Game Review: Cortex Command
I’ve always had a thing for strategy games, and I’ve always had a thing for platformers, but never did I imagine that they could collide- and never quite so beautifully as in Cortex Command.
As you may have surmised, the game centers around brains in jars… Alright, you might not have guessed that one (Cortex didn’t tip you off?), but getting back on track, these brains colonize worlds, controlling robots that mine for gold and defend them from other invading robots. Gold that is mined can be used to purchase more robots, weapons, and other handy things. Gameplay takes place across an open 2D plane- you can go any direction (though the stages aren’t quite boundless). Your brain either stays stationary in a jar or can be mounted to a (relatively weak) robot that should stay deep beneath the surface of the planet. It’s easy to quickly swap between bodies, and there’s nothing quite like steering a badly damaged robot into the thruster of an enemy transport ship and watching it spin out of control, crashing to the ground beautifully and destroying the robots within.
Visually, I like this game- it has a rather 16-bit style to its art, and there’s something about it that seems kind of classic. There’s a lot of detail in the character models (for the style) and it’s quite possible for your bots to lose limbs in battle- thus making them lighter, which gives a bit more time on the jetpack. The different kinds of machines reflect the aesthetics of their manufacturers, and I have to say that the Browncoats (Firefly fans will understand) are my favorites.
One thing that this game deserves to have appreciated is the level of detail in the gameplay itself- a harsh impact will knock the rocket propelled chainsaw (yes, it’s a real weapon in the game) from the hands of your brave little robo-trooper, and if you don’t move quickly, it may be snatched up by one of your enemies and used against you. This can quickly turn the tide of a battle. What’s worse is that if your robot is damaged in a certain way, it could lose an arm- thus become useful only its jetpack and ramming-speed style attacks. Players of the beta version of Cortex Command will notice that the AI has been improved- you can feel comfortable letting the bots hold the line, as it were.
There’s a campaign mode of sorts during which you’ll land on several sites on a new planet, mining for resources and fighting to keep your site and it ends when… It doesn’t end. This left me confused- the campaign mode has no ending, the days simply go by and a trade ship comes around to charge you some sort of fee (if you can’t pay in money, you lose a brain- lose all brains and it’s game over). I think that was a serious mistake on the part of Data Realms, quite a pity since the campaign mode is lot’s of fun- you just need to restart it once you’ve won. It’s almost as if they imagined to themselves that nobody would actually win- just sit there without a strategy getting eliminated time and again.
There’s also quite a few different missions you can take on at any time. One of them is “Control Chip Hunt”, during which you enter a cave full of half-finished soldier clones in order to obtain a chip that you need to load onto a ship and launch into space. You have limited resources- I find a rocket propelled chainsaw works best in this level, but it’s relatively expensive. Do you take the risk? Do you use several cheap units? This game calls on your creative capacity as a strategist.
I seem to recall selecting one of the missions (or scenarios) being told to build a base, doing just that and… Winning. Right after my base was constructed, I opted to start the game and was informed that I won- no idea where the enemy base was or what I did, but I’m pretty sure we were supposed to duke it on out for a good long while before I was declared the winner. I suspect some aspects of the game are still… Unfinished. I found that quite disappointing.
Sometimes, controls in the game feel somewhat problematic. I understand that the game has some semblance of realism that I appreciate, but it gets annoying in the controls department when you suffer from a jetpack accident, taste the earth, and you can’t get back on your feet as an enemy transport ship appears… Sometimes, CC just feels unfairly hard on account of that issue. It’s quite a nuisance, but it’s not quite game-breaking. Just irritating.
Another gripe deals with mining. Firstly, your units don’t dig for gold automatically, nor can they be set to. It’s kind of distracting to be waving around a little digging contraption underground while your base is being raided. I suppose it takes some careful strategy to know when to dig and know when get back in the fight, but it’s honestly an irritation. The other issue with gold mining deals with what happens when you dig. It might sound minor, but digging creates annoyingly jagged surfaces. If you want a straight path through the ground, you’re going to have to do a lot of digging. It takes far too long a time do something so simple.
That said, gameplay in Cortex Command is excellent overall. While it could use a wee bit more polish, especially regarding some of the missions, it’s unique and imbalanced in a fun way.
While I regret not trying the multiplayer, it’s local only and to be honest, I’m not quite sure how it works- I think this is a game that might fare better from LAN or online multiplayer, but seeing as I didn’t try the local multiplayer, I don’t think I’m in the position to judge it. Nonetheless, I’m curious as to how a round of Cortex Command in multiplayer would work. It would probably be beautiful…
Something else the game really has going for it is a wonderful modding community. If somehow you’re not satisfied with the metric ton of weaponry Cortex Command gives you, you can add on literally thousands of new weapons, bots, and even scenarios- this is a game that’ll keep you busy for a good long time.
Overall, Cortex Command is fun, and while it’s not exactly the most polished game, it’s getting better all the time. I was disappointed to see some things (cough campaign cough) not totally finished, but the fun you’ll have with the game, then with the mods greatly outweighs the comparatively petty trouble you’ll run into early on. I recommend it, especially if you enjoy blowing things up, awesome mods and generally beautiful mayhem.