeadCore, although in its current state I would be reluctant to recommend the console port over the PC version – if you have one. Originally a project by a fledgling group of five young French developers, DeadCore shows some promise as a platforming first title: the basic mechanics are generally good and fun to use. It’s a shame the game is entirely let down by poor controls and sometimes cheap challenge design, both of which are at odds with the game’s speedrunning ethos.
Version Tested: PS4 Pro