Up until this week, ReCore's true nature was shrouded in secrecy, but I've now not only been hands on with the game, but have spoken with its director, Mark Pacini. Here's what I learned about ReCore.
Terraforming in a robot-dependent future
ReCore takes place on of Far Eden, a far-off planet being terraformed to prepare for human habitation. The game's main character, Joule, works for the company tasked with re-engineering the planet's atmosphere. At the beginning of ReCore, Joule has awoken to begin the start of her shift, only to find something has gone horribly wrong. The company's security systems and robotic population have become hostile, and Joule vows to discover the reason.
Without a doubt, ReCore's world is mysterious and beautiful, but it also deadly.
ReCore takes place in a gorgeous world littered with dungeons. Game Director Mark Pacini mentioned that the game will feature a multitude of dungeon environments attached to an expansive, arid desert landscape, complete with impressive sand physics and lighting effects. The region, known as Shifting Sands, experiences dynamic weather sand storms, which dramatically alter the terrain in their wake. Shifting Sands also appeared to have considerable vertical exploration, with platforming opportunities far above where our demo took place. Expect a lot of reasons to explore.
While my E3 demo was shown running on a high-end PC, I was told that the crisp, detailed visuals were indicative of the Xbox One version as well. Joule was lovingly detailed, complete with exo-suit mechanic enhancements and interesting weaponry. The enemies we've seen so far seem equally as impressive in their design, with many insect-like inspirations. I feel that Joule's companion robots steal the show, bringing a warming, R2D2 / BB8 vibe to the equation. They communicate in endearing bleeps and bloops, which Joule translates with her responses.
Without a doubt, ReCore's world is mysterious and beautiful, but it also deadly.
Dueling with Joule
When it comes to combat, ReCore focuses on movement and timing over precision aiming and twitch skills. Joule has an aerial dash and can double jump, and combining those abilities is crucial to avoiding some of the ReCore's hazards and vicious enemies. Some of the sequences I played required careful but forgiving platforming skills, and certain types of enemies spew dangerous area of effect attacks that promote the skillful use of the game's dodging abilities.
Joule herself wields a machine gun, and while Armature weren't ready to go into too much detail about the game's RPG mechanics, the two different demos I spend time with showed Joule with different equipment across both builds. Mark Pacini did say that both Joule and her menagerie of robotic companions would be upgradable through the game's RPG progression systems, and they'd reveal more about those systems at a later date.
Speaking of robotic companions, as you might've guessed, ReCore is all about whimsical, mechanical creatures. All sorts of robots have different roles within the game: as allies, as enemies, and even passive environmental hazards. At one point during our demo, Joule's K-9 robot Mack got hoisted into the air by a kind of loader robot, who then carried him off to another location to facilitate part of the tutorial.
Joule has a special tool called an extractor, which allows her to interact with the environment to do things like open doors, but also to extract the cores from hostile robots. While Armature weren't prepared to go into much detail about exactly what those cores would do for you, they did indicate that players would have to make decisions between killing enemies outright to obtain certain resources, or extracting their cores. It sounded as though both options feed the game's progress in some way.
On the topic of killing enemies, I was lucky enough to play ReCore myself for a few minutes after the Xbox briefing. Armature purposely laid out a demo build that didn't feature a tutorial, perhaps to gauge how different people play. Initially, I played very poorly.
I realized that there was much more to the combat mechanics than I'd gleaned from the trailers.
ReCore has snappy auto-aim by holding down one trigger, and you can easily cycle through targets by moving the joystick. To start with, I thought the combat didn't feel particularly engaging, but I was only fighting instakill wasp-like robots. When the real enemies showed up, I found myself dying repeatedly, and I realized that there was much more to the combat mechanics than I'd gleaned from the trailers.
Mark Pacini explained that ReCore's combat is less about aiming and more about timing and movement. Joule's attacks create combos which increase her damage multiplier. When I was first playing, I was just holding down the trigger, allowing my bullet spread to get far too broad to land any hits. You have to take a more considered approach to shooting, paying attention not to let your ammunition charge to deplete fully, and not to allow your bullets to spread out of range.
Additionally, enemies are color-coded, and Joule can switch the color of her weapon using the D-pad. Doing this grants Joule a damage bonus, forcing you to swap weapon type mid-combat in response to the different kinds of threats on-screen. At first, I wasn't sure that this was a particularly fun or necessary mechanic, but later I discovered that the different colors are in fact element based, and can produce different effects. Red is fire, and blue is lightning, for example, and the different colors are unlocked at certain story intervals throughout the game.
Matching your weapon's element with your enemies' will increase your damage output against that corresponding color, and allow you to deplete through layers of their health bars. Once you've broken a segment of an enemy's health, Joule can capitalize and deal double damage both with her auto-fire, and a powerful charge shot. It reminisces of Super Metroid, a franchise Armature is more than familiar with.
Armature noted that combos would also unlock other attacks, but the studio isn't ready to go into more detail at this time. However, Armature did allow us to check out a couple of Joule's robot companions, and how they feed into combat.
Once I'd mastered the layered combat techniques present in the demo, I found ReCore's combat to be incredibly satisfying.
As you deal damage, your mechanical friends will gain charges for what ReCore describes as a Lethal attack. Lethals are powerful abilities utilized by your active robot companion, and just like Joule's main attack, your robots are also color coded as well. Swapping them mid-combat is a must if you want to maximize your damage.
Joule's famous K-9 companion, Mack, rushes the enemy and deals large amounts of damage when commanded, with a Y press. And Joule's spider-like companion, Seth, can attack from range, and help Joule solve some of the game's platforming puzzles with his ability to walk on walls.
Once I'd mastered the layered combat techniques present in the demo, I found ReCore's combat to be incredibly satisfying, almost like a shooter version of the Arkham games, where your combo score enhances your lethality.
Towards the end of our guided demo, Joule was attacked by a much larger, spider-like robot called Iron Fang, that was prismatic in color. Mark Pacini noted that these types of enemies can only be killed using the game's core extraction mechanic – which allows you to perform a quick tug-of-war mini game to rip the power source out of a weakened enemy. The core extraction can also be performance instantly when certain combat conditions are met, allowing Joule to eliminate foes more quickly on the battlefield. Performing an instant core extraction was very satisfying and rewarding, and felt similar to melee executions in other titles. While I performed most of my instant extractions by accident, the ones that were intentional felt well-earned.
It certainly seemed as though ReCore could get quite hectic and challenging, given the multitude of enemies that attack all at once, and all of their different projectiles and radial hazards. Mark Pacini said that Armature wanted the game to be accessible at first, but require more thoughtful play as the game progressed. Joule's charge shot became a necessity quite early in the demo, as certain enemies produce shields and regenerate without the charge shot's powerful response.
Most of the game's combat took place in dungeons for my demos, which are connected to large, sprawling overworlds. Those areas are crammed with secrets, and Armature seemed happy to acknowledge ReCore's Metroid influences. ReCore is a non-linear game; that is full of opportunities to explore. Mack himself has the ability to dig in the ground for treasure, and other companion skills will help you chase down those secrets as well.
If ReCore is so large, so fun, and so well presented, why is it at a lower price point than a standard video game release? I asked Mark Pacini to explain why this is the case.
My preconceptions have always been that games priced at $40 rather than $60 at launch must indicate some quality compromise, but honestly, I did not get a sense of that from ReCore. It looks gorgeous, combat was satisfying and surprisingly complex, the RPG systems, EXP progression, non-linear exploration, and other mechanics Armature hinted at made it sound like a solid proposition for any core gamer.
Mark said that the idea behind the pricing was accessibility, they wanted to ensure as many people as possible could pick up and play the game. Indeed, ReCore is part of the Xbox Play Anywhere program, which allows copies of the game to roam between Xbox One and Windows 10.
I didn't believe Mark at first (sorry), so I asked about the game's length, given that ReCore will be an entirely single-player affair. I figured that perhaps the reason ReCore is cheaper could be due to a short campaign, after all.
He told me a story about how he used to describe Metroid Prime's game length to journalists, and grossly underestimate it in the process. He said ReCore's campaign should last around 8 to 12 hours, but given his history of underestimation, it could be even longer. When you take into consideration the game's non-linear nature and the opportunities for exploration, I expect that at the very least completionists could get more than that from ReCore.
Believe in ReCore
ReCore might not be launching with all the pomp and ceremony of a big budget blockbuster, but I not only enjoyed my time with it, I already find myself wanting to go back and play more. As Mark mentioned in our demonstration, Joule knows more about the game's world than the player does at those early stages of the game, and I was genuinely intrigued by the game's setting and plot direction. What exactly are those cores? Why have the robots turned hostile?
ReCore ultimately left me with more questions than answers, but after going hands-on, I'm more than hungry to seek the answers to those questions. ReCore is a beautiful game, with an enticing, but mysterious setting, reactive, satisfying combat and above all else, unbearably cute robots. ReCore is definitely one to keep your eye on as we rapidly head towards its September 13th launch date.
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