Imagine you’re stuck alone on an alien wasteland, with no one for company except a robot dog and your own tenuous grip on reality.
You’d be bricking it, right? That is quite literally how Matt Damon grew all those potatoes in The Martian. And he didn't even have the dog.
Such a tense fog of isolation is severely lacking in ReCore, and so Microsoft’s latest Xbox One exclusive succumbs to mediocrity.
A melange of good ideas and so-so execution, it’s just not compelling enough to scale the same action-adventure heights as the many former classics you may have played by its creators. What a shame.
From the people who brought you Metroid...
If you’ve heard anything about ReCore, you’ll know it’s got some serious pedigree behind it.
Some of the talent that brought you Halo, MegaMan and the Metroid Prime trilogy had a hand in its conception, so expectations were naturally high. Unfortunately, the end result is best described as ‘half-baked’.
From the plodding story to a combat system that never quite clicks, ReCore has the makings of a great game, but no one seems to have persevered enough with its, erm, core mechanics to ensure this happens.
It might have an unusual and interesting concept, but the final product feels bland and generic. More than anything, that’s the greatest frustration when playing ReCore: the nagging sense that it could have been a lot better.
The game starts off promisingly enough, with hero Joule Adams being jolted from cryosleep on planet Far Eden. The world outside her Crawler was supposed to be paradise, but instead it's a vast expanse of sand and dust.
She’s alone, apart from the roaming hoards of malevolent mechanoids who don’t take kindly to her presence. Basically, humanity's salvation away from earth is far from certain.
In itself, that’s an intriguing premise: Metroid meets Journey, with an added cast of robot companions that join you as your quest progresses. Trouble is, the story develops in the most run-of-the-mill way imaginable.
As she progresses from checkpoint to plot point, you rarely get a sense of Joule as a character, or how she’s feeling about the majorly terrifying scenario she’s stuck in.
So your only company for hours of playtime is essentially a cut-and-paste Katniss Everdeen. Not ideal.
Bots love got to do with it?
In its better moments, when you’re not simply surrounded by rock and sand, Recore’s environments are stunning to trudge through. Recalling the monumental beauty of Xenoblade Chronicles X, you get the same intimidating sense of insurmountable scale.
Rappelling across a mining installation and scrambling around abandoned factories, there’s a tangible sense that’s you against the world. And this world doesn’t fancy your chances.
Of course, you’re not entirely alone. As well as being shuffled from one gated arena to the other by developers, you’ll also have an assortment of robots by your side. From smashing away obstacles or digging up hidden items, each allows Joule to explore Far Eden in a way that she was hitherto incapable of.
Whether you’ve just got your hands on the spider-like Seth or the monumental strength of Duncan, these moments restore you with a huge jolt of excitement. In a game that repackages a lot of old ideas, its bots are new and essentially original.
Collecting spare parts and upgrading them is a neat twist on the standard trope of supercharging a game’s hero with fresh tech until they’re Batman in all but name. And that’s even considering that their role in combat is ill-defined.
Live. Die. Reload. Repeat
You see, there are several sizeable issues with ReCore. Its two minute loading times whenever you die, its over reliance on fetch quests and its haphazard guidance as you move through the game all grate intensely.
More than anything, fighting off your many foes is the game’s Achilles’ heel. The combat system is just too simple, even though the battles themselves vary wildly in difficulty.
Almost every hostile you encounter is colour coded according to a different type of plasma fire you can shoot off in their direction. So you’ll slay a red foe by automatically locking onto them, sending forth a barrage of rapid-fire and charge shots, and violently ripping out their core if you fancy. Afterwards, you’ll get a mixture of XP and spare parts for your efforts. There’s not really that much too it, which would tolerable if you didn’t end up dying quite so often.
Ever wondered what it feels like to be the class dunce in a school for dodos? ReCore delivers this sensation with aplomb. Just spend half an hour fighting off random encounters on the plains of Far Eden, right after downing the giant Skull Cracker boss on the second time of asking.
Throw in a few frame rate drops, and beasts that scale the sides of a giant cliff faces - just after your pet droid has decided to wander off and show them what for. Yes, that one particularly rubbed us up the wrong way. Thanks for asking.
Second time lucky?
When you’re leaping across a series of ever smaller platforms (against the clock) in one of the game’s delightful side-dungeons, or manage to fell a machine the size of Big Ben, these irritations fade away.
A patch will probably fix the technical issues, and ReCore is supposed to be the first installment in a franchise. You’d be demanding a lot for it to be perfect straight off the bat.
What this won’t do though, is help with the bits where you’re genuinely lost in a giant expanse of sand, and need some tangible direction where to go next. Or make you empathise for Joule and her horrifying predicament, as she blithely leaps over yet another firey pit. These are flaws of execution, not imagination.
ReCore is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of game. For everything it does well, there’s a shortcoming that should have been eradicated before it came your way.
With some extra thought and polish, it’s got ‘cult classic’ written all over it. Unfortunately, that’s not how things turned out.
Nor are we desperate to find out what might be if its developers are given a crack at ReCore 2. Nope, this one seems better off left to history and the curious. An occasionally glorious failure.