ReCore Review: Auto Pilot
ReCore builds a lot of goodwill by summoning the spirit of PS2 character action games, and then squanders almost all of it.
ReCore is the kind of mostly likable, budget character action game that flourished in the PlayStation 2 era. It plays like an undiscovered gem that's just been brought to America. I have a special fondness for those games and their quirky creativity. As a throwback, ReCore builds a lot of goodwill, but then squanders most of it with questionable design choices and the distinct feeling that it's been left unfinished.
Each of its major pillars comes with a caveat and holes. Take, for example, the story. As Joule, an early member of a terraforming team put into hibernation for the journey to a new planet to call home, you wake to find the robots meant to assist you have gone berserk. What is essentially a rote but workable enough premise gets some slight heft by the early revelation that your father was an influential scientist involved in the project. The search for your father and answers about the other human ships drives the story forward and intertwine in a neat, if not altogether clever, package.
As the game wears on, however, the pacing starts to feel odd and disjointed. Your interactions with other characters are awkwardly written and rush through exposition. The major villain is introduced without much fanfare, and the end-game portion suddenly appears much sooner than feels natural. It's as if a middle chapter was cut entirely, leaving us familiarizing ourselves with the world for a few hours and then rocketing toward its conclusion.
The moment-to-moment play alternates between combat and traversal. Combat is quick and snappy, with a color-matching element to exploit enemy weaknesses. Navigating the world is similarly well-crafted at its core, feeling something akin to the Mega Man X games in 3D. In fact, some of the challenges in the final dungeon are some of the most breathless, impeccably designed 3D platforming I've seen in years. Tougher combat encounters, though, start to feel unfair, as you get staggered by one enemy and then another, until lethal damage sets in.
ReCore also aims to be a Metroidvania game, with various upgrades that allow access to different areas. These come in the form of your Corebots, companions that also join you in battle. Contrary to the Metroidvania formula, though, you can only take two companions with you at a time. This is absolutely baffling, because it undermines the strength of the genre it intends to imitate. Rather than building your character into a Swiss Army Knife of tools to tackle any given situation, you'll find yourself constantly backtracking to swap out your companions to traverse a new area. What's worse, you eventually receive more Corebot frames than you have robot cores, so you have to head all the way back to your home base to change their configurations if you don't have the correct one assigned to a core.
Paired with the load times, this is unforgiveable. I found myself regularly taking a few minutes to answer emails or talk with colleagues when hopping back and forth to Joule's base, because I knew I would have plenty of time. While in Joule's crawler base, I upgraded my robots using an interface that can be charitably described as inelegant.
Exploring the world was also problematic due to a missing frame, the tank (T8-NK), which was clearly meant to navigate quicksand. Microsoft has confirmed that it is nowhere to be found in the game, which again raises a serious issue with the fundamental design principles of a Metroidvania game. The player reasonably expects to eventually gain the ability to reach anywhere, and that simply isn't possible in its current incarnation. It gives the impression that this robot frame, like the story, had pieces of it chopped out.
Most frustrating of all, though, is the incredibly aggressive gating. Throughout the game you're required to find quotas of "prismatic cores" to proceed, but these largely kept pace with my progress. I may have to run back and find one or two before moving on to the next story beat. The final tower, instead, consists of several floors, each of which requires five more cores than the last. It decimates the pacing and forces hours of backtracking just as the ending feels imminent. With a fuller middle chapter this may have been avoided, but as-is it just feels like a naked attempt to pad the playtime.
At the Core
All of this took a promising franchise introduction and just left a bad taste in my mouth. I genuinely enjoyed a lot of aspects of ReCore--the world, the nail-biting platforming challenges, the smart and fast-paced combat. But it comes with so many issues and reservations that it becomes hard to recommend. I liked ReCore enough to hope we'll see an improved sequel, but if we do, I'll recommend players skip to that one.
This review is based on a Xbox One download code provided by the publisher. ReCore is available in retail and digital stores now, for $39.99. The game is rated T.
- Snappy combat with a unique hook
- Truly impeccable 3D platforming
- Likable characters and premise
- Odd story pacing
- Frustrating combat moments with staggers
- Swapping bots undermines exploration
- Upgrade system is inelegant
- Super-aggressive end-game gating
Steve Watts posted a new article, ReCore Review: Auto Pilot