There’s an intriguing air of mystery to Far Eden, the barren desert world of ReCore. Imposing metal gates and enormous half-buried structures litter the sand, and sentient robots prowl the surface—some still attending to their duties, others gone rogue. Humans have shaped the world, but even protagonist Joule Adams doesn’t fully understand what’s happened to them or to the planet.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing worse than a mystery that falls flat on its face.
As the first official Xbox Play Anywhere title and a collaborative product of the creators of Mega Man and Metroid Prime, ReCore has an impressive legacy. And, if you play through the opening of ReCore quickly enough and without paying much attention, the game could almost pass as something that lives up to that heritage. Accompanied by her faithful canine-esque CoreBot, Mack, Joule must explore the surface and hidden dungeons of Far Eden in order to figure out what happened to her father and the rest of humankind.
The platforming is fairly tight, and there are a few good ideas lurking not too far underneath ReCore‘s shifting sands. While Joule herself only gets a small random stat increase as she gains levels, she can improve Mack—and, later, a few other CoreBot buddies—to assist her with combat and traversing the world. It’s fun to swap out different parts on the ‘Bots, changing out colors and stats (though at times new parts are annoyingly level-gated). Along the way, new frames, like the SP-DR (spider) build and AP-3 (Ape) turn innocuous parts of the overworld into suddenly climbable or smashable discoveries.
Combat itself consists of flipping through four different types of ammo to match enemies: Red, Blue, Yellow, and a neutral gray that hits all colors equally. Ammo regenerates infinitely and Joule automatically locks onto enemies, so the real challenge to each fight isn’t so much aiming as it is dodging. Enemy ‘Bots charge, spit electric shocks, or pound the ground to send out waves of fire, creating obstacles that must be dodged as you fire endlessly to whittle down their health and send in your friendly CoreBots to attack. For the most part, it works well, though even low-level enemies have the ability to stun-lock Joule into instadeath if you’re not careful.
The hints of mystery, the platforming, and the action are enough for ReCore to be passable, even fun, for the first few hours of skimming its surface. Delve any deeper, however, and it quickly becomes clear that there’s something rotten at the game’s Core—or, rather, its prismatic core.
These prismatic cores—scintillating disco-balls of rainbow light that don’t match any of the known single-color cores of enemies—are both a major plot point and a collectible, with dozens of them scattered throughout the world. They’re difficult to find, often rewarded only for defeating a boss, platforming to a difficult area with the right set of tools, or defeating a challenge dungeon in a limited amount of time, but in the beginning, you’ll easily pick up enough to progress through the story. Until, that is, you hit the point where absolutely everything that’s wrong with ReCore starts going wrong at once.
Right when it feels like it’s about to hit Act 2, the game suddenly grinds to a screeching halt as the final boss appears. This isn’t a fake-out or a cameo appearance for later. Nope, this is it, with the entire plot wrapping up without any warning whatsoever. There are no new areas from here on out; however, the game is far from over. At this point, you may have collected maybe 15 to 20 or so prismatic cores over the course of the plot, assuming you took your time to explore. To progress to where you can actually defeat the final boss, however, you need to have collected a whopping 45. There’s no real plot or progression reason for this requirement—just a (literally) gated area that demands an increasing number of cores to enter each floor, forcing you back out and into previously-explored areas over and over again.
You’ll have to pick over the same sand-swept areas with a fine-toothed comb if you want to find anything, since chances are you already snagged all of the easy cores on your first run through. This aimless wandering and repetition in hopes of finding a core is not only extraordinarily obnoxious for the player, but actively detrimental to ReCore itself. It’s one thing to design for areas that you breeze through as you platform on by, and quite another to design areas that hold up to this level of exploration. ReCore actively forces the player to pick it apart, and the sad fact is that ReCore is just not a game that lives up to any kind of close examination.
From a technical standpoint alone, the bugs that I encountered while exploring the world are too numerous to list. One platforming challenge had at least three broken spawn points that would trap me in an infinite death-loop and force me to reset the console whenever I died (I repeat, in a platforming challenge). One boss spawned, beat its chest, and “roared” at me in complete silence, and proceeded to enter a fight sequence with all of its sound effects missing. A few times I found a core, but couldn’t pick it up. In one room, an ambient grinding noise got louder and louder and louder until I finally managed to find an exit. One entire cutscene jittered distractingly every single time the camera changed angles. I clipped through walls. I fell to my death on solid ground. At one point, I couldn’t progress because the objective marker failed to move after I exited a dungeon.
Other areas are simply badly designed. Joule’s platforming allows her to reach many areas of the open world, and the game is incredibly unclear about where you’re actually supposed to go. Sometimes it seems to want you to hug a wall and jump repeatedly off tiny ledges to reach a chest (what I mentally refer to as “Elder Scrolls-ing up a mountain”). Sometimes, it will be almost possible to do that, but the real solution is a switch or other puzzle hidden somewhere. Even in dungeons, this makes it difficult to figure out if the game wants you to do a particularly tricky jumping sequence, or if you’ve just missed hitting a button. And sometimes, a perfectly accessible area will actually be out of bounds and “radioactive,” so you’ll land on a ledge only for Joule to keel over and die after taking two seconds of radiation poisoning.
To add insult to injury, loading times (at least on the Xbox One version of the game) regularly take two to three minutes. This means that most deaths—even in certain platforming areas or boss fights where you’re expected to die fairly regularly—will leave you staring at a spinning loading screen for minutes in between brief attempts to cross a laser-covered gap or get a hit in on a powerful boss. “Fast” travel works the same way, and even if you don’t die, the fast travel limits get more and more obnoxious as you scour the landscape for more of the increasingly-elusive prismatic cores.
To really rub salt in the wounds of the slow loading times, all four of Joule’s companions are necessary to help her traverse certain obstacles, but she can only have two with her at once (and only one active at a time). So, quite often, you’ll travel to one location, spend time defeating all of the enemies, go through some tricky open world platforming, get to a spot, and find a core—only to realize that you don’t have the right CoreBot pal with you. So you have to hike all the way back to the nearest fast travel point to swap them out—but that’s assuming you have the CoreBot in the right frame to begin with. If not, you’ll have to go even further back to Joule’s Crawler, enter the workshop, swap the frames, then fast travel back, fight the enemies again, and find your way to that spot again, just to use the one companion ability. With all the loading times, this means you’re looking at ten to fifteen minutes just to swap out and use a single power.
I want to emphasize that this is not just an awful late-game grind tacked on to an otherwise good game. The grind is the game: more than two thirds of my total time in ReCore occurred between first seeing the final boss and tracking down all of the cores to defeat it. It completely kills all sense of pacing, forward momentum, and satisfaction. If you actually do make it through the massive slog to collect cores (and if the game hasn’t glitched itself into unplayability), your only reward is a thirty-second cutscene that answers absolutely none of the questions the game presents.
If you want a bit of old-school platforming and shooting fun, ReCore might be able to scratch that itch—but only for an hour or two. The platforming and shooting systems are themselves decently solid, but nearly everything else—the plot, the art, the design, the pacing—is an inconsistent and buggy mess. There are a few good ideas buried somewhere in ReCore, but with a mountain of bugs, systems that seem designed to waste the player’s time, and an endlessly monotonous and frustrating endgame, those ideas never make it to fruition.
ReCore has an enjoyable first few hours, but quickly hits an impassible wall of unending item collection, laboriously slow loading screens, and puzzles that are more focused on wasting the player's time than providing a challenge.
Comcept, Armature Studio
T – Teen
|ReCore is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Product was provided by Microsoft Studios for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Emma’s early gaming was mostly done in secret, as the only gamer in a family of normal people. She still retains skills from this dark period in her life, such as the ability to teleport instantly across the house away from the computer, and holds a gold medal in the Olympic sport of “Hide the Gameboy.” Sorry, Mom, now you know.