More Time in the Oven
ReCore is an exciting prospect on paper. It’s a collaboration between storied video game producer Keiji Inafune, responsible for the Mega Man and Dead Rising franchises, and Armature Studio, the creators of the Metroid Prime series. With decades of game development experience shared between this East meets West coupling, it’s not surprising that ReCore’s fundamental gameplay is so strong. What is surprising, though, is just how unpolished the finished product is.
ReCore tasks player character Joule Adams with investigating the surface of a planet ironically dubbed Far Eden. Far Eden is humanity’s new home after a plague known as “Dust Devil” renders Earth uninhabitable. The main issue is that the surface of Far Eden doesn’t seem to be in much better shape than a disease-infested Earth given its harsh desert terrain. Clearly the worker robots responsible for terraforming the planet’s surface have been slacking off while what’s left of humanity waits above in cryostasis. Or maybe something else has just gone horribly wrong.
Joule awakens alone, beset by the worker robots that have evidently gone rogue. Whoops. With the exception of her robo-puppy, Mack, all other machinery on the planet seems to have caught a Dalek-esque space virus—or they were just programmed by stupid humans. Either way it’s up to Joule to exterminate the hostile androids wandering Far Eden as well as make the planet tenable for her friends and family still resting out in the ether.
Along her journey, Joule meets a couple more robots that aren’t completely rude or trying to kill her. In addition to her trusted pal Mack, who digs up crafting parts for Joule under Far Eden’s coarse surface, there is Seth, a spider like bot who can cling onto platforms out of Joule’s reach, and Duncan, a brawler who can smash debris as well as Joule’s foes with his gorilla-like fists. None of them speak beyond a series of friendly “beeps” and “boops,” but they do add a ton of charm to a game mostly devoid of human characters, very similar to Rare’s Xbox 360 launch title Kameo.
Now You’re Playing with Power
Where ReCore shines brightest is with its gameplay mechanics. It’s primarily a platformer and, thankfully, Joule’s jumping and dashing abilities are as precise as some of the best titles in the genre. The game requires the player to find a set number of prismatic cores to progress to the next area. Think of these like the stars in 3-D Mario games, or the power cells in Jak and Daxter. Some cores are scattered around the game’s overworld and others are earned in dungeons. No matter where you’re searching, some combination of thorough exploration, exact timing, and the proper robotic companions will be required in order to obtain the next new, shiny prismatic core. It’s a lot of fun with the dungeons being particularly satisfying given their optional, often challenging objectives.
In addition to the platforming, there’s also some basic gun combat layered on top of the experience. Joule only has one rifle, but as you acquire upgrades the gun will gain new abilities, chief among them: the ability to match ammo color to your enemy’s energy bar. Matching your ammo type appropriately to your enemies causes Joule to inflict more damage, which becomes increasingly important in later stages as larger and more varied groups of robots gather together.
As the player moves through the story, both Joule and her robots will also level up, like a traditional role-playing game. Experience points are always accruing, but in addition to passive leveling there’s a pretty robust crafting system in the game as well. If you’re thorough in your exploration, it’s easy to find new armor and upgrades scattered across Far Eden’s deserts and in dungeons. These, in turn, will allow Joule to craft new parts for her companions, effectively strengthening their attack power, defenses, and energy combos during combat.
Suffice it to say, ReCore has a lot going for it. Individually its mechanics are simple enough for anyone to grasp, but when they’re layered on top of each other it creates a rich and compelling experience. Exploration and progression are oddly reminiscent of Zelda games, and the barren desert evokes that same desolate feeling of Armature’s Metroid Prime series. The comparisons here are flattering, as they should be, but…(and you knew there was always going to be a “but”).
ReCore isn’t a finished product, and one can’t help but feel immensely disappointed by its lack of refinement. What’s a rewarding experience that harkens back to the golden age of platformers—like the aforementioned Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Super Mario 64, Sly Cooper, etc.—starts to show signs of stress after its first seven to eight hours. How big this “but” actually is will depend on your tolerance for bugs, backtracking, and bad endgame design.
The game breaks down when prismatic cores start gating progress too heavily. For a thorough player that won’t happen until the end of the game, during what one might assume to be the last boss fight. For players attempting to mainline the story without exploring side dungeons, be prepared to be road blocked much sooner than that. Either way, ReCore’s wonderful flow gets broken during the ramp up to what should be a climactic finale. It’s likely you too will have to teleport in and out of the area housing the game’s main antagonist, which obviously causes pacing problems but also makes other issues harder to ignore.
First of all, there are the load times, which, again, cripple a fantastically paced game up until that point. Teleporting around the map in search for additional prismatic cores can be somewhat aimless for players not exploring Far Eden’s vast landscapes, keeping track of items on the game’s poorly presented map, or fully completing dungeons. Frustration will likely vary, but it’s hard not to acknowledge prevalent load screens that sometimes last upwards of two minutes.
What’s more are the other technical issues that plague the game. Item tracking can break, meaning that certain objects on your map may still appear despite them having already been collected; infinite death loops can occur forcing you to teleport out of an area and back to Joule’s ship, which will cause you to lose progress in addition to suffering even more load times; and sometimes the game will completely crash, at least on the Xbox One. There are other issues as well, like achievement tracking being broken, which will no doubt frustrate completionists, especially in a game where collecting plays such a huge role. The frame rate is often all over the place. Collision detection isn’t always detected. It’s truly baffling just how many things start to snowball and pull you out of what would otherwise be a wonderful experience.
This is all really too bad because ReCore features some of the most unique and gratifying gameplay of any release this year. The game’s strengths are what make its technical issues so infuriating and, ultimately, disappointing. Had it been given a bit more time to resolve a few of its shortcomings, this could have been a huge surprise hit. ReCore could have even been a nice addition to Microsoft’s lineup of games as a new franchise. The ideas were there, the setting is intriguing enough, and the game clearly had a lot of heart put into it. All it was missing was a QA department and a few testers.
Inherently fun character movement and platforming
Unique setting and story
Bugs, bugs, bugs
Long load times
Pacing issues during back half
“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”