“Kick doors…shoot men.” That is one of the tips found at the bottom of the loading screen in RICO. That also happens to be the concept of what is known as a ‘breach-and-clear’ segment found in many first-person shooters. But where other games only have one or two of these segments, this game centers its entire gameplay loop around this concept. While this does sound like an incredibly repetitive game, RICO does a good job at adding enough content around the breach-and-clear mechanic to make that gameplay loop fun to experience time and time again. This is Rico, and it’s time to kick down doors and shoot men.
RICO is a first-person rogue-lite with a nice bit of cel-shading that’s all about kicking doors and taking names in slow motion. You play as one-of-four characters working for the newly formed RICO task force, a police force in the fictional city of San Amaro that’s about really getting things done in terms of cleaning up the streets. You have twenty-four hours to solve a case, and by solve I mean climb the chain to the top one dead gang member at a time.
Breaching and clearing is the name of the game here, and that mechanic alone is the highlight of the experience. Kicking down a door and popping off heads in slow motion is a gameplay loop that never gets old, and every time it makes me feel like a professional. This game adds more to it though, as sliding is another option. You can slide in this game, and hitting enemies while sliding will kill them. You can even slide into a door as a form of breaching, but I personally don’t think it is as fun. The mixture of slow motion and sliding usually ends up with me sliding and shooting enemies, feeling like a badass the whole way through. It’s an incredible combo that keeps me coming back to this game over and over.
Kicking down doors is good and all, but the true test of skill is when they start to bust down the door on you. In some of the harder levels, enemies start to bust down the door instead of you, which flips the gameplay from being on the offensive to being on the defensive. It’s a neat mechanic that I can never predict and keeps me on my toes. None of this wouldn’t mean anything though if the time-to-kill wasn’t good, and fortunately it is. Maybe it’s because I just got off of playing a loot shooter, but being able to cleanly kill enemies even with the weakest gun makes each and every gun fun to play with. Speaking of which, the weapons in this game, though few, are a lot of fun to play with. Even some of my least favorite guns like the pump shotguns are fun to play with because I have to strategize how to take care of enemies with all of the drawbacks of the shotgun. The weapons and attachments you unlock for them are fun to use, and I never found myself truly hating any one of them.
The only issues I really had with the breach-and-clear mechanics are the repetition, clunky controls, and poor AI. The controls aren’t terrible, but I think they could be better. The main issue I had was sometimes not sliding when I wanted to, which felt awkward when I was trying to slide through a door but I end up smacking into it. The main issues were with the enemies and repetition, as for the enemies throughout the game prove to be very dumb, with them mainly just walking towards your general general and shooting. I even found that if you are upstairs and there are melee enemies downstairs, then they will try to go underneath your feet instead of up the stairs. Beyond that, the enemies can sometimes just turn my direction very slowly, and it kind of broke the immersion that I was essentially John Wick with a badge. The enemies definitely take a more ‘strength in numbers’ approach to things, which does have its own benefits (especially in late-game), but also had its drawbacks as well. The dumb AI in turn makes the earlier stages feel like a repetitive bore because of how easy and weak they are. The earlier levels never feel like the systematic room-to-room gameplay like it does in the later stages , and that is an unfortunate section of gameplay that has to be repeated over and over unless you play on hard, which for me is just too damn hard. Despite these inconveniences, I never found the easier levels to bog down my experience too harshly, and the gameplay loop overall is a blast to experience.
When it comes to its rogue-lite mechanics, RICO does a good job at balancing meaningful progression and generated content. Cases and levels are generated, and each case has you starting with all of your equipment wiped, but any equipment unlocked in case mode is unlocked in quick mode and throughout the game you are leveling up and unlocking stat boosts known as traits that can be assigned to your character. I have always loved the idea of a good mix of randomization and progression, but I feel only a few games truly accomplish it, and I think this is one of those games. The main mode, case mode, consists of a randomly generated web of missions to complete, and as you get farther into the web, the difficulty starts to ramp up. Each level consists of a large building littered with rooms filled with enemies, with the main objective being to seize all of the evidence in the building. It isn’t just killing enemies and seizing evidence though, as for other smaller objectives present themselves in the level. You are always given a challenge at the start of level, mainly around killing enemies in a certain fashion, and in the level you can encounter bombs to defuse in a certain time limit, assets to destroy, and special targets to kill. Doing any of these objectives (as well as clearing all rooms and seizing all of the evidence) will spawn reinforcement waves to come get you. The loop then becomes play the game and complete objectives, get ambushed by reinforcement waves, and repeat. I love the reinforcement wave mechanic because like I said earlier, the enemies take a ‘strength in numbers’ approach to things, and the real difficulty comes in when you have five reinforcement waves stacked up trying to find you and you are mad-dashing your way to the exit.
Completing a level and completing the extra objectives will earn you merit, which can be used to buy weapons, attachments, grenades, and consumables. One consumable worth noting are revivers, which will pick you up if you lose all of your health. Then, you get to continue your way through the web of missions. I really like the idea of the web of missions, as for I get to choose what levels I want to interact with. Another neat mechanic with the web is leaving a level prematurely will cut off the web from that level-on. The only issues I have with the rogue-lite elements and case mode other than a few empty rooms here-and-there are starting each case mode with the training level, which feels like an unnecessary way of starting the actual levels with merits, as well as the conclusion of each case feeling a bit underwhelming. The rogue-lite elements are still overall solid, and a mix of that and its breach-and-clear elements prove to be a solid gameplay formula.
One thing that did impress me is all of the ways this game packages its content, as for there are other modes outside of the main case mode to try. One of those other modes is a quick-play mode, which consists of either playing a single level, playing the training level, or playing a horde mode. There isn’t much to say about the training level or the single level other than it’s nice to be able to input a level number and be able to play that exact level again if need be, but it’s the horde mode that interests me here. The horde mode, known as Lockdown, is pretty much just that: a horde mode. Unfortunately, I think it is the weakest link to this game because of its poor maps. There are two maps: a parking garage and a rooftop, and both are not great maps as for you can clearly see where enemies spawn behind invisible walls. Also, you can’t choose between these two maps, which made going back to the garage level difficult. I can’t complain about it too much because it is an independent mode that doesn’t require interaction, but the mode overall feels half-baked.
The third mode is the one I am most interested in. The third mode is daily play, and it consists of five levels: three normal levels at the three different difficulties, the training level, and the horde mode. These levels change every day, but each level and loadout is fixed for everyone. The name of the game here is to get the fastest times, which is a different shift from the rest of the game. Daily play is a solid offering for those who have put in a good amount of hours into the game and are looking for a new challenge. My time with the game shifted from playing case mode to constantly checking the leaderboards on daily play and trying to be on top. I’m not much a speed-runner, but I found a lot of fun with it here. Another interesting thing daily play opens up are weapon skins, which can be purchased with credits you earn from playing daily play. I wish there were more ways to earn currency, but I do like the implementation of skin in this game, and I think they overall look pretty cool.
One big detail I haven’t talked about until now that is exciting is co-op. Everything can be played with a friend, both online and in splitscreen. I haven’t played with someone else as of this review, which is why I left it towards the end, but I do have friends who are waiting to pick this game up and I’ll be sure to play with them then. One thing I would like to point out is the ability to play splitscreen on PC, which feels rare and definitely appreciated. Co-op will be a lot of fun based off what I have played, and I can just imagine me and a friend busting down a door…together.
In conclusion, I think RICO is a solid game that combines rogue-lite elements and a breach-and-clear loop well. While the poor enemy AI can make the earlier levels a drag, I think this game picks up and proves to be a lot of fun in the later stages. This isn’t the best game I have ever played, but it is my favorite FPS rogue-lite, and I think it nails what it set out to achieve. For how much is offered at its price point, I think RICO is a game worth picking up and trying out with a friend.
P.S. Thank you to the fine folks at Ground Shatter and Rising Star Games for the review code.