There is a thrilling, yet cathartic simplicity in kicking down doors, and killing a bunch of questionable gentlemen, huddling around an equally questionable pile of powder. The sound of splintering wood, the rattle of the barrel and the almost ritualistic slaughter of armed thugs, amalgamate to form an utterly captivating experience. That lucidity, spliced with a bit of bombasticity, is what RICO is trying to peddle – and boy, does it get its vice-like hooks into you.
RICO makes no effort to be more than it is, which is immediately evident when it exposits its ludicrously nonsensical plot. You are part of RICO – a team of super elite law enforcement officers, tasked with taking down a questionably ethnic band of criminals – in the name of justice, of course. The brains of the whole operation is a middle aged English Woman (naturally), and from the moment she starts speaking, any air of uncertainty about the plot’s significance, is blown away. It’s a cheesy excuse to kill people, and that’s all it had to be.
RICO is a roguelike, through and through. That means – permadeath, procedural generation, RNG and escalating difficulty. What sets RICO apart from its contemporaries, is that it’s an FPS, with a ‘John Wu’ slow down mechanic, that fuels the fires of havoc. Each mission will task you with clearing an area, room by room, killing all the hostiles in the area before moving on. The act of kicking a door down will slow time for a few seconds, allowing you to pop off headshots, slide your butter-soaked derriere across the floor for stylish kills, and even thwack the odd thug with your baton – seemingly sparing his life.
Giving the game a tangible sense of flow, is RICO’s incredibly generous use of aim assist. If your reticle is near an enemy, and you aim down your sights, you will be given a slight nudge in the right direction. This allows for accurate, precision kills, without too much effort. Of course, had this trick been over-employed, or poorly implemented, the game wouldn’t be fun to play. Luckily RICO strikes a near perfect balance between satisfying gunplay, and artificial hand-holding.
RICO is not an easy game by any stretch of the imagination, which is ultimately what saves it from succumbing to its benevolence. Enemies come in droves, brandishing a variety of deadly weapons. If you are not paying attention, or miss an enemy during your sweep, you can expect a shotgun shell to the back of the bonce. Even on easier difficulties, you can be dropped staggeringly quickly, especially once you step out of your TARDIS, so pack some bandages before you head into the field.
Combat is RICO’s main focus, but it knows that shooting isn’t going to keep things fresh in perpetuity. Throughout each mission, you will be given a list of frequently updating objectives. These can range from breaching every room, to assassinating a key target, to defusing bombs. Upon completing an objective, you will be assailed by an ever growing number of reinforcements. Without the use of your Wachowski-given powers, these encounters slowly drain your health, making the mission more difficult to complete. If you manage to pull through however, you will be handsomely rewarded with currency in which to purchase new weapons and attachments. High risk, higher rewards.
As you progress, you will be given the opportunity to equip a plethora of destructive instruments, each with different stats, attachments and uses. Your starting pistol may struggle to take down tougher enemies, but it has a large clip and fires quickly. That revolver packs a hefty punch, but it requires frequent reloading and each miss is more painful. A shotgun is all well and good for downing someone in your face, but maybe you would be better off using an assault rifle? The decision is ultimately yours, and the weapons on offer allow you to play RICO however you want. This idea is further expanded by adding various perks. These allow you customise your operative directly, enhancing specific areas of their character. Sunglasses make you immune to flashbangs, an enhanced slide will reduce incoming damage etc. There is quite the selection, giving you ample opportunity to experiment and refine your build.
Of course, all of this comes crashing down with a sudden, jarring, certainty. RICO is a roguelike, so upon death, all of your weapons are lost, and you must start your ‘Case’ from the beginning. RICO does hand you an olive branch, by allowing you to keep your perks, however everything else must be bought again. The gunplay gets you through the door, the rogue elements keep you pushing forward, encouraging you to get better. Maybe next time you will use a silenced pistol, so the enemies in the other room don’t barge through the door first, gunning you down from behind? Each run will take you at most 30 minutes, often less. The punishment for failure is therefore incredibly minor, encouraging repeat playthroughs, thus greater engagement with the satisfying gunplay. It’s a solid formula, executed well.
To complement the core ‘Case’ mode, RICO throws in some additional content to keep things fresh. Your typical Daily Challenge makes an appearance, with full leadership support. It also comes packed with a wave based ‘horde’ mode, and a one-off mission mode, giving you the opportunity to practice in a shorter, pick up and play kind of way. This mode feeds into Case mode, by allowing you to use any weapon, or attachment previously unlocked during a case. A short, yet sweet distraction. The biggest addition however, is the two-player Co-op. You can jump into any mode with a friend, and go on a buddy cop killing spree. It is a brilliant inclusion, that goes a long way to keep the game feeling fresh.
RICO ticks just about every box up until this point, but falls over the last hurdle in spectacular, heart-wrenching style. The game looks ugly as sin. Repeated, low quality character models, a limited selection of aesthetically different environmental themes, and a general lack of polish when it comes to visual fidelity, do put a downer on the whole experience. What truly hurts though, is the performance. Despite looking as low end as it does, RICO runs slower than a corpse at a marathon. It is constantly chugging, with frame drops plaguing almost every room. Effectively, and mercilessly, getting in the way of its ‘run and gun’, ‘bish, bash, bosh’ nature. Tying the performance issues together in a knot of perpetual disappointment, are the loading times. Roguelikes are perfect pick up and play affairs. Die, restart, progress, die. Each mission in RICO takes tens of seconds to load up, leaving you slightly greyer by the time it finally decides to let you play again.