Nice Boom

HIGH Slow-motion death .

LOW That look sensitivity is a little… off.

WTF I’m not sure how seriously I should be taking the premise.

RICO ended up on my radar in a weird way. Twitter had a mini-moment where the game seemed to be everywhere, and the Borderlands-style art and teaser trailers made it look like a first-person version of Max Payne. Those aesthetics are only half the story, though.

RICO‘s premise is paper thin — there are bad guys doing bad things, and it’s down to the player (as one of 4 cosmetically different cops) to breach doors and murder everyone. Sure, there are objectives like collecting evidence or destroying certain things, but it all takes a backseat to clearing room after room of gun-toting enemies under the vague guise of law enforcement.

RICO is a roguelike first-person shooter. Each playthrough requires the player, with up to one friend in local or online, to go through a series of randomly-generated levels with ever-increasing stakes to solve a case within “24 hours” — actually 24 minutes in real time.

The roguelike elements come in multiple forms. After each mission, health and armor does not regenerate. Players who run out of health can revive once for free, but any more will need to be purchased to stay in the game.

This can be done with Merits — in-game currency awarded for successfully completing missions and sub-objective requirements like performing a certain number of headshots, collecting money stashes, etc. Merits can also be used to buy new weapons and upgrades that last the duration of one run. Die, and they need to be bought again. Persistent upgrades come in the form of perks that are unlocked with XP– things like improved aiming or making it more effective to shoot from the hip.

Failure occurs if time or health runs out, and on restart the missions are different due to the procedurally-generated nature of each level.

Now, most people reading this will be wondering why it’s worth playing RICO over the seemingly-infinite number of roguelikes available on any platform. The answer is its tightly-designed rhythm that’s encouraged through simple, effective design.

The first few times I tried RICO, my aim was off and I found that methodical exploration of each room is not the way it wants to be played. No, the devs want the player to go fast, and then to go faster.

Each door kicked down results in a temporary slow-motion where bullets fly by in Matrix style and it’s possible to line up headshots with ease. In a best-case scenario, the bodies won’t even have hit the floor before the game speeds back up. RICO starts hitting these satisfying notes when the player does, and it actively punishes a sluggish play style by dropping reinforcements into a level after a certain amount of time passes. There’s also an ever-present timer ticking down. Once I understood these design decisions, RICO went from being a slight-yet-entertaining shooter, to a Zen-like flurry of slo-mo violence.

This ballet of violence reaches its peak in two-player, either locally or online. Coordinating strikes and negotiating cramped spaces to wipe out rooms full of gun-toting gangsters is even more delightful with a friend. The split screen is a welcome addition that most FPS titles don’t bother with as a feature at all, and the online functions well. I had few laggy moments but performance was solid, and it was easy to start a game with friends.

The thing that really threw me about RICO, however, was its attitude towards law enforcement. Ostensibly meant as a tribute to ’80s action titles, it comes off more like dark commentary on the current state of America where cops open fire on unarmed men and children, and SWAT teams kick down doors at the behest of pranksters to kill men in their underpants. I’ve not been able to finish the campaign yet so maybe the endgame addresses this, but the rest of RICO suggests it does not.

RICO has a pace that won’t be to everyone’s liking, and the same goes for the tone of its presentation, but the frenetic approach and the replayable nature of the mission structure makes it a delight in both single and multiplayer for those who can switch their brain off and simply enjoy the mechanics.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Ground Shatter, ltd. and published by Rising Star Games. It is currently available on Switch, PC, Xbox, and PS4.This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the XBO. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed2 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Drug Reference, Strong Language, and Violence. The game is extremely violent with blood splattering as the player performs headshots, there is profuse swearing, and in general, it really earns its M rating. Not suitable for kids.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is mostly playable without sound, although I found that onscreen prompts indicating that reinforcements are arriving flash onscreen for too short of a time and can be missed during frenetic action. The text size cannot be altered.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

AJ Small
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