There's an incredible game developer pedigree that feeds into ReCore. It was penned by Joseph Staten, behind the original Halo trilogy, with designs from Keiji Inafune, known for his work at Capcom. Armature developed the game, pouring in their expertise from the wildly popular Metroid Prime series.
ReCore has enjoyed a considerable amount of hype and high expectations, tempered somewhat by the below average cost of entry. A question of quality hangs over games that ship below the usual retail price for a new, big publisher title, but I'm happy to report that ReCore's price point speaks to the game's value, rather than any lack of ambition.
Setting and Story
ReCore takes place in a futuristic universe where humanity has mastered space travel. The game's protagonist, the wonderfully designed Joule, is part of a team on their way to Far Eden, a planet being prepped for terraforming (the process of using machines to make a dead planet capable of sustaining life). A vicious Dust Devil virus plagues humanity back on Earth and procuring new worlds forms part of the game's desperate and tragic plot.
Unfortunately for Joule, she awakes from cryo-sleep to discover her team missing, and her robotic workforce gone. The varied Corebots and Corebytes have gone rogue, and for reasons unknown to Joule, seek her destruction at every opportunity.
I'm going to leave spoilers firmly out of this review because the mystery of ReCore is one of the greatest pillars of the game's delivery. ReCore's story unravels through cut-scenes, narrative voice-overs, and audio logs that have been scattered around the game's world. As intriguing as ReCore's story is, it's not the best part of its narrative.
Joule's relationship with her robotic companions is enthralling. Each Core has a unique personality, and the way Joule interacts with them speaks of a world where A.I. is commonplace. There's undoubtedly a Star Wars vibe embedded deep in ReCore. Her relationship with Mack, Seth and Duncan is unashamedly reminiscent of the likes of R2D2 and BB-8 — these robots communicate in a machine language that Joule can understand, but it isn't translated for you. Despite the Corebot's lack of human speech and facial expressions, they impart a tremendous amount of personality through their behavior and interactions with Joule. ReCore's characters are easily among the greatest we've seen this generation so far.
The teams at Comcept and Armature did a fantastic job in bringing these characters to life, instantly making me feel emotionally invested in their plight. I only wish we were given more scenes to show how they interact with Joule and each other, because they represent some of the game's greatest moments.
Visuals and Design
I want to get this out of the way first: ReCore doesn't come across like a big budget game. From the few in-game cut-scenes to the game's desolate environments, it's quite clear to me now why this isn't a fully priced title. The overworld, in its entirety, takes place in a barren, almost featureless desert. ReCore's environments lack variety in a way that reminded me of Mass Effect 1's planetary landings. Enormous expanses of barren terrain, albeit dotted with dungeons, roaming robots, with a smorgasbord of opportunities to uncover secrets.
ReCore's landscapes are at least conceptually impressive. Gigantic, abandoned terraforming platforms rend the ground, monolithic alien rock formations arc through the sky, and the game's incredible sound track adds a sobering, lonely atmosphere to the game's extra-terrestrial wastes. The problem isn't with the environment's design, per se, it's just the lack of variety, the sense of copy and paste, and the creeping feeling that ReCore was developed by a small team on a comparatively small budget.
Beyond the incredible character designs, and the detailed — and often harrowing — enemy robot models, ReCore's environment sports some pretty disappointing texturing at times. Either there are issues with the game's engine that prevent some items from fully loading in, or it's symptomatic of designing a massive overworld on a budget. ReCore is not The Witcher 3's detailed open world, complete with sweeping, dynamic weather systems or day and night cycles, but it instead an incredibly vertical playground, designed to play second fiddle to the game's rapturously fun gameplay.
Sure, ReCore might be dull to look at, but at least from a gameplay standpoint, the areas are well designed. There are tons of ways to climb, swoop, soar, leap and platform your way to extreme heights, vacuuming up all the secrets and loot as you go. The pleasure of figuring out how to traverse the terrain, how to get up to that secret just out of reach makes me feel that the developers deserve praise for investing well in what matters most in ReCore: its gameplay.
Bot blasting, core hunting, Joule duelling
ReCore's gameplay sports some excellent concepts that fill the RPG gap in the Xbox One exclusive line-up, but the game isn't without flaws.
When it comes to pure combat, ReCore absolutely shines. ReCore is one of the most fun third-person shooters I've ever played. The synergy between Joule and her robotic companions permeates every layer of play. In combat, it's not enough to simply lock on and hold down the trigger. Joule has to constantly perform double jumps, aerial dashes and capitalize on stunned enemy states to survive. Towards the end of the game, combat becomes so utterly hectic, that refining your playstyle, and developing your Corebot's stats and equipment becomes even more crucial.
At the start of the game, I was preparing to write that ReCore was too patronizingly easy, but as you progress, that sense of ease washes away quickly. Overcoming ReCore's most complicated moments is an incredibly rewarding experience, as it tests your reflexes, and both your capacity to plan ahead and to react to the evolving state of play.
When you master ReCore's addictive combat, you will find it difficult to put down.
ReCore's enemies are color-coded. Using the directional pad, you can swap the effect and color of your weapon to match the core of the enemies you are battling. Red causes fire damage and causes targets to burn, blue causes lightning damage and stuns, and so on, dealing more damage to matching foes. As the game progresses, you will be faced with multiple types of enemies creating all manner of area hazards, creating highly demanding, but highly rewarding combat scenarios.
Every time an enemy loses a health segment, you gain a combo modifier. This can stack up extremely high, raising Joule's damage output. Timing charge shots — your companion bot's lethal attacks — to coincide with combo opportunities is what makes ReCore's combat so utterly fun. When you reach highest combo levels you'll be able to instantly rip the core out of an enemy, causing a slow motion instakill explosion, and it's pure satisfaction. When you master ReCore's addictive combat, you will find it difficult to put down.
ReCore is unreservedly an RPG. Enemies have levels, as does Joule's weapon, in addition to her Corebot companions. Not only that, but as you play you accrue all sorts of blueprints and loot items designed to help you develop your minion's capabilities. If you rush through the game without battling your way through the game's optional dungeons, without exploring the overworld, you will eventually hit a point where enemies become too strong for you to progress to the end of the story.
ReCore's dungeons are fun to explore, brimming with loot and opportunities to test your skills, but unlocking them can be very tedious.
ReCore has an open overworld, split into segments. Unlocking each section usually requires a story mission, which often comes with a new core robot complete with new tools needed to overcome new obstacles. ReCore has a Metroidvania vibe, which rewards players who backtrack to earlier areas to uncover secrets previously unavailable.
While exploring, you'll discover various types of dungeons. Traversal dungeons are platforming puzzles that come with additional rewards for speed and other side objectives, Arena dungeons force you to fight waves of enemies, and Adventure dungeons combine exploration, platforming, and battles into a more classic format. ReCore's dungeons are fun to explore, brimming with loot and opportunities to test your skills, but unlocking them can be, at times, very tedious.
Many of the game's dungeons require pick-ups to open, and those pick-ups can be scattered all over the place in an entirely random fashion. One optional dungeon I found required four Coreplugs to activate, but it was in the middle of a huge, huge desert. I spent an hour searching the vicinity, climbing cliffs and even digging holes with Mack, and still wasn't able to find the last plug required. Exploration fans will no doubt relish the challenge this presents, but until the information gets uploaded to the internet, if you're impatient, you might find yourself frustrated by the sense you're searching for robotic needles in a Sahara-sized haystack.
As much as I love Metroidvania gameplay, ReCore sports some odd design decisions that further hinder the format experience. You can only take two Corebots, and thus, two traversal tools with you at any one time. It makes for some frustrating exploration experiences. Far too often have I wandered for what feels like miles into the desert, only to discover I'm currently accompanied by the wrong Corebot for a particular puzzle, traversal or secret unlock.
You can teleport back to Joule's base at any time from the start menu to switch up your crew, but when you combine that with ReCore's long overworld load times and the fact you have to travel to a lot of these areas on foot, ReCore's exploration can be needlessly tedious. There's no story reason as far as I'm aware for Joule to be unable to take three Corebots, instead of two, with her at any one time, so this either feels like a glaring oversight or an unnecessary attempt to pad completion time by piling on travel.
They could have solved some of these issues by allowing you to make notes on the map perhaps, or at least suggesting to you which bots are needed for which areas, as there's no way to really know until you've spent 30 minutes fighting your way to get out there. Having to endure the additional load screens obnoxiously interrupts the flow of the game, and also forces you to leave robots behind that you might otherwise enjoy playing with in combat.
ReCore undoubtedly has an "old-school" vibe; there are shades of Megaman and Metroid throughout. It's wholly gameplay driven, moving narrative to the side in favor of pure 3D platforming, frenetic combat, RPG progression and exploration. Some of those old-school elements extend a little too far into the clunky territory, but for the most part I've found ReCore to be an incredibly rewarding experience that you can really sink your teeth into.
ReCore is the franchise Microsoft Studios needs
ReCore isn't a perfect game, but its setting, concept and characters are compelling enough in their own right. The core gameplay is sound, the combat is mesmerizingly addictive, and ReCore's aerial dashing, leaping, platforming gameplay is technically sound.
For all its flaws, I woke up this morning looking forward to playing more ReCore.
ReCore falls prey to heavy amounts of copy and paste, a couple of design quirks and technical issues, such as occasional frame rate dips and hefty load times, but Armature and Comcept are already working to fix some of these basic technical problems already.
- Aggressively addictive combat
- Intense platforming puzzles
- Rewarding RPG layer
- Great value
- Variety is on the low end
- Story content is lacking
- Minor design decisions hinder the experience
ReCore should also be praised for its value. For less than the typical "full price" of a AAA title, you get 10-15 hours of enduring gameplay — and much more if you're a completionist. You get fun, addictive combat, a deep customization and progression system, and a game that works across Xbox One and PC with a single license.
Despite its imperfections, ReCore is exactly the type of game I want Microsoft Studios to take seriously. ReCore leans on some beloved gameplay conventions while injecting injected some of its own, gloriously unique and fulfilling elements. The RPG layer provides boatloads of additional gameplay and the setting, story and characters are just something I want to see more of.
I feel like ReCore's greatest concepts may only find their potential in a sequel with a bigger team and a bigger budget, but considering RYSE, Sunset Overdrive, Quantum Break, and the various other new second-party developed one-shot IP Microsoft Studios has published in recent years, I'm afraid that we may never see it.
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