ReCore’s story shines. Everything else is a mixed bag.
If you’re the type of gamer who could care less about story and are only concerned with skill challenge, ReCore is going to make you very angry, very often.
I was willing to put up with bugs, uneven difficulty, and a frustrating inability to figure out what I was supposed to do next, because of the refreshing unpretentiousness of ReCore’s narrative. Every time ReCore pissed me off by feeling impossible or screwed me by falling apart at just the wrong time, the satisfaction of passing a difficult skill challenge and the innocence of its storytelling brought me back to enjoying the game.
If you’re not as enamored as I was with ReCore’s story and characters, however, you’re probably going to have way less tolerance for the frustration of ReCore’s platforming mechanics and its unclear mission structure.
ReCore is a third-person action platformer set on a rocky, desert-covered planet named New Eden, the site of a terraforming project meant to create a new home for humanity after Earth is ravaged by dust storms and needs to be evacuated.
An army of construction robots has been deployed on New Eden ahead of the arrival of Earth’s colonists. These machines, called Corebots, are built around glowing spheres called cores that are a combination of an A.I. brain and an energy source. The Corebots are tasked with building the giant terraforming towers that will transform New Eden into a planet more hospitable to human life.
Joule is one of the few human caretakers also sent ahead to New Eden to supervise the terraforming project. These caretakers live in giant transports called crawlers, waking from suspended animation to check on the construction’s progress before returning to cryosleep. But Joule has woken up a century late, and the terraforming project has collapsed.
The Corebots are malfunctioning and dangerous, with the exception of Joule’s partner, Mack, a K-9 unit. Joule and Mack set out from her crawler to figure out what went wrong and to get the terraforming project back on track, opposed by an army of broken robot workers.
ReCore’s story could have been presented as a dark tale of mankind’s imminent extinction, but instead ReCore keeps the narrative light. There’s a purity of spirit in ReCore that reminds me of Disney animated films, a story with adorable characters that doesn’t weigh itself down with needless melodrama, but without becoming silly enough to be dismissed. The subtle musical score had just the right amount of gravitas to be an excellent accompaniment to the story.
Joule always has a primary objective, like gathering parts to make repairs or breaking into one of New Eden’s massive industrial complexes. What Joule needs to do is usually spelled out clearly. Where Joule needs to go in order to accomplish that goal, however, is not.
ReCore takes place on an open map broken into three main areas, all of which can require appreciable platforming skill to navigate. And when getting where you need to go is a challenge, wasting time on dead ends can result in painful amounts of needless frustration.
Joule’s exo-suit allows her to double-jump, use a limited rocket dash that propels her forward, and survive falls from tremendous heights. ReCore’s world is defined by huge machines that Joule has to scale to move around, and the places she can land and stand on are not always clearly marked. Large, metal platforms lined with black and yellow construction stripes, or clear, flat, metal surfaces are obvious stopping points, but Joule can also cling to or ascend metal frameworks that don’t look like they’re meant to be accessible.
You might think that finding these less obvious places Joule can land on are meant as clues leading you to secret parts of the map. Sometimes that’s the case, but just as often you’ll find yourself stuck with no way to proceed. That’s when you realize you’ve wasted your time, and have to figure out the real path you’re meant to be on. When the platforming can be as difficult as it gets in ReCore, having to fight the map to figure out where to go to next is awful.
The combat in ReCore is much more satisfying, and I wish the game had been less lopsided in favor of platforming. Corebots comes in three basic flavors: red, blue, and yellow. Joule’s rifle has three matching colors of ammunition, selected via the d-pad. If you match the color of her ammunition to the color of the Corebot she’s fighting, your shots will do more damage. And when robots of all three colors are in the fight, pulling this off is not easy.
Joule is aided by one friendly Corebot at a time, with the ability to instantly switch between different Corebots to take advantage of their relative strengths. Each Corebot has a special ability that helps Joule during open-world exploration. Mack, the K-9 model, can dig into the sand and discover items and unbury enemies. Seth, a spider-like robot, helps Joule scale otherwise inaccessible surfaces like walls.
Different models of Corebot also have unique special attacks. Mack has a close-combat melee charge. Seth fires missile barrages. These special attacks have to recharge over time and are only launched when Joule orders the Corebot to do so.
Joule also has a grappling-hook-like device called an extractor that can pull cores out of enemy robots if they’ve taken enough damage to be vulnerable. When Joule latches on to a robot’s core, it triggers a tug-of-war where the player has to be careful not to strain and break the extractor cable. If Joule is successful, she yanks the core out of the robot, which is destroyed immediately.
If Joule extracts the robot’s core, she can use it to power up her Corebots’ attack, defense, and energy systems. If a robot is outright destroyed, it drops parts that Joule can use to craft upgrades for her Corebots. Joule can also collect parts scattered around the map. The upgrades can alter her Corebots’ recharge times for their shields and special attacks and increase the quality of the loot Joule finds, among other things.
Balancing the need to do just enough damage to a robot to weaken it enough for an attempt to extract its core without destroying the robot by accident, while also taking into account any other robots that still might be attacking, was fun. ReCore became an exercise in trying to get to the next fight between repeatedly falling to my death and attempting to figuring out where the hell I was supposed to go.
There are two types of dungeons located in ReCore’s open-world map. Traversal dungeons are based on platforming challenges. Arena dungeons are built around combat. Both types of dungeons became emblematic of ReCore’s problems.
It was way too difficult to locate these dungeons, for one. Dungeon entrances were clearly marked on the map, but without a waypoint to drop and/or a minimap to follow, finding those entrances was more difficult than it should have been.
Dungeons feature secondary objectives that, if completed, increase the amount of loot Joule is rewarded for completing the dungeon. The secondary objectives, based on time limits, were downright punishing, and rushing through the dungeons while trying to beat those time limits often meant making jumps I otherwise might not have if given time to plan my route carefully. This is how I encountered most of the bugs I found in ReCore.
Respawn points, for example, are very generous in ReCore. You often don’t need to repeat difficult platforming sequences once you’ve beaten them. In traversal dungeons especially, however, so much of the map is dangerous that it’s too easy to get tied to a respawn point where you die instantly after respawning. My favorite respawn bug was when I respawned directly behind a giant, electrified metal ball that immediately ran me over after I respawned. I had to start the dungeon all over again.
Another memorable bug was during an attempt to solve a puzzle where I had to step on a button to open a door and jump across a series of moving platforms to get to the door before it closed again. I arrived just in time for the door to shut on top of me. Half of me was in the room I was trying to get to, half of me was in the previous room, and all of me was stuck in the door. Again, I had to restart the dungeon.
Victories in ReCore, whether they were rooted in platforming or combat skill always felt satisfyingly earned, and that for me was enough to balance all the frustration along the way. But if I hadn’t enjoyed the Disney-like tone of ReCore’s story and had not genuinely liked the game’s characters, my patience for ReCore’s shortcomings would probably have strained to the breaking point.
Disclosure: Our Xbox One review copy of ReCore was provided via Microsoft.
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