I bought Cortex Command a few years ago back in its alpha stage. This is, however, a review as if I had bought the game at its current version and Steam price point.Editing: grammar / ease of reading / further relevant info
: Largely non-existent. Intro video sets up the world fiction pretty well. But after that, there is no story or character or story progression to speak of.Music
: Pretty great music all around, and appropriate. But only a few tracks. Only one track ever plays during actual gameplay. Example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgPes4wY8vE&feature=relatedGame Modes
: In the menu, there are two modes to choose from;
#1. Campaign - Lets you choose to play through a short single-mission tutorial, then makes you customize a few variables such as game length, starting gold, etc. After that, players take turns allocating funds to the various landing sites, building bases, then fighting over the sites for more resources to spend. Every battle is won by destroying the opponent's "brain" unit, or lost by having yours destroyed. I won't go into much detail of the campaign mode, suffice to say that it really doesn't play to the game's strengths very well in its current state. More on that later. I also ran into an unfortunate bug that made my campaign effectively un-finishable. Other users have reported many bugs.
Advice: skip campaign mode for now unless the game is patched and the mode gets more feature-heavy and polished.
#2. Scenario Battle - Lets you choose from a little over a dozen somewhat-premade scenarios. These range from anything like luring out and fighting a giant crab monster to building your own base and surviving as long as possible. I HIGHLY recommend starting here for new players (after playing the tutorial, of course). I personally feel this is where the game has more of a chance to shine, but opinions may vary.Interface & Controls
: The interface can take a little learning & getting used to, but is not particularly difficult or complex. Play the tutorial for this, if nothing else. The in-game menu system is particularly finicky, and I find myself selecting the wrong option in the radial-menu occasionally even after dozens of hours of practice with the game. I'd recommend keyboard and mouse, but the game is almost as easily playable with a good gamepad (xbox 360 controller, or similar). Controlling a character precisely could potentially be a bit frustrating for a new player - particularly something like flying a heavily laden unit out of a hole in the ground. Gets easier with practice.Combat & Gameplay
: All combat is real-time. The only pause is exiting to the main menu. You control one unit at a time. You can give your other units various simplistic commands which they attempt to do when you are not actively controlling them, such as digging for gold (if they have a digging tool), patrolling an area, or shooting anything that comes into sight.
Gameplay is really the area that will make or break the game for everybody. The physics engine (as old as it is) is what sets this game apart. The physics effect everything from unit weight & movement to weapon explosions. Its per-pixel physics really give it a unique feel to weapons and their impact on terrain. It can also break the game quite badly in many cases. Leave your brain-robot in a corridor thats too short for him to stand in? He'll spontaneously explode for no reason. Try landing a rocket on a completely flat surface? Don't be surprised if it unexpectedly gets a leg stuck, tips over and explodes. Leave a unit patrolling one of your hallways for more than 2 minutes? Turns out he's just eaten through the entire floor by walking back and forth on it like it was made of styrofoam.
Don't buy the game expecing a well-balanced or polished challenge. There are dozens of ways to "game" the system and bug out the AI (either intentionally or unintentionally), making winning any of the short skirmishes inconsequential.
If you can get past the rough edges (make no mistake, they ARE very rough), the sheer brutality and hilarity of combat is what makes Cortex Command fun. In one scenario, I found myself losing dozens of units in a futile attempt to breach an enemy's base. So I decided to fill a rocket with about twenty metric tons of explosives to try and carpet bomb my way an entrance into his concrete mountain complex. Turns out, a Rocket Mk II's thrusters aren't powerful enough to even slow its descent from orbit when its filled with 1,000x its weight in grenades, napalm, cluster mines, and crabs (those came free). The innocent robot guard on my own dropship landing pad never knew what hit him when that Rocket Mk II flattened his tiny metallic body and proceeded to disappear in a brilliant series of explosions that both obliterated all life (robotic or otherwise) on the surface of the map, and sent flaming shrapnel and crab bits three stories deep into my fortified bunker - killing at least 3 hall guards in the process.
Base building can also offer a lot of added fun when it is available in certain scenarios/modes. It can be a bit clunky, but offers plenty of variety. Building modules come in anything from a simple hallway, to blast doors which open for friendly units, to elevators and teleporters.Visuals/performance/AI
: Cortex Command is completely CPU dependant. Even the absolute top-of the line modern processor will have a hard time running this game at 1080p without slowdown. I recommend lowering the resolution until you achieve a setting where the slowdown doesn't bother you. The longer a match runs, the more it will slow down as well, due to the physics engine slowly taking on more load. You'll probably notice huge drops in FPS with large series of explosions.
I personally haven't experienced any crashes with 1.0, but have run into a few interface glitches and plenty of AI bugs. Units controlled by the AI will frequently get stuck in/on terrain, or exhibit generally suicidal behavior. On the other hand, the AI can also behave surprisingly intelligently at times. Your mileage may vary.Multiplayer
: Split-screen multiplayer / co-op only. No LAN or internet capabilities, and the developer has stated he has no possibility or intention of adding them. If you're in a position where you have a controller or two, and have a big enough screen/tv to play on, multiplayer can be a lot of fun. But the vast majority of people probably aren't in a position or don't have the right setup to play splitscreen enjoyably.Modding
: The game is relatively well set up for modding, with Lua object scripting capabilities and drop-in-folder installation. A large variety of mods are available at the Cortex Command official forums ( http://forums.datarealms.com
). Mods range from single units/weapons to entire factions to fully scripted scenarios. Steam Workshop support is supposedly coming.
------------TLDR / Summary
$20 might be a bit high of an asking price for a lot of people, but you can certainly get your money's worth for that price if the sandbox (create-your-own-fun) gameplay suits you. Many will say its a bit closer to a beta release than a 1.0, and I'd tend to agree with them. But if you're not afraid of a game that you have to work at a little bit (or a lot, depending on your preferences) in order to get something out of it (e.g. earlier versions of minecraft), you can easily sink dozens of hours into Cortex Command.