Reviewed on: Xbox One. Copy supplied by publisher.
Here at the outset, let me be clear and say that at its core (ha) ReCore is a good action-platformer. In the opening couple of hours, ReCore focuses on intriguing story and fast combat as it drives you forward through a beautiful, desolate world. And during that time, I was enjoying playing as Joule, the game’s protagonist, who uses a variety of robot companions to battle the other, evil robots populating the landscape. Sure, it was nothing revolutionary nor worthy of any awards, but ReCore was certainly ticking the biggest, most important box when it comes to rating a video game: it was fun.
I say “was” because beyond those opening hours is when ReCore’s technical failings rear their ugly heads and, combined with some terrible design choices and pacing, managed to take all that goodness, that enjoyment, that fun and turn it into one of the more frustrating and tiresome gaming experiences I’ve had this year.
Story wise ReCore is pretty decent, if a little cliched, telling the tale of Joule, an atmospheric technician woken out of cryogenic sleep on the desert planet Far Eden following the fall of Earth. She has been stationed there to watch over the terraforming process slowly making Far Eden hospitable for the rest of humanity, who are waiting in hibernation in orbit above the planet. But Joule has been roused from her slumber earlier than expected because the machines designated to run the whole show, called Corebots, are running amok and disrupting the terraforming process, and it all has something to do with these special orbs called Prismatic Cores (the shiny thing in the picture above). It’s up to Joule and her team of not-evil Corebots to find out why the others have suddenly turned hostile, what’s the deal with these Prismatic Cores and restart the terraforming before it’s too late.
Like I said, the story’s decent; nothing special but it gets the job done and was just interesting enough to give an element of purpose to the game. And it certainly does bleak, alone-on-a-desert-planet sci-fi better than a certain other game earlier this year. Sadly however, ReCore’s story is let down by some pretty poor writing and voice acting, with a majority of Joule’s dialogue comprising of some really ham-fisted exposition since her Corebot compatriots only speak robot gobbledegook. To their credit though, her trio of Corebot friends, named Mack, Seth and Duncan, are the strongest characters of them all, exhibiting plenty of charm through their ramblings and animations.
But where the story/writing left some to be desired, ReCore’s gameplay is pretty solid. Joule is armed with a laser rifle which comes with a ruthlessly accurate auto-aiming ability, allowing her to lock on to nearby enemies and quickly flick between them without missing a beat. While at first the auto-aiming makes things far too easy, ReCore thankfully makes a point to complicate its combat with a variety of enemy types, as well as a colour based vulnerability system.
Enemy Corebots can come in one of three colours, blue, red and yellow, or in a combination of them, green (blue and yellow), orange (red and yellow) and purple (blue and red). On the player’s side of things, Joule’s rifle can be upgraded to swap between blue, red and yellow firing modes, as enemies are more vulnerable to ammunition of their corresponding colour. As well as coming in a variety of colours, enemies are also quite varied in their attacks and points of vulnerability, always keeping the player on their toes and requiring different strategies. When enemies are weak enough, Joule can hook and extract their coloured Cores which are then turned into elements used to enhance the abilities of her sidekick Corebots.
Mack, Seth and Duncan also bring their own signature moves, known as “Lethals”, that Joule can command them to use. Mack can quickly and directly strike an enemy, while Seth can launch rockets from afar and Duncan Hulk Smashes his way through crowds. The trio can also be customised to deal damage to certain colours more than others, so swapping between them as well as different rifle ammo types throughout the course of a battle is the key to success.
As well as their combat abilities, Mack, Seth and Duncan also provide advantages for Joule as she explores Far Eden’s desolate, segmented open world. Joule herself is equipped with a double jump and directional boost to help her navigate platforms and rock formations, but Mack can dig up hidden treasures, Seth can carry her while scurrying along walls and Duncan can break certain kinds of rock. Exploration is a big part of ReCore, as along with the main story missions Far Eden is littered with blueprints to craft Corebot upgrades and dungeons which contain challenges or bosses that grant those Prismatic Core things upon completion.
Now this all sounds fine right? A decent story, some solid third person action/platformer gameplay involving a little bit of variety and skill along with some loveable robot friends? Seems like a recipe for a pretty decent title to me. And that’s how it seems at the beginning.
But once you pass the halfway point suddenly the whole experience turns on you. While there are several design choices responsible for that, which I’ll get to in a moment, they’re only exacerbated by ReCore’s biggest frustration: the long loading times. It may sound silly for the editor of a website called LoadScreen to be complaining about the extended presence of load screens, but seriously, these bastards are long.
Every time you pass through to a new section of the map, enter a dungeon, die in combat or fast travel to and from your home base you’ll be sitting through a loading screen that lasts anywhere from one to two minutes. That may not sound like a lot of time, but once you realise how frequently you’ll be doing all of those aforementioned things, it adds up. And given ReCore isn’t the largest open world, nor the most populated or with the best graphics, there’s really no foreseeable reason for why it takes so goddamn long to load in. I mean, it takes two minutes just to load up the main menu for god’s sake, before needing another two minutes to load the game once I press start.
During late game sections ReCore becomes significantly more challenging, throwing hordes of multi-coloured, attack spamming enemies at you and this difficulty spike is made all the worse by the sometimes up to two minute waits you have to endure before giving it another try. Sitting through loading screens after dying hasn’t been this frustrating since Bloodborne, but at least then it was only around 30-40 seconds which right now sounds heavenly.
The excruciating loading times also make other poor late-game design choices more of an issue, and it’s to do with those damn Prismatic Cores I mentioned you’d come to resent earlier. You see, Prismatic Cores, as well as being important to the story, are required to pass through certain doors in ReCore’s main missions. While you do come across them while following the story, there comes several points where you’ll reach a door that tells you you don’t have enough Prismatic Cores to progress, meaning you need to go off and explore Far Eden and complete dungeons to find more. Indeed, the final act is a constant slog of encountering these doors, all demanding an increasing amount of Cores and making those thought to be side challenges mandatory.
Leaving aside the fact that this totally ruins the pacing of the story, it leads to an awful lot of back tracking through ReCore’s stark landscape which, while appropriate in a narrative context, is boring as all get out as a sandbox. Thankfully there’s a fast travel system, but as it again leads to more lengthy loading screens, one might argue the term “fast” is used loosely.
And on top of all that, there’s the bizarre decision to restrict the player to being accompanied by only two of the three Corebot companions at any one time. While it certainly means considerations have to be made when preparing them for combat, it proves immensely frustrating as some of the Prismatic Cores can only be found using the abilities of particular Corebots. You won’t know which Corebot you’ll need until you’ve trekked all the way out to one on the map, and probably spent some time figuring out how to get to it.
If you don’t have the right one with you have two options: walk back to a fast travel station where you can swap them around OR fast travel to your home base from the pause menu so you can do it there, which of course leads to another bloody loading screen. Once inside you can swap your Corebots around, then fast travel back to the station nearest where you were, after another fucking two minute loading screen of course; only to then walk all the way back to the Core and grab it. Rinse and repeat for what feels like 10 billion years.
And this isn’t even the extent of ReCore’s technical issues. Frame drops are common when overlooking large structures or when a whole heap of enemies show up, which happens a lot. I even found a whole section of desert floor that had no collision detection, resulting in me falling to my death repeatedly until I fast travelled back to base, and guess what I had to sit through in order to do that?
It’s a shame, because at heart ReCore is a solid game. I was genuinely having fun in those introductory hours, when only starting up the game took a lot of loading and I could progress through the main story unimpeded by asinine, Prismatic Core collecting padding. But sadly what could have been a charming adventure game became a hair pulling trudge through frustration after frustration as it squashed all the goodwill it had earned.