ReCore Review: Desert Robots
As a kid I always wondered what’d be like to wander the deserts of Tatooine with astromech droids, scavenging amongst the crashed ships and Jawa sandcrawlers. When I started playing ReCore that wonder sprung straight to mind, spurred by images of Rey in wrecked Star Destroyers on Jakku. Those first steps into the deserts of Far Eden, complete with a chirpy robot dog beside me, hooked me pretty fast.
Despite any shortcomings, I’ve had a blast playing Armature Studio and Comcept’s latest foray into action platforming. It feels like it’s harkening back to classic action platformers, with notes of Ratchet and Clank and Spyro mixing up the clear influence of Armature’s previous work on Metroid Prime.You’re put in the boots of Joule Adams, a volunteer sent ahead to Far Eden to coordinate and oversee the terraforming of the new planet. Humanity has once again fallen prey to a great disaster which rendered Earth inhospitable, leaving earth’s remaining population in orbital cryosleep while Far Eden is prepared. Waking up to begin work, you find that something has driven the corebots, a mechanical force designed to automate the terraforming, are acting strange. The premise is far from original but it works here, the gameplay and exploration it enables gives plenty of opportunity for interesting revelations as the narrative unfolds.
As you find your feet in the game you’re introduced to the basic systems you’ll lean upon throughout. Parts of the start focus on your double jump and short range boost, with a heavier emphasis falling on introducing you to the game’s arcade like shooting mechanics, and the ever present extract tool. This tool takes some getting used to, throwing me for a loop till I worked it out. Basically, it activates a tug of war style minigame requiring you to manage the tension of the grappling hook embedded in an enemy’s core. Seeing as bosses require an ‘extract’ finisher, once you wrap your head around how it works it’ll be second nature.The combat is easily one of the strongest and enjoyable parts of the game, but I feel like this could be a divisive point for some. Forget third person shooting, ReCore adopts a lock on and blast away system that’ll allow you to dodge, jump and snap from target to target while blasting away. Add to this a combo system that boost damage and XP gains and you get a fast paced, almost hack and slash approach to shooting that keeps mobility in mind.
The enemies you face vary greatly, a nice touch I was concerned about in the early hours. Hostile corebots take many forms and colours, with the latter letting you know very quickly how they’ll act and what to watch out for. Red means fire and burn attacks, blue is shock based and yellow will keep you rooted in place. As you progress through the game your weapon will be upgraded with the same three colours, maximising damage on enemies of the same colour and adding a hot-swap dynamic to the combat.
It’s a nice system, even when you get to more powerful mixed colour corebots (requiring the use of white or one of the base colours to take down). While alone they can be dispatched without much trouble, in groups or restricted space they can be overwhelming, rewarding a knowledge of what to dodge and which to focus first. There’s also the chance to have enemies of higher rarities appear out in the world, offering greater loot drops. One encounter with a majestic, hulking purple K9 corebot was especially memorable, giving players something to hunt outside the normal bots.As a whole, the difficulty level of the enemies and bosses is fairly low, something that mars some of the rewarding aspects of the combat. I only found I died when locked down by continual torrent of stuns, which felt cheap rather than difficult.
You’re joined in combat and exploration by a host of friendly corebots. These robo-buds ooze personality, maybe even more than Joule herself, and come in the same three colours as enemies to help shift the balance in combat. Mack the blue corebot, Seth the yellow and Duncan the hulking red one can all be switched out after you’ve collected them, opening new opportunities in the world around you.
As ally AI goes in video games, these corebots place pretty well. They don’t get in your way or cause trouble, rather they go about their own business in combat until you call on them to attack. Drawing the attention of bosses and larger enemies, as well as the ability to stun them, gives you plenty of room to escape sticky scenarios, and they can be tailored to your style by upgrades and crafting. After finding blueprints and parts in the wild you can craft gear sets with bonuses like extra health regen or loot drop luck, all the while boosting their base stats with the coloured core energy found.Outside of appearance and basic stat upgrades, customisation of Joule and her companions is more limited than I’d like. It’s satisfying to see the level up notification as you play, but without anything to invest or change afterwards is a little jarring. It’s an RPG in the simplest terms, but the frame changing for companions and gear upgrades satisfy some of those customisation itches.
Hunting for parts and prismatic cores – the key item to keep unlocking dungeons – is what you’ll spend most of your time in each of the zones doing. While there’s only six zones that look quite small on the map, they’re deceptively large, showcasing quite an impressive sens of scale around huge objects, like a giant quarry or terraforming outpost. There’s plenty of hidden goodies to discover in each area, from the rare corebots to puzzles and treasure chests, rewarding the explorers with some of the best upgrade sets for your companions.
Dungeons also populate these zones, varying in length and focus. As you collect more mysterious cores and level up you’ll gain access to dungeons that test your skills in combat, puzzle solving platforming & speed, offering loot as rewards. As the story dungeons are fairly basic, these offer good variety as you level to break up exploring.Replayability is high, with new corebots and levels opening up paths through dungeons and ways to get the cores you need. While some of these areas could be more clearly marked like in a Zelda game, the thrill of seeing something and just knowing you’ll get a new gadget to help you explore new places kept me coming back to early areas. On top of this, challenges like speed trials and item hunts in dungeons encourage multiple runs, giving you better gear the more you do.
Overall the game is presented rather well, with the core models and notable aspects of the world rendered rather beautifully. Watching the sand part as you boost across it is great, but the slow texture pop in and shoddy rock textures can be a little off-putting to come across. I didn’t find this detracted too much from the experience though, with Joule especially receiving quite a detailed model.The one major technical issue that I found painful was the awful load times between zones, before cutscenes and after death. I’m playing ReCore on the Xbox One S and at one point I got up to grab a bottle of water from my fridge after trying to enter a zone and came back to the very same screen. Hopefully a patch will soon address this issue, but for now, it’s a pretty notable problem. Early reports from other players highlighted issues with the frame rate, but this thankfully was never an issue I came across in the launch version of the title.
Aside from probably being tired of the word ‘core’ by the end of the game, ReCore offers a surprisingly hearty package. There’s some really great ideas in the way combat and platforming work, and in those regards the game’s base is quite the success. There’s a few issues with less than stellar textures, load times and some easier than puzzling puzzles, but the heart of the game more than makes up for these. For now, I’m happy continuing my exploration of Far Eden, finding the perfect gear for Mack and blasting all the rare corebots I see.
Developer: Comcept, Armature Studio
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: PC, Xbox One (reviewed)
A review copy was provided by the publisher.