If you were to tell me that the guys who made Metroid Prime and the guy who made Mega Man were going to get together and see what happens, I probably would not have believed you. And yet, here we are with ReCore, a marriage of both Western and Eastern development and game practices, and while the game certainly begins with a promising and unique premise, you can’t help but wonder if the whole thing holds up.
Players take control of Joule, a mechanic/construction worker/worldly badass who is sent to the planet of Far Eden to help the terraforming process. Joule is part of a second wave, so to speak, as she is kept in cryo sleep while robots known as Corebots perform the initial processes. Unfortunately, Joule awakens to the Corebots running rampant, attacking anything and everything they catch in their sights. At least, that is what I think is going on.
The game is not very upfront with its plot. ReCore takes place roughly 200 years in the future, but even that fact is hidden behind a casual joke in one of the many audio logs players will be collecting. While audio log-based stories have certainly been successful in the past (just take a look at Bioshock), ReCore just feels like it needs a better driving force in the plot besides collectibles that you may or may not find.
To put the plot in terms of gameplay, you follow an arrow that eventually points you to the leader of the corrupted Corebots. Without the logs, the story is unfortunately nonexistent. With the logs, it only becomes a mildly interesting Sci-Fi story with a couple of obvious twists.
Fortunately, for those of you looking for a good narrative, the characters are definitely a selling point. Joule, while a little wooden sometimes, is definitely an interesting character. You learn quite a lot about her and her motivation to work on Far Eden through letters from her father that can be found across the map. In fact, her father is arguably more interesting character as many of the letters reflect on his feelings about potentially never seeing his daughter again, while other audio logs featuring his voice discuss his own motivation for creating the Corebots.
Speaking of, the friendly Corebots are easily the best characters in the game. Mack, Seth, and Duncan are the three main corebots you will be spending your time with, and each one has their own unique personality. Despite not speaking outside of a few bleeps and bloops, each companion is beautifully brought to life through top-notch animation and clearly represented motivation. That’s pretty damn commendable for characters that, on paper, have zero presence otherwise.
Gameplay-wise, ReCore also shines brightly. Despite being a shooter, the focus of combat is on movement. From the beginning, Joule can double jump and dash, both of which will be necessary to avoid enemy attacks. Most fights require players to just lock on and shoot, but these traversal options really spice up combat in a neat way. On top of that, there is a simple color-coding system that allows Joule to fire correctly colored lasers at corresponding monsters with a simple tap of the d-pad. Each companion is also color-coded and can be ordered to attack using their “type” advantages if need be. Color blind players won’t have to worry either, as each enemy has a convenient arrow next to their health bar to indicate which direction on the d-pad is their weakness.
Unfortunately, any sense of greatness ReCore possesses at the beginning of the game is quickly lost in the end. Despite being a short adventure, there are many bugs and gameplay decisions that consistently hinder your general flow through the story, potentially doubling the time you’d expect to complete the game in. None of these bugs are more annoying than the absolutely abysmal loading times on the Xbox One version. It can take over two minutes just to load a small area. The game regularly encourages you to go back to your ship and upgrade you robots with various blueprints that you’ve found in your adventures. While this upgrade system is both mechanically and visually rewarding, Xbox players will retch at the thought when it means you have to teleport into Joule’s home and back out, a process that can take nearly five minutes just in load times alone. Other bugs are prevalent as well, including multiple checkpoints that kill you upon respawning, prompting complete game reloads, and objective markers pointing you in the direction of areas in the beginning of the game.
Now, obviously the bugs can be patched. Microsoft has even released statements saying they are working on fixing the game. So, eventually that won’t be an issue. However, even the most heavy duty of patches can’t fix the game’s main issue: progression. Players will have to collect Prismatic Cores, the magical macguffin of ReCore, and level up Joule in order to proceed through the game’s various and literal doors. Many areas are gated off with arbitrary requirements that get progressively harder and harder to reach. While early on you will generally have enough Cores and a high enough level through general play, ReCore quickly turns into a major grind. To put this in perspective, the final dungeon of the game only requires 20 cores to enter. In order to finish said dungeon, you will need more than twice as many cores to get through the final boss’ door. While 100% completion is required to finish the game, you will get pretty close doing the absolute minimum.
Unfortunately, the “easiest” way to get these cores is through side dungeons, which often yield two cores- one for completing the dungeon and one for performing one of three objectives that reoccur throughout all side dungeons. It quickly became apparent to me that the only objective worth completing was the one that rewarded me with a core, yet the rewards are seemingly random your first time through, so it can take two or three runs of the same dungeon before you have gotten both cores. Outside of side dungeons, there are also Metroidvania-style interactions that can occur in the world map, like having Duncan smash a rock or Mack dig up buried treasure. While not nearly as painful as going through the dungeons, it can be just as time consuming when you consider there is no mini map and items only appear on the map menu after you have gotten close to them.
It is also worth mentioning that while ReCore is advertised as the first Play Anywhere game, owners of the physical copy do not get to enjoy the luxuries of the PC version. Only the digital version of the game is Play Anywhere. As someone with a computer powerful enough to run this game, it felt like a sadly missed point that I could not switch over to the PC version and avoid the issues plaguing the console edition just because I chose to buy a physical copy.
ReCore is an incredibly promising title. Its characters are rich and entertaining, and its combat is a mostly satisfying experience. But, even after an eventual patch to fix the load times on the Xbox One, it will still be half a good game and half an incredibly boring grind. I would love to see a continuation of ReCore and how Armature and Comcept address these issues.. I want to see these characters again in the future. But, for now, I can’t really recommend anything beyond renting the game just to see the little good that is there.
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