C.O.R.E. (Nintendo DS, $29.99, Graffiti Entertainment) is the latest in a long line of first- person shooters descended from Castle Wolftenstein. Unfortunately it does nothing to innovate in the genre, and ends up being little more than a poor man's clone of Doom.
The setup is ripped from the FPS playbook: a meteorite has crashed to Earth decades ago and a gigantic research facility was built over the crater to research it. Now it's 2048, and naturally things have gone horribly wrong. Contact's been lost with the base, and as you probe deeper, you discover that the Marines there have been driven insane by the very thing they were protecting.
It's not a bad setup as such things go, and a good throwback shooter could be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, this isn't that shooter.
You maneuver through the game by using the stylus to control your orientation and the D-pad to direct your movement. It's a somewhat awkward setup, and it works better if you can find the thumb stylus that shipped with some incarnations of the DS. Aside from using it as a control surface, C.O.R.E does nothing with the touch screen. I'd hoped for some Bioshock-style mini games to bypass doors or unlock computers, but it ignores such ideas in favor of the clichéd "find the red key" approach to opening doors. A notation-capable map—or any map at all—would have been helpful. Unfortunately the game ditches it in favor of forcing you to stumble from objective to objective with only a line or two of cryptic instructions about where you're supposed to be.
As is to be expected given the DS hardware, the graphics are underwhelming, falling somewhere between the old Nintendo 64 and Quake. This isn't necessarily a bad thing—the N64 had arguably one of the best first-person shooters in the form of GoldenEye—but the level design and AI are problematic. C.O.R.E.'s corridors and rooms are monotonously similar and without a map it's easy to get lost. Battles with the AI are little more than slugfests, and woe to you if you don't have enough health or armor going into the fight. Infrequent save points mean that most times its easier to restart a level then try to battle past your enemies with only a sliver of life left.
Multiplayer might be the game's saving grace, as it supports up to four players via multi-card or single-card download. The later option means everyone else downloads a copy of the game from you, and could easily lead to some road tripping deathmatches. If you're nostalgic for Doom, or itching for a FPS on your DS, it may be worth checking out, but even then you'd be better off picking up 2006's Metroid Prime Hunters instead.