Developer: Comcept, Armature Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Xbox One (version played), PC
It was touch and go for a while whether or not I’d be able to finish ReCore at all. Not because I didn’t want to (although, to be honest, around that point I kind of didn’t), but rather because of a game-breaking glitch during an end-game boss fight. You see, bosses in ReCore need their cores ripped out in order to end them. Only problem here was that this particular boss suffered from a glitch whereby the game would lock up whenever you triggered the animation to pull the core out.
Anything positive I have to say about ReCore is always going to be tainted by the fact that, in most instances, you’re also contending with one of the most buggy, inconsistent games to have been released in recent years. Rooms that don’t load correctly, floors that your character falls through, and companions that sometimes vanish from existence, forcing you to reboot the game in order to get them back. Playing through the game is nothing short of a tedious experience.
It’s a shame because buried beneath a mound of half-baked features and stale mechanics is a pretty darn fun platformer. You play as Joule, a girl who awakens on Far Eden, a desert planet that humanity has fled to following an epidemic on Earth.
And like I said, the platforming is surprisingly good fun. Joule is equipped with a double jump, along with a handy dash, which make dashing to and from platforms and up cliff faces about as enjoyable as it can be. The first few hours of ReCore are a flashback to the late ‘90s platformers; helpful companions, a MacGuffin to collect in the form of prismatic cores, and a charming story about Joule searching for her father.
There’s a remarkable simplicity to ReCore that makes those early moments incredibly satsifying and it’s helped by a smart attention to pacing. New mechanics are doled out slowly. First, there’s the introduction to your robotic canine friend, Mack, who assists in combat as well as sniffing out items. Later segments reveal new gun upgrades, with enemies being colour-coded red, blue and yellow. Hit them with the corresponding colour and they’ll take extra damage, whilst a charged shot will knock out their shields, meaning they’ll go down quickly.
Slowly but surely however, ReCore’s simple mechanics are overcome with dull, generic, copy-paste concepts from other modern games. Enemies go from being simple beats in the pacing to bland bullet sponges; never being all that threatening but insisting that you spend several minutes pounding away at them nevertheless. Enemy variety becomes a bore, with every robot foe essentially being either a small harmless drone, or a dog ninety percent of the time. It also doesn’t help that the health system is woefully inconsistent. Sometimes Joule will hardly take any damage from enemy attacks, other times she’ll nearly be crippled by a single blow.
Meanwhile, the simple fun of platforming is overtaken by an obsession with grinding. Later areas fore you through bland side quests in order to amass the amount of prismatic cores to unlock the next location.
It creeps up on the game slowly, but there’s definitely the sense that ReCore’s focus and priorities were changed halfway through development. A hokey, utterly forgettable customisation mechanic is implemented that allows you to stitch together new parts you found onto your three robot companions, boosting their stats in various different ways. Likewise, cores harvested from enemies can be pumped directly into specific stats to give them a boost. I’d be lying though, if I ever noticed this mechanic do anything. Improving my robots did nothing to change how they behaved or improve their abilities. This entire section of the game was nothing more than window-dressing.
Eventually, you acquire two other robot companions alongside Mack the dog, with each new robot giving you a reason to backtrack in order to unlock new areas or acquire secrets. Seth the spider robot can drag you along rails, whilst Duncan has the brute strength to smash apart rocks and debris blocking your path. It’s simple, humble ‘90’s platforming goodness.
The game however, chooses to limit you to only bringing two robots with you at a time, for no discernible reason. This is until you quickly realize the real reason is to pad out the game length. By limiting you to only taking two robots, you’ll frequently have to backtrack in order to equip the “correct” party for the particular area. This has the effect of rendering Mack the dog useless during the games later segments, given that, unlike Seth and Duncan, he possesses no ability that’s required for traversal.
Unnecessary padding is something that the game seems acutely aware of. ReCore is a short game, taking only a handful of hours to complete if you ignore the tedious endgame, but the unnecessary back-and-forth is used to bulk up the game length to an absurd degree. Some Prismatic Cores are only attainable in cordoned off dungeons; all of which possess the same bland look and atmosphere (read: caves, sand and crystals) and the latter portions of the adventure stretch out the campaign to absurd lengths, by having you traipse across Far Eden hoovering up nearly every major collectible.
This fundamentally undermines any sense of wonder or atmosphere that Far Eden would otherwise have. There’s hints of something much better here. With Joule scurrying across the sand, Mack tailing along behind her, there’s a sense of scope and power to ReCore’s game space. Some locations have hulking contraptions that have slowly begun to be buried by the sand, hinting at humanities attempts to colonize Far Eden. All of this is sacrificed however, to bloat the game’s runtime and turn whatever was here into a featureless collectathon.
Do you want to know the real killer is here? Load times. On Xbox One at least. The load times are utterly abysmal, sometimes taking several minutes to boot back up to where you died. Oh, make no mistake, you’ll have to suffer these loading screens all over again. Every. Single. Time. ReCore is a flashback to the ‘90s in more ways than one.
There’s some real potential in ReCore. There’s brief moments where the game shows some real warmth and humanity. The voice acting, what little there is, is surprisingly above average, and the script in general, had more effort been put into it, would have told a decent yarn. Far Eden could have potentially been a fantastic place to explore, too, and it’s refreshing to see a game place cooperation and friendship above mindless slaughter. It’s a game that genuinely has real hints of character and charm.
Sadly, all that potential is lost beneath a mountain of technical issues and a schizophrenic core design that sees the game shift from fun action-platformer to bland open-world scrounger. The game’s glitches alone desperately need a patch to make the experience even remotely playable, and the fact that the game was released in such a pitiful state is insulting. Even without those issues to get in the way however, the run-of-the-mill mechanics and padded out campaign are hardly enough justification to see the game through to the end.