An innovative and impressive side-scrolling shooter.
The product of 10 years of development by one man, Cortex Command is a unique side-scroller reminiscent of a cross between Worms and Soldat. It combines a quirky backstory and universe with unique and innovative gameplay to create a fun and action-packed experience.
The game is set many years into the future, after a long period of bloody war. Humanity has discovered new technology that enables them to have their brains removed and integrated into computers. This allows their brains to take control of any compatible body, whether it's a clone, a robot or vehicle. This is the method of warfare in Cortex Command; a commanding brain is sent down to the battlefield from an orbital base along with a squad of bodies and commands them against the enemy. The gameplay is formed around this basis. Battles consist of you commanding clones or robots against the enemy, and the objective is to destroy the enemy's brain and thus disabling their entire force. The game consists of intuitive controls and gameplay, enabling you to quickly switch between your troops on the ground. This is all represented in beautifully-drawn 2D graphics and artwork, and the art style is superb. There is also a split-screen multi-player mode, playable with a gamepad.
The game utilises a very unique physics-based system. Each individual pixel can be shifted and destroyed, resulting in very impressive liquid physics. The concrete sprayer weapon in particular shows these physics very well, and it moves and spills realistically. Bullets sink into the terrain and chew through dirt, and fire slowly burns through materials. This also makes for interesting blood and gore physics. When an enemy's limb is removed, blood splatters and sticks onto surfaces. The remaining stump (because of the artificial nature of the soldiers, they can keep moving long after their limbs are removed) drips blood over the landscape and this behaves in a similar manner. This physics system also allows you to utilise your asset creatively; when calling in a dropship, why not, instead of returning it back to orbit, use it to squash a group of loitering enemy soldiers? Doing so is also visually impressive. The flattened soldiers will collapse and compress into the landscape like a jam doughnut being sat on.
The gameplay itself takes the form of a side-scrolling shooter. You either spawn on the ground as a brain, or are flown in by a dropship. Once your brain is on the ground (in the form of a robot body with a glass jar for a head, containing your brain) you can immediately start purchasing equipment such as bodies, weapons and tools, dropped in by your choice of aircraft. The equipment is very diverse, with a huge amount of variety. The weapons vary from the mundane to the insane. Everything you could want in a shooter is there. Sniper rifles, heavy caliber pistols, incendiary cannons, you name it. You can purchase simple ballistic weaponry such as pistols and assault rifles, opt for something more interesting like a pulse rifle, or go all-out and try the Rocket-Propelled Chainsaw. The amount of weaponry you can get your hands on in this game is immense. The troops you can control are quite varied as well. There are your average grunts with green helmets and body armour, and then there are robotic drones. Some are no more than dummies with the capability to move and operate weapons, and some are walking tripods with mounted gatling guns and anti-air missiles. Sadly, however, their appearance and health bar, and occasionally the weaponry, are the extent of their variety for the most part. There are many different soldiers to select from, yet not many of them could be called unique.
The graphics and sound are also to be commended. Each weapon sounds powerful and satisfying. Every tiny little aural detail you would expect is present, from the firing of rockets and jetpacks, The soundtrack is also decent, but has the downside of using looping tracks slightly too often. The graphics, as far as 2D games go, are quite good. The sprites are well done with a slight unique style to them, and the characters look very good. The environment sprites are brilliantly drawn and the world around you looks great.
There are several different game modes, which are admittedly, still a work in progress for the most part. There's a simple wave defence mode played against the AI in which you build a base from a variety of base modules. The AI then constantly assaults your base to attack your brain. There's also similar game modes which you can play with a friend in split-screen with a controller. This involves both players building their own base and hunting for each other's brains. These modes, however, are minor aspects of the game. The real meat of the game and what I spent most of my time playing is the campaign mode, which only recently got updated to become a fully-fledged game mode in its own right. It had always been present in the game, but it never had any structure or real purpose. Now the campaign is fully playable right to the very end. It plays as a turn-based game where you look down on the game's omnipresent planet and select different sites to build bases and collect income from. You can select a site and begin building a base, and you gain income by keeping hold of it. The game allows you to specify the number of brains at your disposal from the start of the game and other options, such as the starting budget for the game. The campaign ends when one faction runs out of brains. You are able to select a faction to play as, choosing from the Coalition (standard military grunts with helmets), the sophisticated Techion made up of high-tec robots with laser guns, and the rag-tag Ronin, who prefer to use antiques (today's weapons) and makeshift tools. There are six factions in total, all of which are entertainingly unique. Each faction has its own aesthetic style and selection of weapons. However, I found that they are poorly balanced in some areas. I played as the Coalition in my campaign, and set the enemy faction to play as the Techion. It seemed that the Techion's weapons are vastly more powerful than that of the Coalition, and as such, the campaign increased in difficulty tenfold. I played another campaign with myself playing as the Coalition once again, and the enemy as the Ronin. The game then became much easier. While it's great to see the campaign finally emerge into a playable state, Data Realms still needs to fix some balancing issues.
Another issue with the campaign is that after battles, the troops you have dropped stay in the exact same place and you never get a chance to move them in between battles. In the base-building mode I would like an option to take control of troops you have deployed and move them into position. Not only is this a potential disadvantage to you if you have a unit in a bad position, but it can also be exploited. The AI often lands in the same place every time there is a battle, and if you have one unit position in the right place, you can instantly destroy the enemy brain within seconds of the game beginning. I believe this discrepancy is due to the unfinished nature of the campaign, but regardless, it is a glaring issue in the game.
Although unstable and inconsistent, Cortex Command is an incredibly innovative game in a number of ways. Its campaign mode is addictive and tough as nails, and the universe and story has a lot of potential. While my experience was often jarred by bugs and imbalancing issues, it does not deter me from the sheer fun that is to be had from this game. I really enjoyed my time with it, and given the price, a worthy investment. You are sure to get your money's worth out of this game if you devote the time to it.