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A sci-fi third person shooter/platformer/collect-a-thon isn’t something you see every day on the Xbox One, so I went into ReCore with high hopes. Some of those hopes were met by its exciting action and strong platforming segments, while others were let down by lackluster exploration and a hunt for collectibles that often turned into a grind. Even if it didn’t quite live up to it’s full potential, ReCore has something to offer almost everyone, and is an interesting addition to game library sorely in need of unique ideas.
The game kicks off with some solid high-concept sci-fi storytelling: Joule Adams, a colonist sent to populate the planet of Far Eden, wakes from centuries of suspended animation to find that something has gone horribly wrong. The terraforming process has been halted, and the “Corebots” that were supposed to be building the equipment and habitats needed by the human settlers have gone rogue. With no other humans in sight, Joule sets of with her own corebot, Mack, to get the terraforming project back on track.
Despite the evocative premise, ReCore doesn’t place much emphasis on story. There are few characters, and none are particularly well developed, though the corebots Joule allies with on her mission do have surprisingly distinct personalities for robots that never speak. The plot is essentially just a series of journeys that take Joule around Far Eden and into conflict with Victor, the generically evil leader of the rogue corebots. What little plot progression there is is dragged out by lengthy sections of exploration and game-play, resulting in a game that feels almost entirely plotless. Even if it’s not award-winning storytelling, it does give you an excuse to fight lots of evil robots, and what more can you ask for than that?
Fighting robots in ReCore is all about color matching. On the face of it, that sounds pretty straightforward: It doesn’t get much simpler than “shoot the red enemy with the red gun” after all. Look deeper though, and you’ll find a surprisingly complex and action-packed experience with a lot of moving parts. Your main weapon is a rifle with three different firing modes (red, blue, and yellow), corresponding to the three common enemy colors. Each mode also has a charge shot which breaks enemy shields and inflicts status effects. Once you’ve worn an enemy down enough, you can then use your other weapon, an extractor rope designed to pull out a corebots AI core. Using the rope launches a brief tug-of-war mini game in which you attempt to yank out the core without breaking your rope. Succeed, and you’ll not only instantly destroy the enemy, you’ll also gain a core that can later be used to power up your own corebots. Fail, and you’ll take damage and flinch briefly, which can be deadly in a tight situation. Keeping cool and judging the right time for a core extraction is vital, but far from easy given the fast pace of combat and the variety of enemy types you’ll have to deal with.
As if keeping track of colors, charge shots, and core extractions wasn’t enough, you’ll also have help from your own corebots. These helpful critters can operate autonomously, attacking and distracting your foes, but a quick button tap will command them to unleash “Lethals”, powerful but slow charging attacks that can devastate enemies. Corebots have a color affinity just like your gun, so you’ll want to be aware which enemies you’re sending them against to make sure their making the most of their Lethals. Matters are complicated somewhat by the fact that you can only bring two corebots with you at a time, so there’s always going to be one color of enemy thats resistant to your robotic friends.
With so many factors to consider, combat in ReCore rewards thinking on your feet and responding quickly to changing situations. It’s substantially more mentally challenging than many similar games, but it’s also fast paced and intense, with a focus on close range combat against an array of towering robotic foes. Fights in Recore are fun and exciting, but not without their problems, first among which is that unfair deaths are not uncommon. Joule isn’t particularly sturdy, and the enemy corebots have Lethals just as devastating as your own, so an attack from behind by an enemy you lost track of in the chaos of ReCore’s often cluttered combats can, and frequently will, spell your doom. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of a good method for dodging enemy attacks. There are no dodge rolls to be found in ReCore, only a rather imprecise feeling boost dash. Still, once you’ve mastered the situational awareness that the game demands and learned to keep the enemy in sight at all times, these cheap deaths abate, so you could see it as just part of the learning curve.
There’s more to life than just shooting things of course. There’s also jumping, and the platforming sections in ReCore are fine examples of the genre. Armed with a double jump, an aerial boost, and a little help from your corebot friends, you’ll traverse all the usual platforming hazards: tiny platforms, moving platforms, disappearing platforms, platforms guarded by lasers, and everything else you would expect. Jumping feels responsive and accurate, and the challenge level is high but fair, making these sections a joy to play through. The only real problem with the platforming is that there isn’t enough of it. Until the final level, which features an array of fiendish jumping challenges, the platforming segments are mostly short and few in number. Some also suffer from level design oversights that allow clever players to simply skip over sections that should have been challenging, though some people will doubtless see that as a feature rather than a bug.
So far, so good. Combat is fun, platforming is great, what more could you want? Unfortunately, ReCore has one more element: exploration. Traversing the world of Far Eden requires you to find and collect a substantial number of Prismatic Cores, shiny collectibles that serve the same time-honored role as Jiggies, Power Stars, and Golden Bananas. While collecting all of those was fun and exciting, however, collecting Prismatic Cores feels like a chore. Some are simply found lying around in the environment, waiting for you to make the trek through ReCore’s overly large worlds to pick them up. Others are gated behind obstacles that require a specific corebot to overcome, requiring a trip back Joule’s home base, and a lengthy loading screen, to switch party members.
The more fun Cores can be found in the dungeons, short but challenging tests of either combat prowess or platforming skills. Sadly, even here there are problems, as many dungeons are locked and require power cells to open. How to find power cells? Simple: wander aimlessly around near the dungeon entrance until you stumble upon their often hard to find hiding places. These scavenger hunts are about as far from fun as you can get, and really kill the game’s pacing. It doesn’t help that the game doesn’t start making really major demands for Prismatic Cores until near the end, turning the climax into a slog.
There are other reasons to explore besides collecting Prismatic Cores. You’ll find blueprints and parts to upgrade your corebots, health boosts to make Joule a little less vulnerable, and enemies to kill for experience, which powers up both Joules rifle and the corebots. None of this is particularly fun or interesting though, so you’re better of doing as little as you can get away with to complete the game.
It might help if you had some more varied environments to look at. ReCore takes place mostly in deserts, ruins, and caves, and while they’re certainly very pretty deserts, ruins, and caves, it’s hard not to get tired of them eventually. A late game trip to Eden Tower, a sci-fi wonderland of neon and lasers, does add some much needed variety, but the game desperately needs more. Perhaps all the environmental creativity went into the character and enemy designs, because these are great. The hostile corebots have a unique aesthetic that combines sci-fi sophistication with jagged edges and razor sharp claws, while the friendly bots have sleeker, less intimidating, designs. With color being so important to the game-play, ReCore eschews the bleak, grey, tones often seen in big-budget games in favor of a more vibrant pallet, making the game feel very lively and visually striking.
ReCore is a game whose reach somewhat exceeded its grasp. Had it stuck to being about jumping and shooting, it would have been a great game and an easy recommendation. Unfortunately, the desire to include a huge world to explore and hunt collectibles in resulted in a procession of lengthy and tedious exploration segments that bog the game down and kill the pacing. If you have the patience to get past those sections though, you’ll find a fun action/platformer with a surprising amount of depth.
ReCore was played on Xbox One