By Kyle Holmer. This is LOAD FILE, where sometimes trying hard just isn’t good enough, especially if it means releasing an unfinished game. This week Kyle timidly explores the barren wasteland of ‘ReCore’, developed by Armature Studios and Comcept, and published by Microsoft Studios for the Xbox One and Personal Computer.
Leading up to its release, ReCore had literally everything going for it. Industry legend Keiji Inafune was taking another stab at making a platformer with the help of Armature Studios, a developer formed by most of the designers behind the beloved Metroid Prime series. Best of all, it was to be an original property. Everything about this game, on paper anyway, should work — and to be honest, it almost does.
I’ll just say this right up front: I can’t remember ever feeling so conflicted about a game. At once broken and engaging, ReCore is a disappointment, mostly for the fact that I can clearly see the potential in front of me. It’s so easy to see what a few extra months of development could have done for the game. This could have been the platformer fans of the genre have been waiting for for years. Instead, we’re simply reminded of what could have been.
COLORED ORBS AND ROBOT ANIMALS? THAT’S THE BEST WE CAN DO?
The story puts players right into the thick of things. Earth is in the process of being evacuated as a result of the “Dust Devil Plague,” which has left the planet uninhabitable. An organization known as Mandate (or “The Mandate,” as both are used interchangeably throughout the game) has been attempting to find new planets to colonize, and they’ve found one in Far Eden.
You play as Joule Adams, one of Far Eden’s recently awoken first colonizers sent ahead to prepare for the rest of the population, all of whom are currently asleep in Eden’s orbit. Joule is one of many who were sent to the planet to terraform its ecosystem, and as such she and her comrades are supported by corebots (think animal robot hybrids) and various other “core” based technologies which will help them in completing their tasks. (“Cores” are colored orbs that are apparently able to do just about anything.) Upon completion of the terraforming process, Joule must then send word for safe travel, but you’ve probably guessed that things won’t go as intended.
The story is a little awkward at times. There’s a surprising amount of backstory that’s slowly revealed to the player over the course of the game, but for the most part the moment-to-moment narrative is pretty sparse. You’ll encounter other inhabitants and eventually realize that the terraforming process isn’t going exactly as planned. The colonization narrative and Joule’s unique storyline operate at different wavelengths; it seems as though a lot of really important things happened in the story moments before Joule entered it, and once you gain control you’ll spend a lot of time trying to figure what the hell actually happened.
Her individual arc is easy enough that you can predict its outcome, but little of it matters — she’s but a small player in a much larger story that just doesn’t do a great job of revealing itself. There’s about forty or so obligatory audio logs scattered around to help reveal the backstory, a handful of which are infuriatingly in an indecipherable alien language, unless of course you preordered the game — then you have the decoder preorder bonus, which isn’t that nice. (I came to realize how insane that promotion was the more I listened to these incoherent alien ramblings.) ReCore is first and foremost an action platformer, so an insufficient or awkward narrative isn’t exactly problematic. After all, the story’s not why we’re here.
SEE THAT BOULDER? YOU CAN GO THERE, YOU’RE JUST NOT SUPPOSED TO
As for the meat of the game, the moment-to-moment gameplay, well that’s actually pretty compelling. ReCore is meant to be something of a love letter to classic platformers (it was co-developed by Keiji Inafune’s studio after all) and in that regard it does a really beautiful job of taking the design philosophies of the Nintendo 64 console era into the modern play arena. At its core, it’s a classic 3D platformer (ala Mario 64) with some interesting new mechanics that help evolve the genre, the most integral of which is the addition of the previously mentioned corebots.
Throughout the course of the game you’ll encounter four different “frames” (or types of corebots), each of which adds a new layer of systems to the central gameplay loop. They’ll aid you in combat, where you’re given a minute amount of control over their targets and attacks, but in addition, each of them will allow you to explore new areas of the expansive maps (think Metroidvania-lite). As for Joule, she’s given a traditional double jump, the traversal ability to dash forward mid-air, and a combat rifle, which offers a simple but interesting color-shifting mechanic: A system which allows you to change the color affiliation of the weapon on the fly to match the enemies and thus deal additional damage. Couple that with some light leveling and crafting systems and you have the makings of what should be, for all intents and purposes, a fun and engaging action platformer.
It’s in the presentation and polish of the game that you start to realize some massive problems. You’ll encounter an unhealthy amount of both mild and serious bugs (many of which have been reported to be completely game breaking), along with some curious design decisions that give the feeling that ReCore was rushed out the door.
The end game in particular is extremely lacking. Around what you assume is half way through the game, you’re suddenly dropped into the conclusion with some arbitrary roadblocks set before you — if you hadn’t fully explored each and every map already, that means you’re required to revisit nearly every location to hunt down collectibles in order to level up (which is made all the more infuriating by the minute-plus load times).
There are just so many odd things that start to happen the further you get into the game. For starters, the majority of the game’s bugs don’t reveal themselves until later on (possibly symptomatic of a slow memory leak), but what’s really confusing are the systems that look as though they were intended to be built upon. The game allows for complete world traversal, but doesn’t really do a good job of explaining its limitations. As such, you can “jank” your way into just about any location on the map, but instead of setting physical boundaries, you’ll hit the edge of the map and suddenly be hit with “radiation poisoning” and die. It’s the quickest way to gate the edges of the map without doing any actual work.
HEAD’S UP — THAT LITTLE TANK DUDE ISN’T IN THE GAME
One of the more curious problems with ReCore is the fact that one of the frames in the game’s marketing materials (seen above) just isn’t in the game yet. That’s in spite of the multiple areas where this “T8-NK” frame was clearly intended to be placed, and that all of these areas are there for you to break your way into, including a fully-built dungeon that some players have somehow managed to access ahead of the game’s eventual update.
When you take in all of ReCore, the fact that it quite literally isn’t finished yet is just such a bummer. The story is incomplete, the pacing is outrageous, the load times are unbearable, and the overall lack of polish is so egregious, it habitually hampers the fun of the core gameplay loop. When it works, it works fantastically. After all, there haven’t been any really good platformers outside of Nintendo in years, and ReCore was meant to be a return to form. It was so damn close you can literally see how great this game could have been. For whatever reason, they decided to release this game a few months too soon. Now we are all the poorer for it.
Developed by Armature Studio and Comcept.
Published by Microsoft Studios.
Directed by Mark Pacini and Masahiro Yasuma.
Produced by Keiji Inafune, Scott Green, and Takuya Shiraiwa.
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
5.5 out of 10