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Damaged Core Review: Meet The New King of VR Shooters

by Joe Durbin • August 30th, 2016
Platform: Oculus Rift
Positives

- Brilliant game mechanics that make sense narratively
- Addictive combat
- Strikingly beautiful visuals
- Engaging Story with interesting characters
- Solid Replayability

Negatives

- Divisive ending
- Only one difficulty mode

I’m dying.

At least that’s what it looks like. Darkness is closing in from all sides and my vision is slowly narrowing to a pinpoint. I can still hear the sounds of battle raging around me but it’s different now, as if I’ve suddenly been submerged underwater.

As my hearing continues to distort I desperately look around for something, anything to save me. At last I see it. My salvation is 25 feet tall, made completely of iron and carrying one very large gun. I smile, make the jump, and return to the fight.

Damaged Core is unlike anything I’ve played in VR before, and I have played quite a bit. It does for the Oculus Rift what Pokemon Red and Blue were able to do for the Gameboy: namely maximize what made the specific console so amazing, while minimizing any of its weaknesses. High Voltage was able to craft a game that is addictively fun to play, captivating in its narrative, and delightful in its visual presentation. And it does all this not in spite of VR, but because of it.

In Damaged Core, you assume the role of a newly created artificial intelligence with no true body of your own. Your goal is to fight against the evil “Core,” a nefarious group of evil AI controlled robots, in order to save the human race.

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As an AI, everything you see or experience in the world of the game comes to you through the eyes of a machine your program is inhabiting. By pressing “A” on the controller you are able to target and warp into enemy robots, tanks, turrets, and strategically placed hovering cameras. When you assume control of these new hosts you gain control of their respective powers, weapons, and stamina.

Damaged Core is unlike anything I’ve played in VR before”

This simple mechanic is therefore able to completely erase any motion sickness from the game in favor of unleashing every bit of the Rift’s unique, immersive powers. That gameplay loop not only provides an almost endless variety of actions in combat when replaying missions, but it also ties all of that together with narrative reasoning that actually makes sense. In an era of VR where most games are still requiring you to blink, fly, or nauseously stumble around the world with no real in-game explanation to back up the mechanics, this is nothing short of fantastic.

In addition to being a genius combination of game design and storytelling, Damaged Core‘s central mechanic also made me feel more immersed and free to move as I pleased than any room-scale game or cockpit shooter ever has. Each level feels like it awards me complete autonomy in how I complete my objectives.

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If I want to jump into a sniper and pick off foes with accuracy, I could go for it. If I wanted to jump into shotgun bots and blast my enemies away with satisfying concussions, I was free to do so. And if I wanted to step into the hulking boots of a massive overseer and lay waste to scores of enemies at once, I could make that decision at any time.

Damaged Core allowed me to literally jump into enormous VR gun battles in which I had nearly complete control over how I fought without providing even a hint of motion sickness or “turn in a circle and shoot these zombies” gameplay that VR shooters are becoming known for. That is an experience I won’t soon forget and one that I plan on revisiting as often as I possibly can.

“You honestly feel like you’ve joined a rag-tag militia from Terminator”

Narratively Damaged Core is also a breath of fresh air for VR gaming. Believe it or not this title has something that very few of its peers even attempt to include: actual characters. There are well rounded, sympathetic characters in Damaged Core and — as many of your missions center around protecting these brave resistance fighters — you will quickly feel a kinship to them that few, if any, other VR games are able to create.

The actual plot itself is relatively standard: man makes robots smart, man makes robots too smart, robots decide they don’t like man, robots try to kill man, man fights back. This might be boring in a 2D shooter, but because Damaged Core is a VR game, you honestly feel like you’ve joined a rag-tag militia from Terminator.

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When your given the briefing at the start of each mission it’s more of an immersive scene with the group talking to you and depending on you to survive than a simple game. This makes you all the more keen to blast those good-for-nothing scum Core-bots into scrap.

Each mission feels well constructed, perfectly paced, and full of diverse and interesting modes of play. In the space of a few seconds you could go from providing sniper cover to your team as they sneak into a guarded facility, to manning an anti-aircraft turret, to mowing down swarms of bad guys as you jump from a rifle-bot, to a grenadier, to a colossus. Your heart will start pounding as each level begins and won’t stop until you see that glorious “mission clear” screen flash before your eyes.

Something else that makes these missions so enjoyable is the level of challenge they represent. Damaged Core is not an easy game. In fact, if you’re new to VR, or shooters in general, some levels will seem downright nasty. But each time I failed a mission I honestly felt like the fault was with me. There are no OP enemies or unfair wave configurations. If you lose in this game it’s likely because you chose the wrong bot, missed that clutch shot, or didn’t think quickly enough on your feet.

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From a visual perspective Damaged Core does the absolute best with what it has. It’s no secret that current-gen VR headsets are lacking in overall image resolution, but High Voltage was still able to create sweeping vistas, character models, gun designs, and special effects that represent the absolute best the industry has to offer.

“Damaged Core stands as the new high-water mark that VR game studios should strive to surpass. “

Sound is also used beautifully whether it be the sweeping orchestral score, immersive audio alerting you to a nearby foe, or a familiar voice echoing in your ear (no spoilers but the final boss is voiced by a man that anyone who grew up watching Toonami will instantly recognize as a legend.)

As far as replayability, each mission can be undertaken any time after you beat it once. There are also leaderboards and after-level scores to improve and keep you coming back for more.

However, it’s worth  noting that Damaged Core is not a “perfect” VR game. I spotted the occasional glitch with the AI (although the results were only ever humorous and not game breaking) and the ending to the story will leave some feeling chilled, some confused, and some downright upset. There is also only one difficulty mode, which High Voltage explained to me was in an effort to mitigate frustration for a game that will already be uncharted territory to the vast majority of its players.

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Those few buzzing gnats may be enough to slightly chip away at the the beautiful diamond elephant that is Damaged Core, but they can not fully reduce its glittering form.

There are some moments in life that simply force you to change. Seeing the northern lights, getting married, watching The Dark Knight for the first time, and realizing no movie will ever make you feel anything like that again, are all great examples.

Websites have moments like this too and UploadVR just had a great big Dark Knight moment of its own in the form of this game that’s releasing today on the Oculus Rift. Lines were drawn, alliances forged, and a true Battle of the Bastards was waged concerning what score to give this game (that’s not a Game of Thrones thing, there was just a lot of name calling.)

In the end, a final number was agreed upon that satisfied both camps. And so, today UploadVR is doing something it has never done before by adding a decimal to one of our reviews and giving Damaged Core the final score that you see below.

It’s the first of its kind but this game definitely deserves the exception.

Final Score: 9.5/10 – Near Masterpiece

Damaged Core stands as the new high-water mark that VR game studios should strive to surpass. Its amazing execution should serve to catapult this entire industry into a higher level of excellence. Damaged Core is a brilliant game, an important game, and one that absolutely deserves the score you see above. The new king of VR shooters has arrived.

Now stop reading and go play it.

Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.

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