Wednesday, September 14, 2016

ReCore Review (XONE)

We’ve gotten used to retro throwback games from indie devs, but a PS2-era action platformer for the Xbox One from Microsoft of all publishers is the last thing anyone expected.  That is what ReCore is, though.  An oldschool-style 3D action platformer with impossibly videogame-y physics, enemies that burst into piles of loot, loads of hidden collectibles, and a myriad of other little touches that make you feel like the game would be right at home on a PS2 or OG Xbox.  It sounds like a recipe for nostalgic success, but ReCore is seriously hampered by extremely long load times and frequent glitches that really ruin the experience.  You’ll want to love it, but ReCore just won’t let you.  See all of the details in our review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Microsoft
  • Developer: Comcept, Armature
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Third-Person-Action
  • Pros: Fun combat; friendly bots are awesome; solid platforming; very charming overall
  • Cons: Very long load times; glitches; some questionable design decisions
  • MSRP: $40

ReCore takes place on a planet called New Eden that was selected for terraforming and human colonization after Earth was hit with disease and other awfulness.  Robots were sent long in advance to terraform the desert planet and make it livable before the colonists arrived, but something went wrong.  Your character, Joule, is a human engineer sent along with the terraforming robots and was supposed to be woken up out of stasis at the first sign of trouble so she could fix it.  That didn’t happen, though, as she wakes up decades and decades too late.  The planet isn’t terraformed.  The robots have gone rogue and taken over the planet.  And the human colonists never showed up.  What is going on?

To solve all of those mysteries, Joule sets out onto the planet to investigate and try to re-start the terraforming equipment.  Gameplay-wise, ReCore is a third-person-action game with shooting combat as well as platforming and it actually feels surprisingly great to play.  The controls are startlingly good and moving around and jumping from platform to platform, and even double jumping and air dashing thanks to a brief rocket thrusts, feels amazing.  None of it uses realistic physics, either, as Joule can stop on a dime, change direction mid-air, and reach top running speed immediately, which is a huge contrast to most modern games. 

The great oldschool-style gameplay feel is present in the shooting as well.  The game is a third-person-shooter with heavy auto-aim and lock on assist to the point that you just hold the left trigger to lock on and the right trigger to shoot and Joule automatically annihilates a whole room full of enemies.  There are also different colored enemies that are weak to different colored ammo types, so have to also switch ammo via the D-Pad during combat as well as fire charged shots or even yank out the enemy robot power cores.  It all sounds dead simple, but it is rather satisfying in practice.  Of course, the game also throws in more powerful enemies that you have to dodge around and can’t simply blast away at, too, and the combination of the great feeling movement and the lightning fast combat makes the game a ton of fun to play.  Combat encounters are fast and frenzied and the platforming is smooth and fun.  All good so far, right?

The good times continue with the presence of Joule’s friendly robot companions.  Mack is a dog robot that helps find buried treasure.  Seth is a spider bot that can crawl around on set tracks (sort of like the spider ball in Metroid Prime) to reach previously unreachable areas.  And Duncan is an ape-like bot who is the strongest attacker and can break certain rock formations.  Each of them has their own personalities and are incredibly endearing and loveable.  

Here’s where the wheels kind of fall off in ReCore, though.  The game is technically open world but it is split into smaller sections and dungeons.  Every time you enter a different area, or go back to Joule’s crawler base, or when you die, the game has to load.  And it loads and load and loads and loads, sometimes for more than 2-minutes at a time and depending what you’re doing you might sit through multiple loading screens all within a few minutes of each other.  All of that loading really adds up and totally sucks the fun out of the game.  ReCore is only around 8-hours long total, and you spend probably a third of that looking at loading screens.  The load times are simply unacceptably, unforgivably long.

ReCore is also incredibly glitchy, too.  You’ll fall through the floor or get stuck in loops where the game keeps respawning you in impossible space so you can’t actually play.  Sometimes enemies won’t spawn into a room like they’re supposed to so a door that requires you to kill all of the enemies won’t ever open.  There are countless other issues as well.  ReCore is insanely glitchy.

Also, for as fun as ReCore can genuinely be when everything works, there are lots of other little niggling issues that add up into major annoyances.  You can bring two of your robot companions with you out into the world, but you don’t always know which ones you actually need when you head out so there are lots of occasions where you trek all the way across the map to do something only to find you don’t have the bot you need.  So then you have to fast travel back to base – with long load time – choose the right bot, and head back out – with long load time.  The game also has an annoying problem where mission markers just straight up disappear so you don’t know where you’re supposed to go and you can’t set destination markers on your map.  You can also upgrade your companions with the parts and blueprints you collect, but the upgrade process is extremely slow and tedious. 

The biggest problem with ReCore is that all of these things add up into an experience that doesn’t respect your time as a player.  Long load times, major glitches, and simple game design oversights sour an experience that had a ton of potential to be great.  You’ll want to love it because the characters are so darn charming and the gameplay is genuinely fun, but sitting through all of the loading eats at you after a while.  The fun and optimism gradually shifts to annoyance and anger.  And that stuff leads to the dark side, ya’ll, so you probably don’t want your videogame to make folks feel that way.

As far as the presentation goes, ReCore is actually fairly polished.  It isn’t particularly graphically impressive, but the sandy environments look nice, Joule looks good, the bots – both friendly and enemy – look very cool.  The lighting is also very nice, and the game runs at a solid framerate.  The sound is also very good with a fantastic soundtrack and good voice acting.

It honestly is a shame that ReCore has so many core (get it?) issues that sour the experience so much because there is a lot to like here when it all works.  It really does start off fantastically well, but the problems get more frequent and more annoying the deeper you get into the game, which just kills any joy you might have previously felt.  ReCore probably needed more time in development to iron these things out.  As it stands right now I just can’t give it a recommendation even at the “bargain” $40 MSRP it launched at.  
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.