James Stephanie Sterling
ReCore Review – Core Blimey
A good game, held back by bugs and remarkably terrible loading times.
Developer: Comcept, Armature Studio Publisher: Microsoft Format: PC, Xbox One (reviewed) Released: September 13, 2016 Copy provided by publisher
Keiji Inafune really, really likes robots. The director best known for his work on Mega Man and the slightly less popular Mighty No. 9 is back with another bionic adventure, differentiated by the fact that this time you’re playing a human with robot friends as opposed to a robot with human friends.
Either way, there’s still loads of robots, as Comcept continues its obsession with automatons.
ReCore takes place across the vast desert wasteland of New Eden, a world targeted for terraforming by humankind after Earth was ravaged by a decimating disease. Sentient robots, dubbed Corebots, were built to help evacuate Earth and repurpose New Eden, but as protagonist Joule soon finds out upon her arrival, the robots have gone rogue.
A hybrid of third-person shooter and platform game, ReCore is a fairly entertaining adventure taking place across an open world reminiscent of post-Ocarina Zelda games – a series of interconnected maps made up of mostly open space and populated by individual dungeons. There’s a lot of exploration to be had, with optional challenges and hidden items scattered almost everywhere.
Joule has access to a double-jump and boost dash feature, making her feel notably similar to Mighty No. 9‘s Beck, and she comes packing an automatic rifle with four interchangeable modes. These color-coded fire modes deal extra damage to robots whose core color match – basically, if you set the rifle to blue, then it’ll hit blue robots harder.
ReCore opts out of manual aiming, instead featuring an aggressively automated lock-on system that will see Joule’s crosshairs immediately snap toward the nearest enemy.
At first, this will seem a little too easy – the first robotic opponents are taken out in a couple of shots, and the lack of free aim makes the whole thing seem trivial. Fortunately, the game complicates itself as it progresses and ensures combat retains one’s attentions.
As well as color switching, varied enemy types will assault Joule with a range of specialized attacks and status effects that will require dashing, button mashing, and carefully timed evasion to deal with. Some robots will throw up shields that require a charged shot to take out, while others are protected from frontal assaults and need to be hit in the back.
When near death, enemy robots can have their cores ripped out and added to Joule’s inventory. By clicking the right stick, players will launch an extraction cable into the robot’s heart before pulling the stick back in order to yank it out. Provided they ease up on the pulling whenever the cable turns red (it’ll break if this prompt is ignored), they’ll be able to fish themselves a robot’s innards and put it down.
This is all fine n’ dandy, but it’s not ReCore‘s main attractions – three friendly Corebots named Mack, Seth, and Duncan, who join up with Joule throughout the game and fight alongside her. Any two of the three robots can be taken out at one time, and the chosen two are switched in and out of play with a button press.
Mack is Joule’s first buddy, a mechanical dog with a blue core who can dig for hidden items underground. Seth, the yellow spider, can latch into vertical drags and pull Joule into previously inaccessible areas. Duncan, a red-aligned ape, is the strongest attacker and can smash certain rocks that impede progress or hide treasure.
Later in the game, other potential forms with their own unique abilities can be discovered.
In battle, Corebots act autonomously, efficiently holding ground against their malicious brethren and providing valuable distractions while Joule snatches cores or attempts to take on large crowds. Players can command their allies in one of two ways – calling them away from enemies to regain their health, and requesting they launch a “Lethal” attack against any enemy Joule’s currently targeting.
In order to rack up combos and efficiently wipe out rogues, players will learn to combine their own charged shots with Corebot Lethals, as well as switch between their two assigned allies frequently to keep the attack flow going. Once players learn how valuable the Corebots are – when upgraded correctly, they can be far more devastating than the player character – the combat system becomes so much more interesting.
There’s a leveling system which will strengthen Joule’s rifle power as well as the stats of Corebots (conveniently including those not actively in play), but simply leveling up isn’t enough. ‘Bots gain moderate stat boosts with each level, but they also increase their maximum potential stats, which can only be raised by visiting Joule’s sandcrawler and using its workbench.
At the workbench, cores stolen from enemies can be fused with the cores Joule’s companions. Red cores raise attack power, yellow raise defense, and blue raise the frequency and effectiveness of Lethals.
Core fusion adds a little extra flavor to leveling up, but it’s a tedious task. Each stat must be raised manually, one number at a time, by holding down a button to fill a meter.
It’s not uncommon to return to the crawler with as many as 2,000 of each colored core, while the potential max statistics of each Corebot can be anywhere from fifty to a hundred points higher than their current value. If you want the most out of your robots, expect to sit watching a meter fill and refill tens – maybe hundreds – of times as you personally, sluggishly, boost three separate stats for three separate characters.
The workbench is also used to craft new body parts for the Corebots. Blueprints and materials are gathered in the world and brought back to the crawler in order to build fresh limbs, heads, and weapons for Joule’s friends. As well as offering cosmetic changes, these new parts will also provide stat benefits, ranging from the incremental to the dramatically improved.
Of course, doing any of this requires frequent visits to the aforementioned crawler, which only helps highlight what is by far ReCore‘s biggest problem – obscene loading times.
Whether fast traveling, reloading a checkpoint after dying, or entering/exiting dungeons, players will become far too familiar with ReCore‘s loading screens. Loading anything, even something as insignificant as a checkpoint in a small room, will take a minimum of a minute, while moving from one map to another takes at least a minute and forty seconds – I was pissed off enough to run a stopwatch.
A minute doesn’t sound like much on its own, but when you start playing you’ll realize just how much that adds up over time, especially if you die in battle and find your frustration maximised by the insultingly long wait to get back in. It makes fast travel feel altogether less fast, and it makes returning to Joule’s crawler an unattractive proposition when it should be something the player’s keen to do.
What baffles me about the loading is that ReCore is neither large nor graphically intensive. Even the largest maps are nothing compared to the massive sandboxes of bigger budget titles, and the waiting time doesn’t improve even if you’re in a considerably smaller dungeon. The volume of downtime is notable not just because of its frequency and length, but the sheer wonder at what, exactly, is making ReCore struggle so much to exist.
Almost all of ReCore‘s problems lie in technical details, which is a real shame because it’s a fun game of exploration, collecting, and adorable robots. It’s also littered with bugs and glitches that constantly threaten one’s good time.
I’ve had Joule get stuck in walls, I’ve been trapped in arenas that wouldn’t let me out because the enemies wouldn’t spawn, I’ve even had the controls freeze when scrolling through simple bestiary menus. This is in addition to frequent graphical hiccups – most notably the textures and colors being prone to bizarre seizures.
As entertaining as it is, ReCore is not a solidly built game at all, and this isn’t one of those merry affairs where half the bugs are amusing. There’s nothing funny about the lost progress and added hindrances found in a game that’s already prone to wasting so much of one’s time.
Those who patiently wade through the annoyances will find a charming game with deceptively involving combat, tricky platforming sections, and some utterly endearing characters. The story itself is rather trite and awkwardly delivered, but Mack, Seth, and Duncan steal the show with their darling demeanours and expressive animations.
That said, some of the platforming can be a bit frustrating, with Joule not proving the most responsive during segments that require precision. Also, a handful of battles feel more cheap than challenging, especially when going up against opponents who can and will easily stunlock the player to death.
On more than one occasion, I’ve watched my health go from 100% to zero without my being able to do a thing about it, all because the ‘bots aligned their attacks in a way that rendered me completely catatonic.
ReCore has the right stuff to be a truly great game, but technical problems and questionable design decisions hold it back from being what it so clearly could have become. That it’s still an enjoyable experience that I’d recommend to a majority of players is as solid an indicator as any that Comcept put together something special here.
I’m just sad it’s not special enough to make my endorsement as ringing and confident as I want it to be.
It is good, though. In spite of everything dragging it down, it’s a fun ride packed with stuff to do, from optional areas to replayable dungeons to passive “hunting” quests that reward players for taking out certain enemies using certain attacks. New Eden isn’t as big as No Man’s Sky‘s universe or even Far Cry 4‘s mountainous terrain, but it’s got far more compelling reasons to stick around.
Plus that little puppy robot is too, too cute.