Developer : Armature Studio, Comcept
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: September 13, 2016
Platforms: Xbox One, Windows PC
ReCore is so frustrating. This is an inspired new IP for Xbox One that has the potential to be a top-tier franchise. With lovable robot companions, pin-point accurate platforming, and exciting combat, ReCore has the ingredients for an outstanding exclusive. Frustratingly, it is mired by some of the worst load times this generation, archaic map and objective management, and soul-less grinding elements.
Great At Its Core…
Joule Adams awakes in a monstrous mobile home that seems to have crash landed on Far Eden, a world that strongly resembles Pandora of Borderlands fame. With only a message from her father, Joule embarks, alongside her adorable and formidable K-9 unit, Mack, on her sandy journey to discover just what the heck happened .
Far Eden is populated by nefarious corebots that feature some of my favorite robo-designs since Transformers. And Joule has more than a few ways to tear her way through them. Similarly to Ocarina of Time’s Z-Targeting system, Joule locks on to enemies with Left Trigger and switches to the next on-screen baddie with a flick of the right thumbstick. You can fire without locking on but I generally saved firing from the hip for moments of true chaos. Either way, you have plenty of options when taking down Joule’s oppressors. Holding Right Bumper charges a powerful shot, a la Mega Man X, that can stun even the biggest bad guy dead in his tracks. This is particularly helpful just before he unleashes a devastating attach on Joule or Mack. Stunned, Joule can unleash more charged shots, rapid fire, or after enough damage is done, lash out a whip around the bot’s power core and carefully extract it with a clever tug-of-war mechanic.
A truly intuitive color-coded combat system keeps things from drying stale. Red enemies do fire damage and can be dealt additional damage from, wait for it, red ammunition. Blue baddies are susceptible to blue, Yellow to yellow, etc. Some enemies will change on the fly while other encounters will feature a multi-colored cast of characters. It’s a stupidly-simple mechanic that actually works. But the color-coded concept feels foundational to ReCore’s DNA. Joule’s corebot companions are empowered by the same concept and deal damage in a corresponding fashion – creating some interesting strategy in choosing your comrades. It even plays into the platforming and puzzle-solving and I was pleased to see this simple concept applied so thoroughly throughout.
Tap A to jump. Tap it again to double jump. Press B to dash. Now, employ all the combinations and permutations of these moves, later adding new upgrades and power-ups from Mack and co., and you’ll discover ReCore’s true strength: platforming. Armature Studios impressed me with some of the year’s (maybe generation’s) best environmental puzzle-solving through challenging-but-achievable platforming. There’s a genuine reward from pausing, examining the landscape, and perfectly executing a set of jumps, dashes, and corebot companion moves. This is highlight reel material and quite remarkable stuff.
The “dungeons” remind me of the Tombs in Rise of the Tomb Raider as fairly self-contained experiences that mainly exist as checklist distractions from the main story. Joule will collect experience points by completing the primary objectives of the dungeons and additional experience by achieving secondary goals as well. Typically, this means racing to the end within a challenging time limit, shooting at switch targets, and other optional objectives. Some feature tremendous platforming as we’ve discussed but for the most part, I’m left wanting more out of the dungeons. And just like Tomb Raider, I look forward to a sequel where Armature expands upon this principle idea to achieve something a little more significant.
…But The Core Is Rotten
This all happens, of course, after booting the game and heading upstairs to make yourself a sandwich – or throw a steak on the grill. Without hyperbole, these are some of the longest load times I have ever experienced. Ever. Not just this generation. And yes, I’ve played Bloodborne and Fallout 4. I clocked one randomly selected load time at two minutes. That wasn’t loading a new area of the map or the next mission. This 120-second load time was prompted by a death. As agonizing as this is, the load times themselves seem random. In a particular area, near the end of the game, I was confronted by some challenging battle sequences and sometimes the loads were instantaneous, but most weren’t.
I cannot understate how significantly the load times negatively impacted my time with ReCore and how frustrating that is.
ReCore also made me feel a little stupid thanks to its non-existent objective or map management. Loading the map with the View button displays a familiar overlay of the land with a helpful legend. So far, pretty standard. There are various dungeons and collectibles strewn throughout Far Eden but if you want to mark one and follow a way point, well, you can’t. I’m reminded of my time with Rise of the Tomb Raider last year and oh how I enjoyed 100% clearing each area – with the help of way points! Instead, exploring Far Eden is a frustrating repetition of checking the map, closing the map, running in one direction, and checking the map to see if that’s the right direction just to progress the story or find a new dungeon.
Once a dungeon or story mission is underway, this no longer becomes a problem and you can mostly enjoy ReCore thanks to its tremendous platforming and combat. But die and you’ll be back on Twitter complaining about the load times. Sadly, the performance issues extend to framerate drops, visual pop-in and tearing, and other random bugs. The problems with ReCore are almost exclusively technical and I am forced to consider how much better this game should have been with just a little more development time.
There’s no way around it: ReCore’s technical shortcomings cripple its potential to be a remarkable Xbox One exclusive. Nearly every frustration and detracting factor could have been mitigated with optimization. Long load times and a non-existent objective/map management system are massive problems that hinder the experience throughout. Still, with strong platforming, combat elements, and an intriguing setting, we should hope for more in the ReCore world with either a sure-to-be-coming performance-enhancing patch or coming-of-age sequel.