RICO is a game that wasn’t expected. I could sit here for this entire review and wax lyrical about how I was genuinely surprised the route the company took after releasing the cracking vertical beat-em-up SkyScrappers, and how quite honestly a 3D shooter with an art style that pays tribute to the early PS2-era of that genre was the last thing I could have considered. Here we are though, with an absolute banger of a shooter that cements Ground Shatter as one of the most exciting and surprising indie developers working today.
RICO puts you in the shoes of an elite group of super agents, forced to work together to take down crime kingpins through ‘any means necessary’. That ‘means necessary’ is primarily, breaching through doors in slow motion and shooting up every single rotter in individual rooms and stairways until the building is free of the criminal infestation that lingers within it. Each case you take on has multiple routes you can take in order to cut off a few underlings before getting to the mastermind, tearing through his minions with reckless abandon and most importantly, looking freakin’ awesome whilst doing it.
Most importantly, the gunplay is tight and solid, bringing back those memories of late nights playing TimeSplitters, XIII and Time Crisis in your bedroom with your mates. RICO feels traditional, like a time capsule encrusted with the mechanics you expect from a modern day shooter. You begin with a pistol which can be upgraded with the games Merit currency, secured by completing certain objectives in the case operations. The more you collect, the more upgrades you can purchase (such as laser sights, reflex sights, extended clips etc), giving you a slight advantage over your opponents. Once they’re unlocked they’re available through the rest of the case and you can take them across modes outside of the main campaign. It’s here you’ll also be able to unlock new weapons such as shotguns, Uzi’s, machine guns, more powerful pistols and grenades.
All weapons can be upgraded with add-ons so if you feel like you need a little more precision you can simply add on your upgrades in the menu before the next operation begins. I haven’t particularly found one weapon that stands out from the rest as most enemies can be taken down in a couple of shots, though those with a faster reload will naturally be more helpful. Guess it’s obvious but reloading before breaching is highly recommended. I can’t tell you the amount of times I was breaching in slow motion through a door whilst the gun reloaded, also in slow motion. Yeah, make sure your clip is full before you go tearing it into a room full of henchmen with shotguns. Some life advice right there.
You can also use your Merits to buy health and armour, massively useful before the start of an operation. Armour isn’t always available to purchase mind, which can be frustrating should you feel like you’re going to need it before heading into the next operation. Stocking up on health is vital though, as whilst it’s available in the operations it is scarce, so beginning each operation with full health will hold you in good stead. You can also buy revive pins which will help you out if knocked down, allowing you to get back up before you bleed out, particularly helpful in single player mode where you won’t have someone to revive you. It’s always wise to stock up on them when you get the chance as the armoury is the only area of the game they can be sourced. Once you’re dead in case it’s over and you’ll have to start from the beginning again, so unless you feel like you’re not going to beat the operation and quit out to choose a different route you’re going to want to keep your health and revives stacked (yes, the game actually kicks you back to the beginning of a case regardless of progress if you die. So. Don’t die, I guess..).
As each level is procedural there’s no real way of knowing before it begins what to expect so the included map is an absolute treasure. Whilst it’s best not to check it out whilst in a gunfight as it takes up the entire centre of the screen whilst open, a small arrow which represents your location will move with you, allowing you to find your way out of a location with ease and check out which rooms still need to be breached. The grid represents a staircase which admittedly threw us off at first, though once you know you know. The map will also pinpoint locations of ammo, health and evidence if you’ve missed any whilst moving through the rooms so it’s an essential resource, designed in a beautifully user-friendly way.
Away from the case campaigns you’re able to take on a quick operation which you can tear through to get a feel for the game before taking on a full case. Handy if you want to have a quick practice and is full of options to make sure you can check out the majority of what the game has to offer without dedicating your time to a case right out of the gate. There’s also Lockdown which is RICO’s Horde mode, where wave after wave after wave of smartly dressed bad guys (and shirtless ones, obvs. Great hair though) will come to take you down. I attempted this at first on my own before I had even tried a case and I got my ass handed to me rather quickly. There’s no way of knowing which direction they’ll appear from so if you’re on your own you’re very much up against it. Bring a buddy, is my advice. They’re good fun though, even if – in the Lockdown’s open spaces – you lose the fun ‘breaching through doors’ mechanic the game is built around.
The cases are where the meat of the game is though, and playing through them whether online or with a mate in splitscreen is where RICO shines brightest. They’re most assuredly not easy and offer up a real challenge, and co-operating with your ally is key, whether you stick together throughout or go it alone searching for evidence, defusing bombs or finding specific targets whilst your pal is taking down the reinforcements, every level is different and is never really gets old, which honestly is something that did concern me going in. Whilst the ‘slo mo breaching’ is a super cool mechanic and allows for tactical co-operative play, the worry was it might have gotten a little stale as the game moved on, especially if you’re against the clock hunting down bombs. Thankfully, it simply doesn’t. You’re grateful it’s there as you have a small window – around about five seconds – to survey the room, take down as many bad guys as possible in that time and ensure the room is clear before you start destroying assets, securing evidence and picking up any health or ammo you may need. It genuinely makes you feel like you’re in some kind of 80’s cop television show and it’s just simply, really frickin’ fun.
From a technical standpoint RICO is superbly stylish, with colours jumping off the screen and well designed enemies, the menus are easy to navigate and the aforementioned map is clear and concise. There’s the odd glitch here and there where enemies can ragdoll into walls upon their deadness, though at times they’ll land in a hilarious position, making you wonder how a single bullet to the chest could do that to a person. There’s the odd bit of clipping but nothing immersion-breaking, it’s difficult to get mad at slight issues when everything else is so neatly presented. One imagines a patch could fix up any lingering issues.
RICO feels like the game that’s going to get Ground Shatter on the map. The inclusion of online play is a genuine gamechanger for something as co-operative as RICO, and should ensure the game reaches the audience it deserves to. These quick bouts of intense gunplay and slo-mo firefights is perfect fodder for some quick playthroughs with your friends (ensuring it should be massive on the Switch) and whilst the game offers up a real challenge in later cases, having backup with a friend ensures you’ll have a laugh throughout.
When you’re powering through mansions like Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, blasting your way through bad guys and smashing up the place all for the greater good, RICO really comes into its own.
It’s by far the most fun we’ve had playing an online co-op game this year. It isn’t even close.
RICO is available on PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One March 13th and Switch/PC March 14.
Developer: Ground Shatter
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with two promotional codes from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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