‘Rico: London’ review: a cheesy action movie shooter, in all the right ways

A new kind of kick

There’s an unspoken rule in games that Rico: London follows to the letter.  In a shooter, a door handle should serve absolutely zero purpose. None. No self-respecting game should ask you to calmly open doors like a normal person. Doors are for kicking down, blowing up and barreling through. At literally no point should self-restraint come into the equation. Black got it, and again – Rico: London really gets this.

After all, it’s a game about getting to the top of an apartment block infested by armed gangs. You’ll smash down tens – maybe hundreds – of flimsy doors to get to the goons within. When so much of the game revolves around those seconds of efficient killing following a breach, a lot hinges on starting each room with some real power.

If you’re wondering if all this slightly weird door talk is necessary, you’ll have to take me on my word that it’s near-integral to this buddy-cop action game. Rico: London sends players back to New Years’ Eve 1999 as a London Metropolitan police officer to investigate an alarmingly high-caliber gun deal. The word investigate is used loosely here: expect less Sherlock, more Dredd. To solve the case, players blast their way up a deadly apartment block, clearing it room-by-room to get at the real villain tucked away on the top floor.

There’s a very simple formula for getting through each floor. Upon breaching each room, you’re given a couple seconds in slow motion to clear the room of all gun-wielding criminals. Honestly, I’ve already described 95 per cent of the game.

Rico London headshot
Rico: London. Credit: Ground Shatter

It may sound reductive, but that’s a formula that absolutely works for me – those first seconds of slow-mo slaughter in each room are a hell of a drug. There’s a satisfying arcade feel to dodging bullets and dropping gaggles of gangsters with carefully placed headshots, especially when each cold and efficient kill comes with a colourful splash of point multipliers.

Scarce ammo means that these shootouts end up forcing a lot of adaptability from each run-through of Rico. Once your gun runs dry – and it will, often – it’s about as useful as a doorbell in this game. Subsequently, most of your battles through the tower block are conducted with whatever guns and throwables you can scrounge from bested baddies.

Between floors, you’re offered a small respite on the stairwell to make purchases from a small store. With medals earned through the run you can buy medkits, ammo, guns and perks. While these small breaks often provide much-needed top-ups to resources, the perks available seemed very limited and I seemed to see the same small batch rotate through every one of my playthroughs.

The real fun is in picking up a Counter Strike: Global Offensive style reskinned gun, which comes modded to spice up the game a little. The range of guns isn’t exceedingly thrilling, but they’re perfectly serviceable – especially considering that players will likely be ditching each gun relatively quickly. I liked that the game keeps me on the back foot with limited ammunition, as it does a lot to keep you slightly grounded, even as you kill hundreds with relative ease.

Rico: London
Rico: London. Credit: Ground Shatter

And to be sure, Rico: London is a pretty easy game. I spent a fair bit of time in both the campaign and the roguelike mode, and the only particularly difficult part is the very last room in the game. Players will likely be divided over whether the relaxed difficulty suits this game, but I felt much more badass clearing a building full of criminals without restarting every ten seconds. That very late spike in difficulty is disgusting – the last room is a real bastard – but for the overwhelming majority of the game, I kind of preferred not having a huge challenge.

That’s because the formula behind every room – smashing in, killing everyone, and busting out to the next fight – is usually done and dusted in a matter of seconds. Door, kill, door. This bite-size brutality keeps the game simple and makes Rico: London one of those games that can be dropped into and enjoyed with minimal brainpower required.

Speaking of minimal brainpower, this is a shooter where two heads are – mostly – better than one. Having an extra partner on the beat changes up the formula more than I was expecting – instead of powering through alone, there’s a violent dance involved with taking turns to breach and covering each other through reloads. That dance has too many left feet though, as doubling the breachers means there’s going to be a couple of butted heads and awkward shots along the way until an agreeable rhythm is settled upon.

Rico: London buckshot
Rico: London. Credit: Ground Shatter

However, playing with another person online is where Rico: London‘s ugliest problem rears its head. Right now, the game is incredibly buggy to play. The most common issue I had was an issue I came to know and fear as The Void. Every so often the path to the next room would be replaced with the all-consuming Void, which would force a restart lest you be lost to its eternal grey permadeath. I never did work out what caused this unintentional gap between dimensions. I’d imagine this isn’t standard for apartment blocks in London, but this particular bug happened frequently enough for me to give it that ominous name.

Also, rescuing hostages – something that pops up during the game a few times – can often be an exercise in frustration. Freeing them from the grip of an enemy is simple enough, but several times they then blithely ran into the middle of the gunfight and got shot, or worse, got taken out by an enemy grenade with nothing you can do to save them.

There were also a lot of issues with desync while I was playing online. It sounds like a bad excuse from a dirty cop, but there were a lot of times where I shot a bad guy cleanly, only to notice that someone – sometimes a stray hostage, but more often my fellow officer – had been hit instead, improbably.

On one hand these bugs only seemed prominent online (The Void didn’t turn up once in my single player or local co-op playthroughs) but on the other, the game felt like it was made to plough through with the outlandish violence of a friend, and this is where it’s buggiest.

Rico: London is available on Switch and PC from September 9, with planned releases for Nintendo Switch and PS4 in the future. We reviewed the game on PC. 

The Verdict

Rico: London plays like an over-the-top ’80s action movie, right down to the slow-mo diving. If you’re looking to replicate the last half-hour of Hot Fuzz with a partner in crime-fighting then this is a solid go-to, offering a hectic rush of kicking down doors, dodging bullets and firing back plenty of your own. It’s a real shame that the shooter has so many problems with stability, but hopefully future patches iron out what are currently some major issues.

Pros

  • The formula of chain-killing violence feels fluid and compulsive
  • Being forced to use a variety of weapons keeps each run feeling fresh
  • Even more fun with a friend to blitz through rooms with

Cons

  • As it stands, it’s incredibly buggy
  • Mid-level upgrades fail to pack much oomph and there aren’t many perks to choose from
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