Reviewer: Michael Mendis
Developers: Armature Studio, Comcept
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC
Having recently finished ReCore, the new third-person shooter from developers Armature Studio and Comcept, I find myself of two minds when I think about this game. In some ways, ReCore is a lot of fun, offering a well polished and entertaining experience; in other ways, it’s a shallow game that disappoints on multiple levels. So let’s break it down and look at exactly what makes this game both good and bad at the same time.
The story is set in the distant future; natural disasters have wreaked havoc on Earth, and humanity has set its sights on another planet, one they’ve named New Eden, as their next home. Unfortunately, the planet is still mostly sand and rock, and needs to be terraformed in order to be permanently habitable. That’s where you come in; you play as Joule Adams, one of the crew responsible for making sure the terraforming process runs smoothly (and daughter to one of the most prominent scientists of the whole project). When Joule wakes up from cryosleep, however, she find that things haven’t gone according to plan; humanity had created Corebots (machines made up of a large spherical AI core that are placed into metal frames) to prepare the planet, but most of them have gone rogue, and New Eden isn’t as far along in its transformation as it should be. Now it’s up to Joule and her friendly Corebot buddy Mack to save the day.
It’s an intriguing premise, but the story itself falls flat. Despite the fact that there aren’t many characters in the game, none of them, Joule included, receive enough development to be interesting, so none of the key dramatic moments have any weight. The game attempts to add intrigue via audiologs scattered throughout the game world, but the backstory they provide isn’t particularly compelling, and thus fails to bring the overall narrative to life.
If the storytelling doesn’t live up to its potential, the game’s visual presentation helps make up a little bit for it. ReCore’s art style is quite beautiful; while the planet itself consists entirely of brown rocky cliffs and sand, the man-made structures and robots dotting the landscape add spots of vibrant color that stand out against the rest of the environment. The game’s various dungeons are also bursting with brilliant blues, greens, reds, and yellows. While there are some rough edges (many pieces of the environment pop into view late, and the game can have a rather fuzzy look at times), ReCore is an attractive game overall.
The actual gameplay is just as mixed as the rest of the experience. I’ll start with the good, and there’s plenty to like, thanks to the game’s highly polished controls. Joule controls very smoothly as you dash across the open desert, scale deserted buildings, and engage in combat with enemy robots. Choosing you Corebot companions becomes an important mechanic partway through the game; over the course of your adventure you discover new friendly cores as well as new frames, each with their own combat stats as well as traversal abilities that let you explore new places in the game world. Since you can only have two Corebots with you at any given time, you’ll need to select the right combination for the task in front of you.
ReCore’s combat also has some interesting game mechanics that keep you on your toes. Joule’s weapon, an automatic laser rifle, can switch between firing different colored lasers, and matching the color of your laser to the color of the enemy Corebot will deal a lot more damage. Things can get hectic when you have half a dozen enemies on screen all with different colors, forcing you to stay moving, maintain situational awareness, and pick your targets wisely. Finally, when you’ve weakened an enemy Corebot you have the chance to extract its core with your grappling hook; extracting a core will leave you vulnerable to other enemies for a few seconds while you pull it out, but if you succeed you’ll gain a different kind of upgrade material for your friendly bots than you would if you had just blown the enemy up.
All of this comes together nicely in the optional dungeons spread throughout the game. Each one consists of special platforming courses or combat arenas, and completing additional tasks (find the hidden key, shoot the switches, finish in a set amount of time) will yield more rewards at the end of the dungeon. These sections are where ReCore shines brightest, presenting the player with challenges that require you to master the game’s mechanics, and offering incentives to replay them and perfect each run.
But despite all that the gameplay has going for it, there are plenty of noticeable flaws as well. One of the first things you’ll note about the game are the long load times when transitioning between different areas of the game. Even though the game has been patched since launch to reduce the load times, they’re still annoyingly long; even worse, the only place you can switch out which friendly core is in which frame is at your base, meaning that anytime you need to make that change, you’ll suffer two long load times: one to teleport to the base, and another to get back to the region you were in before. And as you discover new regions you’ll find yourself having to do more and more teleporting, which means more and more time wasted in front of loading screens.
The combat has its own disappointments. While Joule’s weapon can switch between laser colors, she still only has one weapon, best used at mid-range, which leads the combat to feel somewhat monotonous at times; gameplay would have been more interesting had there been a selection of weapons to choose from, like a shotgun or a sniper rifle. Joule doesn’t even have a melee ability, meaning that all battles require the same strategy of keeping enemies at arms length and hitting them with laser fire until they fall. Each of your friendly Corebots has a unique special attack for combat, but none seem particularly more effective than others.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is how the final section of the game plays out. It feels like the developers ran out of narrative justification for the player to explore the surrounding environment before completing the main story, and so the solution they came up with was to turn the last area into a series of dungeons, and the only way to access them...is to find and complete a whole bunch of the optional dungeons. On the one hand, the game’s dungeons are a lot of fun; on the other hand, they all tend to run together and become monotonous after you’ve been powering through them for hours, especially when the biggest reward for completing a bunch of dungeons is just having access to more of them. And when you’ve actually finished all that you need to and beat the final boss, the story ends rather abruptly; there just isn’t really a payoff for the effort you put into completing the game.
To add insult to injury, upon finishing the main story, I realized that there were places on the map that I simply couldn’t access. It turns out, one of the Corebot frames that appeared in advertisements (and indeed in the cover art at the top of this very review) isn’t in the game at all, and without it, certain places can’t be reached. It seems the developers were unable to finish everything they set out to do, and cut things from the game without giving any signal to consumers; perhaps we will see it later on as new content for the game, but if that’s the case, we’ll probably have to pay extra.
At the end of the day, it’s hard not to feel disappointed with ReCore, even though there were times when I had a lot of fun while playing it. Plenty of effort was put into making the game feel smooth and polished, and the game’s dungeons provided some neat challenges; nevertheless, it seems that the creators bit off more than they could chew, and wound up with a product that feels rushed and incomplete. They’re clearly a talented group of people, so hopefully they’ll be able to learn from their mistakes and produce a real gem the next time around.
OVERALL SCORE: C-