Microsoft’s ReCore should be an awesome game. Developed by Comcept and Armature Studio for the Xbox One and PC, the dungeon-crawling action platformer with the framework of a relatively open world sounds like a great deal of fun, especially when it’s all wrapped up in a compelling story. There are moments when all of the elements work together to reach some epic highs. Sadly, ReCore‘s sloppy combat mechanics, odd pace, grindy puzzles, and graphics issues diminish the overall experience and keep it mired in the land of just okay.
In ReCore, you step into the boots of Joule Adams, a colonist who awakens from cryogenic slumber on Far Eden, an alien planet that humans have fled to after abandoning Earth. Far Eden was supposed to be terraformed by large pylons before you wake up, but Joule discovers that the project is far from completion. There have also been complications. The pylons aren’t working, the Corebots that should be maintaining the atmospheric processing units have all gone wonky, and Joule is apparently the only one awake in a habitation unit without power, giving her the intimidating job of planetary mechanic. Thankfully, she has a robotic sidekick (a most helpful dog-like Corebot named Mack) that has avoided corruption and has a number of useful features – like charging enemies and searching for buried clues – to help her in her arduous quest.
Getting around the desolate landscape of Far Eden is not easy for a human being, which is why Joule is outfitted with an exo-suit that enables her to fall from great heights, as well as the ability to double jump and dash using thrusters in her boots. Joule is also armed with a rifle that fires pulses of energy (ammo depletes with continuous use, but reloads automatically after a brief cooldown). The energy blasts are white at first, but as the game progresses the rifle can be upgraded to fire different colours of energy (blue, red, and yellow), each of which has a distinct effect on targets. Each energy colour does more damage to robots of the same colour, which adds some strategy to the game’s combat encounters.
Joule’s other gadget is an extractor, a grappling-hook that she uses to pull Cores from various containers and creatures that she encounters. Cores are vital because they power the robots and machinery of Far Eden, and the process of extraction is like a mini game. You wait until your target is weak enough, and then fire the grappling hook into the core and pull using the right stick. It sounds simple, but there are some nuances that make it a somewhat challenging and engaging mini-game. I’ll let you discover those for yourself.
The game’s mechanics are fine, but it’s the story that sets the stage for an interesting experience. While Joule is without human company, she does receive messages from her father, one of the main scientists who worked on the Far Eden terraforming project and the Corebots. The messages serve as a narration of sorts, filling in the mystery and explaining why Joule is on Far Eden and why nobody else seems to be around. There are also messages from other parties scattered across the planet that provide further details about what might have happened during Joule’s hibernation.
In that regard the game takes full advantage of its sandbox structure. Like many sandbox games, exploration plays a key role in the overall make-up of ReCore, and there are plenty of places to investigate. Primary missions are clearly marked and serve to forward the story, with difficulty ramping up at a reasonable rate. However, side quests are a boon if you want to find blueprints to upgrade your weapon and sidekicks (you will find more than one and can switch between them). Gathering goodies will help in your quest to craft the best squad possible. The side quests are quite well-designed and they make it much easier to progress through the game, so realistically, a few optional dungeons should be completed in each area.
So why is ReCore not as awesome as it should be? It’s not because of the narrative. The story is well-written and interesting, with bits of the ongoing plot revealed through narration and audio recordings as Joule explores Far Eden. The sidekicks are similarly not to blame. They’re well-designed with unique abilities and personalities and the interactions between the sidekicks and the main character are adorable (think Iron Giant and Hogarth). The spectacle definitely adds to the game, and there are fantastic cinematics and a gorgeous landscape that convey a grand sense of scale and strange beauty.
The problem is in the binding that ties all those elements together. The game’s boundaries seem poorly defined, with some obstacles that are supposedly insurmountable except when they’re not. There are many surfaces that look large enough to stand on that become intangible when you jump on them, and the rules about quicksand were equally inconsistent. I fell into quicksand and easily escaped once, but I met with failure every other time I tried to repeat that feat (there were many failures).
ReCore also struggles with communication and player education. While the tutorial is decent, some of the quick tips are too quick, disappearing while you still need them. Combat is both routine and twitchy, with some scenarios that are impossible to complete on the first attempt due to unreasonable enemy placement. Challenge is welcome, but it feels unfair when things makes no sense, and the fact that combat is basic and repetitive only makes the game more frustrating. To make matters worse, frame-rate issues plague some of the fights, making it difficult to track enemies. The issues are severe enough to make the game merely good (and if you want to be nitpicky, a lot of the platforming puzzles are boring and the main character’s voice-acting could be a little more realistic).
ReCore is one of those games that frustrates me to no end. It does so many things well that it’s a genuinely a compelling prospect, with a strong female lead, useful sidekicks, great-looking levels, and well-designed dungeons . Unfortunately, there are just as many little annoyances that drag it down, from repetitive combat and poor collision detection to graphical hiccups and boring puzzles. The end result is a game that falls short of its potential, which is disappointing because you want it to be better.
Having said that, if you’re looking for something fun and have the patience to deal with a few issues, ReCore might be a good title to pick up for the Xbox One. Just don’t expect to finish it in a marathon session because you’ll probably need a break if you end up throwing your controller at the wall.