ReCore review impressions

September 16, 2016 by Steven Strom

An imaginative, scrappy action game lies underneath ReCore's robo-glitches.

I'm a fan of those wounded games. Your overly ambitious grand strategy games, your buggy, Eastern European RPGs, and those indies with hard-to-swallow gameplay hiding a stellar story: I've got a soft spot for it all.

The only difference between those games and ReCore is that here we have a first-party Microsoft game, created by two veteran developers (Comcept and Armature), as what seems to be positioned as a major fall release.

Yet here we also have the bugs, the lack of polish, and the general sense of unpleasantness that permeates the necessary actions of ReCore. Which is a shame, because like those other kinds of games I mentioned, I really want to love it.

Besides those previous examples, ReCore also reminds me of my favorite era of action-adventure games, which occurred around the time of the first two PlayStations, the original Xbox, and GameCube. Games like Brave Fencer Musashi, Mega Man Legends, and Phantom Dust were my bread and butter then, because they took a bite of the action-adventure apple before anyone knew what those were meant to look like.

ReCore is similar, in that it tries a lot of things that don't seem like what games are "supposed" to do now.

It's a third-person shooter, but not a stop-and-pop cover-based affair like Gears of War. Instead, the game is more about dancing around enemy attacks at speed than the actual act of shooting. You'll use those same moves to traverse a hub world that's peppered with dungeons, gear, and all sorts of surfaces to platform over.

There's a loot and crafting system, too, but you're not picking up bigger, better, and more badass weaponry. Rather, the scrap dropped from exploded enemy robots is used to customize your own, friendlier droids. These nonsense-speaking helpers aid you in both combat and exploration, while the visually distinct upgrades lend them even more personality.

These "CoreBots" are a major part of the game's story, too, which takes place on the inhospitable world of Far Eden. It's not supposed to be that way, as mechanic-cum-protagonist Joule informed me at the start of the game.

When humanity set off for the planet, dodging an incurable plague that wiped out the rest of Earth, they were supposed to terraform it first. Joule and her robot dog woke up several decades after Far Eden was meant to be a much more receptive place. Naturally, the rest of the robots in attendance have turned terrible, and represent both the enemies Joule and co. are meant to shred, and the mystery they need to unravel about what happened to Far Eden.

The problems with ReCore don't lie within that story, or its characters. In fact, ReCore excels at the things that are specific to ReCore: the variety in CoreBot upgrades, Joule's highly-controlled movement, and yes, the personalities of its many friendly automatons. Even Joule's affection for the 'bots makes her endearing in her own right.

It's the quality-of-life stuff -- problems that have been solved in similar games -- that ReCore clangs its head against at almost every turn.

For instance, there's navigating the deserts of Far Eden. ReCore isn't an open-world game per se, but it does have a very large hub with lots of ground to cover. Yet besides Joule's half-second dash, there's no way to speed up long walks on this waterless beach.

The crafting system is just as tedious. When upgrading CoreBots -- a massive part of the game -- there's no comparison function to tell how much better or worse what you're about to build is than what you already have.

You also can't take more than two CoreBots with you into the field at one time, which becomes a problem when certain areas need certain robots to be interacted with. You can make your way (slowly, I'll remind you) to a collectible, only to find it's locked behind a kind of partner you don't have. So it's another (sluggish) trip back to headquarters to switch out your companions, only to head all the way back to where you've already been.

Not one of these issues is a dealbreaker alone, but they're not alone. They're examples of a line of thinking that soaks ReCore to its bones, making what should be easy actions into an unnecessary chores.

At first, the heart of ReCore -- its personality, its fast-paced combat, and steady platforming -- overcome these foibles. Yet they only become less tolerable as the game begins to force you to collect "Prismatic Cores."

Unlike basic loot, these collectibles don't have any use except for opening up more of the game -- harkening all the way back to the star system in Super Mario 64. You'll need X Prismatic Cores to unlock Y dungeon, as well as Z story mission, and so on.

The cores are found in dungeons, as well as scattered throughout the world, and you'll need far more than the story provides to see the game all the way through to the end. This makes much of ReCore's "side" content mandatory, and forces players to engage with the game's unpleasant side more often than necessary.

While I don't have the same bug-riddled horror stories that some players are reporting, I have seen my share of slop. Whether it's a missing map cursor, premature indicators for finishing moves, or just the game's atrocious load times -- which, while far worse on Xbox One, are still no picnic on my PC.

Prismatic Cores raise an interesting dilemma for ReCore, as well as open-world games in general. How much of the game should you gate behind more of the game?

By default, you'd think walling story content behind "side" stuff is fine. You're just playing of what should be, and in ReCore's case is, a fun game. Except at that point, what's the point of making it secondary content at all, except to prop up the illusion of freedom, choice, and scale?

I'd be happier to ponder that question with ReCore if it didn't also entomb so much of that fun behind hassle. Unfortunately it does, despite the level of polish you'd expect from a game with the kind of support ReCore should have from Microsoft.

ReCores might be one of the "wounded ones," but it didn't have to be that way. Maybe with a patch or three, it still doesn't.