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ReCore Review: A Fun and Charming Mess.
Earth’s population is dwindling. The Dust Devil plague has swept across the globe taking out a large percentage of the planet’s inhabitants. Humanity has formed a desperate plan in hopes of saving what remains of our species. Far Eden. The nearest inhabitable planet. As the human race plans to leave Earth forever, they send terraforming machines in advance to transform Far Eden into a more hospitable environment. These machines will be run by corebots and a select handful of individuals who’ve been specially trained to handle anything that may go wrong. Or at least, so they thought.
In ReCore, the player takes on the role of Joule Adams, an optimistic young woman who was one of the early colonists sent to oversee the Terraforming. Always at her side is Mac, Joules faithful K-9 corebot companion. After waking from their cryo-cycle, it’s immediately apparent that something’s not right. Far Eden’s terraforming should have been complete, yet the planet is still a desolate wasteland ravaged by deadly storms. So now it’s up to the two of them to figure out what happened and get everything back on track.
I fell in love with these two characters right away. They are both extremely likable, charming, and fun to play as. This holds especially true for Mac. Whether he was digging up loot, barking, or just itching a scratch behind his ear, he never failed to be adorable. These aspects are things that ReCore has in spades. Lots of charm, and loaded with fun. Unfortunately, it is one of the few things done well in this game.
Time would have benefited ReCore greatly, for it definitely needs another layer of polish. It’s clear that shortcuts were made to abide by a rushed time schedule. Visuals popping in and out view, and very dull textures were an all too common occurrence throughout. Far Eden is a desert planet, which can make it difficult for designers to add any kind of artistic flair to the environment. That being said, however, when looking out across a plain it often felt as if I was staring at a blank canvas. Falling through the map, certain gameplay mechanics not working properly, and enemies simply disappearing are just a handful of the bugs that plague the experience. Top all that off with excruciatingly long load times, and this charming game can quickly become a frustrating mess.
Mack is not the only companion corebot that pair’s up with Joule. As the player progresses through the campaign, Seth, a spider-like corebot, and Duncan, who has the characteristics of an ape, also join the team. Luckily, these two robot buddies possess nearly the same amount of charm that Mac has and were a welcome addition to the squad. Each Corebot assists Joule in their own way. Mac can find loot and other items buried beneath the sand. Seth will carry you along as he crawls and climbs scaffolds that are often just floating in the air (letting that one slide), and finally, Duncan smashes obstacles that are either blocking your way or hiding some much sought after treasure. Eventually, another Core-Frame can be unlocked that will assist Joule in hovering. This also allows the player to switch cores around to different frames (meaning I could put Macs core in Duncan’s frame if I wanted). Each core has a unique attack within different individual core-frames, and it was fun experimenting and finding which one suited me best.
Combat is hectic in all the right ways. A lock on mechanic is used that allows the player to quickly change targets on the fly. The enemies you’ll fight all have a certain color core (red, blue and yellow being the mains), and as Joule explores the planet, she discovers attachments for her rifle to match those colors. When fighting multiple opponents, switching from red to blue to yellow while commanding your corebot and staying on the move made for a very challenging yet rewarding system. When defeating an enemy, one could choose to destroy them and collect the scrap that’s later used for crafting, or they could extract the core to use as upgrades for Mac, Seth or Duncan. Having this choice forces the player to think and prioritize during combat, adding another welcomed layer to the gameplay.
Platforming has a strong presence throughout the campaign. Several sections were clearly designed to put Joule’s impressive jumping skill to good use and had little to no practical application otherwise. This may come across as lazy game design, but its effect was undeniable…..some extremely difficult and enjoyable gameplay. The controls were responsive and intuitive, and barely ever allowed for cheap deaths. In the final stretch of the game, however, the player is over-loaded with platforming segments that seriously outstayed their welcome, and had me begging for them to end.
Both Joule’s rifle and the corebots will level-up when experience is gained. This is done by simply defeating enemies. Each level-up increases the damage output for the rifle and raises the corebot’s armor, energy and damage statistics. These statistics can be further raised by using extracted cores from defeated enemies and applying crafting materials to unlock blueprints. In order to level up Joule’s max health, a traditional pick-up is all that needs to be found. This is a somewhat lackluster system that’s short on customization and ingenuity. No further attacks can be unlocked and no movement upgrades attained. Also, there are no max inventory increases, which forces Joule to make repeated trips back to her crawler to cash in all her loot. Although the combat and platforming elements are great, having little to no variation on this system throughout the entire game eventually led to severe repetition and loss of interest.
Some simple gameplay mechanics that we’ve all grown accustomed to are surprisingly not present. There are several instances where you’ll want to explore off the beaten path or reach a landmark noted on your main map, but will be unassisted by custom way points or an on-screen mini-map. These omissions are head scratching, for they both have become staples in the action-adventure genre. Also, the user interface for crafting and leveling up corebots is in desperate need for shortcuts. If the player is trying to craft a blueprint but is lacking a few materials, they will have to take note of what they need, back out of their crafting screen, enter their inventory menu, and combine old materials there. Why wouldn’t they just let you do this on the crafting screen? Furthermore, after leveling up and building more and more blueprints, one would think that you’d be able to scrap older, now inefficient ones to make space. Not the case. They just sit in your inventory, mucking up the screen. These inconveniences dramatically hinder gameplay and turns what should be enjoyable segments into frustrating obstacles.
With ReCore’s wonderful story backdrop, Comcept had an excellent opportunity to tell an interesting and unique narrative. This opportunity however simply wasn’t taken. The only story that gleams from the game is from a few short cinematics, and some audio diaries found lying around the world. With these diaries, story elements could easily be missed by a somewhat more impatient gamer who doesn’t have much interest in poking around. Even if all these diaries are found, they hardly answer any of the questions raised by the events occurring on Far Eden. My hopes to at least have a satisfying conclusion were crushed by a frustratingly short cinematic, which only raised more questions (in a bad way) and answered none. Being that this is a single player, sci-fi-centric game, I expected a much stronger story and was greatly disappointed in what was delivered.
ReCore is the victim of a rushed product that was full of potential. Its Core elements (pun intended) are great with excellent combat, platforming, and an overall charm that’s simply off the charts. These elements alone can still make for a fun and enjoyable experience, but one can’t help but be disappointed at all the other marks missed, and what could have been.