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Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: comcept (EU), Armature Studio (US)
Release Date: Sept. 13, 2016


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Xbox One Review - 'ReCore'

by Redmond Carolipio on Sept. 13, 2016 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

As one of the last remaining humans, forge friendships with courageous robot companions and lead them on an epic adventure through a mysterious, dynamic world.

Like all roads to hell, ReCore is paved with good intentions. Sadly, a cool concept, intriguing story and lovable, endearing characters aren't enough to stop this game from being one of the more annoying and frustrating game-playing experiences you will find in 2016, if not in the past few years.

On paper, all of the pieces were there for something good. You have a charming, strong female lead character in Joule Adams, who is trying to assemble the pieces of her past and learn the fate of her father on the planet of Far Eden, which is being terraformed to accommodate humans. Much like Rey from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," she carries the presence and energy of a person who is used to being on her own (with, of course, Mack) and isn't in a state of perpetual peril. She's someone around whom you can build an experience.

Helping her achieve her goals is a group of core-powered Corebots, who are personable machines (powered by glowing balls called "cores," hence "ReCore") built for a variety of tasks that resemble different animal forms: Mack, her original Corebot companion, is a dog-like robot who barks, wiggles, discovers things and generally stays adorable. There are others, like Seth, a spider-like robot who can function as a high-speed climbing device, along with Duncan, a robotic ape who can smash things to bits, such as obstacles in Joule's way. They are also apparently the only sane Corebots on Far Eden, as a variety of corrupted, homicidal Corebots comprise the enemy legions Joule has to fight the whole time.

Joule herself is no slouch with her rifle, which can switch different-colored ammo types via the directional pad to match the color of her enemies. For example, red ammo does a better job of taking down red enemies, blue works best with blue, and so on.

Joule's corebots were my favorite part of the game. Their personality bleeds through with every animation, whether it's Duncan standing still and swinging his massive arms around out of boredom or Mack excitedly barking because he found something under the ground (hold X to bring up a target area and tell him to sniff around). They also have a variety of powerful "lethal" attacks than can be unleashed with a press of the Y button, and the game features inventive ways for each Corebot to interact with the environment, whether it's timing puzzles or navigation through the cavalcade of Far Eden's dungeons and confines. Some can even take new forms, like a glider than can help Joule hover over large chasms.

I liked the Corebots so much I feel bad for them: It's not their fault they are in a game with such a parade of weird issues.

The most egregious things I noticed were the staggering load times. Any time Joule went through a gate into a new area, fast-traveled to a point on the open-world map or died, I had time, in separate instances, to:

  • Check (and reply) to some e-mail
  • Peruse social media
  • Buy food online
  • Feed my dog

I timed one death-to-restart load session at 2 minutes, 16 seconds, and that was actually a little shorter than others. Load times like this might sound trivial on the surface, but they are absolute killers for any experience predicated on high-speed combat, storytelling and overall flow. On the flip side, it did give me a healthy fear of dying during combat. But it also made me think whether or not I really wanted to fast-travel anywhere or return to Joule's home base to upgrade my robots right away. Those kinds of questions shouldn't enter a player's mind because of load times.

When I wasn't waiting for the game to load, I was busy trying to sometimes figure out where to go on the map. Most games have objective markers that point to an important area to head to, but in ReCore, those points sometimes disappeared without warning. I've played enough games (and lived long enough) to know how to read a map. However, when new objectives would make themselves known, I found myself committing to memory where the little green "objective" marker would be on the map, just in case it vanished while I somewhere else was collecting whatever I needed to collect to open a door. Sometimes within a dungeon, multiple green objective spots will pop up at once, which is guaranteed to make you run around in a circle at least once.

Another thing: There's some old thinking here. If you thought the era of being asked to collect a bunch of goodies/relics/gems/whatever to open a door and progress to the rest of the story was done, ReCore reminds you that you are wrong, and that what worked decades ago must still be fun for everyone now. A lot of my time playing this was spent scavenging Far Eden to collect enough of these "prismatic cores" so I could move on to a new area. For one of those cores, I had to amble around a large rock formation and find a bunch of small robots, so they could open the container that had the core. I know there are some people who like to collect things in games, which is fine, but I also think a title gets into sticky territory when it makes that element completely essential to progression. Within the same ballpark of thinking is the fact that sometimes, you could have the wrong robots with you and not know it until it's too late. I remember several instances where I would fight through enemies across some vast part of the desert to get to a spot that was unreachable without Duncan or Seth ... except I wouldn't have Duncan or Seth with me. Time to go back to Joule's crawler or find a point where I could change my crew, and time to fight all those robots again. That'll wear on you.

Even things that appear to be in favor of players can work against them because of design gaffes. For instance, Joule can "switch" between two out of her three robo-buddies with a press of the left bumper. During combat, it can be intuitive and an effective way to keep some of the enemy at bay. However, for timing puzzles, this switching can be maddening because the game teleports your buddy right on top of enemies within striking range of Joule's rifle instead of right next to Joule.

This issue reared its head in almost comical fashion when I commanded Duncan (the ape) to hit a switch to align a pair of grappling platforms in the air, perfect for a quick switch to Seth (the grappling spider), so I could traverse to an awaiting door. The platforms would move back to their original spot after about a second, so I had to make the switch quickly and leap close enough to the platform so I could launch Seth, who would then take me to the promised land. I should mention I was also at the top of a rock formation for all this.

Unfortunately, when I tried switching to Seth, he arrived far away from and several stories below me because there was an enemy robot within eyesight that was just walking around and minding its own business. Not only was the timing ruined, but now that robot and his buddies rallied to attack, so I had to jump down, eliminate them, and run the process over again. I actually had to do this two more times because Seth would keep arriving on nearby enemies that I couldn't even see. Oh, and when I finally got to the door, after several deaths and fumbled timing attempts, I couldn't go through it because I didn't have enough prismatic cores. Thankfully, there was a fast-travel point right next to the door, but I had trouble seeing it through the tears.

The combat, when it's right, is fast-paced, fun and occasionally exhilarating. Joule has the ability to fire an "extraction" line into an enemy and yank out its core, destroying it instantly. Every extraction becomes a tiny game of tug-of-war, where the line's colors during the extraction determine how much pull or slack you can give with the right thumbstick. There's also a touch of wild-card balance with the "instant extraction," which not only destroys the enemy immediately but also triggers a small explosion. You almost never know when the chance to execute one of these will come up, but when you pull it off, you can swing battles to your favor in an instant. I even remember doing this to a mini-bosses or two.

There's also an element of battle tactics on the fly, as you have to figure out what ammo to use and when. Some bristle at having this much to worry about during a battle, but it keeps the player engaged. Unfortunately, the crisp moments of combat can get lost in the wash of the game's other shortcomings.

There are other odd issues to be found where ReCore keeps tripping over itself despite earnest efforts to aid the player, like a targeting reticle that appears below Joule whenever she takes big jumps — except the camera always prevents you from truly seeing it, so you end up witnessing Joule fall into chemicals or into a pit of death. I could go on, but I'll stop. Perhaps one day, I'll have Joule raid an easy dungeon with Mack just to see how they move and interact. That way, I won't die and have more than enough time to think about how disappointed I was.

Score: 4.5/10

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