Ground Shatter's new shooter is basically a homage to '80s cop shows like Miami Vice and Cagney and Lacey, and while it's not a watershed moment for the genre, it will provide you with quite a bit of fun, and, much like a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, it's best served with a friend.
In a nutshell, Rico is a roguelike-ish first-person shooter, and much like games of its ilk, it has very little reliance on story. There is something about crime bosses in the US and a lady from England taking control, but it's all very superficial and you don't really need to know what's going on in order to enjoy yourself. If you're looking for something story-based, kick down some other door instead.
What we have though is a surprisingly tidy, interesting and fun shooter that will keep you amused for a fair few hours. While procedurally generated, each playthrough is very similar and has you storming into warehouses, penthouses and offices, running into rooms and gunning down enemies, trying to find evidence - contained conveniently in cases - in order to complete the mission at hand.
This similarity doesn't make the outing feel stale, but rather gives it an element of familiarity and a sense that you know what you have to do. There could have been a greater range of level types, but their randomised designs kept things fresh. There was also a heap of random tasks to perform on each level. These extras include things like collecting money, achieving a certain number of melee kills or headshots, clearing rooms of enemies, or destroying assets. There was also a challenge to disarm bombs, which gave you a time limit, and would auto-kill you if you didn't complete it in time. Some of these extra challenges were activated during the levels and that also managed to keep the game feeling fresh.
There is a range of weapons to use that includes pistols, shotguns and assault rifles, along with grenades and flashbangs to take into each randomly generated level with you. At the end of each stage, you get the chance to buy and upgrade your weapons. Starting off with just a simple pistol, there's a nice feeling of progression as you work towards your target of taking down the aforementioned crime lord. Every new case you take on, each with a 24-hour time limit, starts you off with your pistol again.
The player also gains levels of experience up to 14, with each new level opening up character perks, such as 25% damage resistance. These stay with the character through each play-through, however, and don't reset as the weapons do. Each playable character seemed to have the same unlocks, so it made little difference in the end, which felt like wasted potential.
Each door you smash through sees you potentially slow down time and gun down the baddies as part of a short action sequence. This is a whole heap of fun. Alternatively, you can just slide in and any enemies you touch are insta-killed, however, it felt like we were relying too much on sliding to kill baddies, rather than actual gunplay. It feels a little cheap that this simple move (and just running up to enemies and whacking them) is better than bullets when killing bad guys.
There is also not a huge range of different enemy skins or types, with some that run at you with a crowbar or a bat, typical gun-wielding goons, and some with a little more armour that requires a slide or a couple of shots to take down. We'd have liked a few more to mix things up.
That said, it was all a lot of fun, and Rico is a game to play with a friend over a few beers. Sure, it's good when played solo, but it really comes alive when you have a partner, which is what all good cop shows are about at the end of the day. With that in mind, you can play online, but there is also the option for local co-op.
As we've mentioned, each level and case is procedurally generated, which gives Rico potentially unlimited replay value and keeps the environments feeling fresh despite the lack of variety. On top of that, beyond the main cases, there are also daily challenges as well as a quick-game option, which overall helps to make this feel like a complete package.
It's also pretty pleasing to the eye. In terms of the visuals, it has a cartoon element to it, and the cel-shaded style is in a similar vein to that of Borderlands, although it's more realistic here. It looks really good and the lighting seemed perfect for the style too. One of the things that let it down, though, was the lack of in-game music. We really feel that it would have added to the experience. Sure, there were the sound effects of gunshots and the groans of goons, but a nice thematic soundtrack would have worked wonders.
So, to summarise, while Rico won't be a contender for game of the year, it does bring a lot of fun to the table. It's simple, well-designed and unashamedly fun. Sure, it comes with a host of issues, such as similar-looking levels and a lack of enemy types, and there are cheap ways to kill them, but it still provides you with plenty of entertainment. That said, this is a game which gets better with a friend and considering the lack of fun local co-op games out of late, we have to say that this is a case best tackled by a pair of buddies in search of some action.
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