ReCore

Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... Oops, sorry, I had an another story in my mind. You see, when I saw the cinematic trailer for ReCore in E3 last year featuring a desert planet, a scavenger girl and a bunch of robots I thought it's some Star Wars game. It turns out ReCore has a voice of its own. Meet Joule Adams, a part of an orbiting maintenance crew, who lands on a human colony of Far Eden only to find it abandoned and populated by hostile robots.

It's up to our heroine and her mechanical companions to find out what went wrong in terraforming a new planet for the human race who are on the verge of  extinction from a devastating plague. Equipped with a partial exo harness Joule can double jump and dash both in ground and in air. This enhanced mobility comes handy in navigating through the many hazards of the sand-covered Far Eden.

Joule wields a mean energy rifle to fend off virus-infected mechanical meanies. She can either shoot the enemies to bits and pieces or extract cores from them when they are caught unaware or damaged enough. Looted hardware is recycled to build new parts for Joule's corebot companions while extracted cores are used to boost corebots' abilities.

Our heroine starts only with one companion but as the story progresses, more corebots join her. With their new abilities Joule can access areas she earlier couldn't. Joule can have a mix of two companions with her which can be switched between on the fly. Sometimes though you make a trip to some hard-to-reach place only to realize you would have needed a different bot to continue. So it's back to switch the companion load out which can be done either in Joule's crawler acting as her base or at fast travel points scattered around the world.

Between the story missions Joule explores the far reaches of Far Eden in a search for stashes and prismatic cores, an enigmatic source of energy needed to open certain vault doors necessary to progress. Like it or not, there's some serious grinding to do because the story missions alone won't provide enough prismatic cores. Best places for loot are optional dungeons of variable difficulty ranging from battle arenas to hardcore platforming.

What's good about ReCore it's unashamedly an old school video game and not some fashionable movie wannabe with limited gameplay in between endless cutscenes. There's a narrative but just enough to keep the player motivated in unlocking the secrets of Far Eden. Controlling Joule is instant and brisk and the camera works delightfully well. It never pans in a wrong way even if you're performing a double jump air dash, doubling them through a resetting portal and flinging your spiderbot to carry you higher along the rails. Sounds complicated? Just an everyday exercise for Joule!

Art design is wonderful and its execution is mostly satisfactory. Some backgrounds can be rough around the edges but all the animation and effects are top-notch. Joule herself is lovely, from her sun-kissed looks to her sprightly voice and spirited attitude she's immediately likable. Likewise her companions are a characterful lot with their beeps and bops and lifelike antics. An excellent electronically enriched orchestral score enhances the suspense effectively.

Technically ReCore could have needed a bit more tinkering. Frame rate takes a dip in more intense scenes and there's some polygon clipping. Players have reported all kinds of glitches, I encountered an occasion when Joule was sent falling through the world when the play resumed after a loading screen. Speaking of which, even though recently patched the loading times are still a pain. You can take an advantage of some glitches though, like during a fight by placing Joule between the enemy and some incidental object. The poor adversary suddenly thinks you're not there which opens an opportunity for an instant core extract to end the fight. Even some bosses fall for it.

So far so good so there must be an obligatory "but" looming in the horizon. Indeed there is a "but", about fifteen feet wide and ten feet tall carved from a concrete block stomping you under its weight. When you have collected all of your corebots and are enjoying the ride, you suddenly realize you're on a verge of the last story mission. And that's when everything which was built before comes crashing down. There's a fine but clear line between challenging and unfair and the developers have not only tripped but tumbled all over it.

The final act of the game puts you in a tower with several floors of increasingly insane platforming action and battle rooms. It feels almost like you accidentally end up in a wrong game. I'm not gonna be a crybaby and moan about how frustrating it can be. No, because even though the whole incomprehensibly repetitive nature of focused jumping and fighting makes your brain swell in disbelief, you realize it's there to artificially stretch an otherwise short game. You also are probably missing the necessary prismatic cores to enter each floor so you're back into grinding the world and dungeons. Oh joy!

I can't fathom why they just didn't make the core adventure longer. An art book of ReCore reveals there were different concepts for the last part. For some reason the developers ditched them and instead copy-pasted the same platforming assets over and over again. You don't even get satisfaction from performing well (after dozens of missteps) because ascending the endless hazards of the tower makes you feel numb. When you finally crawl your way to the end after suffering a few nervous breakdowns along the way, you are bluntly greeted with a brief and lackluster cutscene. Thanks a bunch.

There's undeniably much heart put in the game and when it shows, ReCore almost brings back the excitement from the lost era of great 3D platformers. It never reaches the towering heights of such classics as Super Mario 3D or Banjo-Kazooie though. They were challenging for sure but never forgot the fun factor. The last tiresome act of ReCore just drags on and erases the kind intentions the developers might have had before they decided just to bully you.

Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.