It’s a game where the great parts shine through, like a shaft of light from under a cold, murky ocean. My time with ReCore felt like a duality: Great characters were offset by pacing issues; fantastic controls were offset by bland, uninspired landscapes and innovative gameplay mechanics were met with crippling bugs and deplorable loads. The end result is a title I feel passionate about, but disappointed with at the same time.
Maybe this is what parenting is like.
In ReCore, you play as Joule Adams, engineer and colonist of the Far Eden program. As earth began to succumb to plague, human colonists and intelligent robots, known as corebots, were launched to the planet Far Eden in order to terraform and prepare for colonization. While humanity went into cryosleep on board vessels orbiting the planet, a crack team of engineers would complete the terraforming process with the help of the corebots for the rest of humanity. When Joule wakes up almost one hundred years too late, she begins an investigation into why the corebots have begun malfunctioning and to find what happened to the rest of humanity. It’s an interesting plot laid out intelligently, but pacing issues diminish any possible payoff in the conclusion, a theme that runs through the whole of ReCore.
Interestingly, ReCore does a fantastic job at building character and personality into non-speaking, robotic characters. Joule meets a number of corebot pals that can accompany her on their treks through the barren deserts of Far Eden, and each is unique and well-realized in their own ways. Even the friendly teleporter robot does a great job at eliciting a smile every time you want to change location. Perhaps the central villain of the piece is best served by this attention to personality, as the fearful, hushed tones the other corebots use to describe it make it appear to be the embodiment of power and evil. Intelligent storytelling in the chance encounters between it and Joule, coupled with a handful of dark twists and turns creates a compelling villain even in times where the overall plot is let down by the myriad of pacing issues throughout.
The gameplay of ReCore is by far its biggest strength, and remains challenging and innovative all the way through. From the very start, Joule is able to both double jump and air dash, making maneuvering the world of Far Eden far easier. Combat is handled like a third person shooter, but as Joule can lock onto enemies with the left trigger, the shooting is arguably unimportant. Maneuvering the battlefield and avoiding the various elemental strikes of her enemies is tantamount to survival, as each attack can affect her in different ways. Enemies are usually colored to a specific type of attack, and this can be used to Joule’s advantage. By switching the ammo type of her rifle to match the color of the enemy, Joule can do extra damage. Joule’s corebot pal can also be used to attack enemies and draw attention away from herself long enough for her health to recharge. When switching from one corebot friend to another midway through battle, they land with a crash and deal damage to the enemies around them, affording Joule one more way of defeating her foes. When a rogue corebot is sufficiently damaged, Joule can use a grappling hook to try and yank the core out from within and defeat the creature, or destroy the corebot and gain upgrade parts instead. Even though it feels as though there is an overwhelming amount of abilities and tactics to stay on top of, combat remains fluid, responsive and exciting. Towards the latter parts of the game the combat scenarios ramp up in difficulty in such an organic way that by the time you finish, you’ll be craving for more.
Far Eden is giant, barren and almost completely open to Joule’s exploration. It’s no open world game; rather it’s akin to Hyrule Field from Ocarina of Time, with plenty of larger open areas to explore, connected by doorways from one location to another. Scattered throughout are numerous enemy encounters, hidden dungeons, new parts for your corebots and highly valued treasure chests, giving the player plenty of incentive to explore. Unfortunately, ReCore is a disappointingly bland looking game for the most part, with each main area consisting entirely of dry, white desert, an abundance of rocky cliffs, and a few scatterings of primitive metal buildings. Until the very end of the game, I was left hoping there would be a new location with an entirely new palette, but it was not to be. It’s worth noting that the side dungeons do have a different look, but you spend so little time in each that it’s too small of a salve to completely cure the wound.
Played on Xbox One, the bland world of Far Eden is compounded by issues with muddy textures and middle-range graphical quality. On Xbox One, ReCore looks like a late generation 360 game, or early launch Xbox One title. Despite its reduced price, when compared against most games that have released on the platform in the last year, there’s a decided qualitative difference. This is coupled with abysmal load times, well into the two minute time frame. Every load between location or after a death is far, far too long, and actively discourages the player from exploring – if the punishment for missing a jump is two minutes of downtime, the player will eventually become averse to trying in the first place. Unfortunate technical issues can have severe gameplay ramifications, and in this way ReCore has committed arguably its gravest error.
These issues, however, are somewhat mitigated when playing on a PC. As part of Microsoft’s Play Anywhere feature, a digital copy of ReCore bought for Xbox One also unlocks a copy for the Windows 10 store. As all Xbox One saves are already in the cloud, transferring from playing on console to PC could not be simpler. Though there have been gripes across the internet at large about how Windows 10 apps and games operate within the framework of PC players’ expectations, I found ReCore to be an easy, intuitive experience. There were enough graphics settings to let me customize my game the way I needed, and switching between playing on a controller or mouse and keyboard was as simple as tilting a joystick, clicking a mouse or touching a key. My PC is no powerhouse, but I was able to play ReCore at maximum settings and a great framerate with ease. Most importantly, however, I was able to reduce load times to mere seconds. Make no mistake: if you have the means, I highly suggest playing the PC version.
Unfortunately for ReCore, the issues don’t stop there. There’s a glaring pacing issue in the game, leaving the player feeling like we’re finishing the game at the top of the proverbial second act, rather than the third. There’s a glaring lack of content in the back half of the game, and a design trope that would be all too familiar to players who have completed The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Prismatic Cores, which Joule has been finding on occasion throughout the world suddenly become essential in a way that completely impedes your progress until you’ve scoured the world for far more than you would think would be necessary. Re-exploring these barren locations with the gigantic load times between each screen only sees to exacerbate the problems presented to players throughout the game and make them glaringly unmissable. This structural issue is felt across the entire game, even to the extent of leaving one last friendly corebot locked even at the end of the game. It’s a disappointing and unmissable error, and sours the experience.
In some ways, it’s heartbreaking that these issues plague ReCore. Under the thick layer of issues there’s a great game waiting to emerge, with innovative mechanics, a story worth seeing and a cast of characters that are both likeable and engaging, despite mostly not saying a word of English. The combat is fun and challenging, upgrading your corebots allows for a fantastic degree of customization and when played on PC, it’s a snappy, good looking modern title. However, with glaring pacing issues, deplorable load times on console and numerous bugs, it’s a tough title to recommend whole-heartedly. Make no mistake: You will enjoy your time with ReCore, however, it will be a bittersweet affair from beginning to end.
*ReCore was reviewed using an Xbox One code, as provided by the publisher.*