ReCore was first announced on Microsoft’s E3 2015 stage with a cinematic and very atmospheric trailer. That led many gamers, myself included, to believe ReCore is a story-driven experience that emphasizes the connection between protagonist Joule and her robotic companions – Mack, Seth and Duncan. Then, the gameplay footage hinted at a heavy dose of tight action-platforming akin to the Mega Man series, which made sense since both franchises were made by the same person – Keiji Inafune. It showed promise as a compelling game with fun and fast gameplay. Sadly, what ReCore ends up being is a big mess of concepts and ideas that don’t work together, some not even on their own.

When it comes to the story and settings, you can pretty much think of ReCore as another one of Inafune’s titles, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, but with sand instead of snow. Humanity has left Earth in the wake of a deadly plague in favor of the desert planet Far Eden. While robotic machines known as corebots worked on terraforming the planet, the remnants of humanity slept in cryostasis for 200 years. Players take the role of Joule, a human colonist who wakes up from stasis to find out the terraforming process has failed, and that the corebots have all gone rogue, attacking humans on sight. Joule, accompanied by her trusty K9 corebot Mack, sets out to find out what happened.

ReCore review

And that’s pretty much it. ReCore has an interesting setup and plenty of backstory, which you learn about mostly through various audio logs, but no actual story to tell. Joule is there on this desert planet to jump around and shot things, and that’s it. Even her corebots companions are devoid of any charm or personality. Granted, when you first meet them, each one does seem to have a unique look and distinctive characteristics. Unfortunately, the unique look quickly disappears once you start switching their bodies around, and their so-called personalities never come into play due to the lack of any meaningful moments or conversations. You are told Seth is afraid of heights, yet it has no issues with you placing its yellow core into the frame of a flying corebot. They are nothing more than tools, to both Joule and the game’s designers.

So the whole cinematic, story-driven experience thing goes flying out the window, but how’s the tight action-platforming part? Well, the platforming is actually solid. Joule can jump, double-jump, dash, and air-dash with the best of them. You will use this relatively small arsenal of moves to overcome some well-designed and challenging platforming puzzles. There are moving platforms, force fields, lasers, giant balls of energy, time trials – all the genre staples really. Controls are tight and responsive, and you can land on very small platforms with pinpoint accuracy, something you shouldn’t take for granted. The platforming is what ReCore does best, and had it been the game’s major focus, it would have turned out much better.

ReCore review

The combat, or at least what the game passes as combat, is so simplistic and repetitive I got bored with it after an hour. Joule only has one weapon which shoots a continuous stream of energy bolts at the target. The only tactics that are involved is matching the color of the bolts you are firing to the color of the enemy to cause more damage. That’s about it. You can also use your robot companion during combat, as each is better at taking down a different type of enemy, but you’re better off just matching colors again. For example, Mack’s core is blue, so you’ll use him against enemies with blue cores. But in the end, all you do is hold down the trigger and switch colors with the d-pad when necessary.

As for the enemies themselves, they do come in a few shapes and colors. While the color dictates the type of damage enemies can dish out, their shape (or frame) determines the type of attacks they can do. But as I mentioned before, there’s no real strategy involved in taking them down. The only thing you need to consider when fighting is whether to pull out the core of an enemy, thus killing it and gaining plenty of core shards, or destroying it to get material for your own corebots.

Cores and materials and important components in the game’s crafting system. You can use them to build new parts for your bots to improve their damage output, defense and special attacks. While the basics work pretty well, this system isn’t without some painfully obvious flaws. For one, there’s no easy way to compare parts, so you’ll have to memorize your bot’s current specs before going over all the available upgrades. You also can’t see your bot’s current level from the crafting menu, so you can end up wasting resources on a part that you can’t even use yet. These are maybe small issues, but they are such fundamental ones they serve to show how little thought went into this system.

ReCore review

The platforming is good enough to cover for both the lackluster combat and the functional but annoying crafting system. However, ReCore’s ultimate fall from grace can be attributed to two things. The first is the open world. To put it bluntly, it is one of the most pointless and empty open worlds I’ve seen in a video game in recent years. The only reason it’s there is to pad the game out. All the worthwhile gameplay takes place in the game’s dungeons – they are where the flimsy story progresses, the bosses fight are, and the fun platforming takes place. Walking through the open world to reach the next dungeon is a boring chore, with only the repetitive combat to keep you company. You can literally spend long minutes jogging through an empty desert until you reach your next objective. Once you get to it, you might not be able to continue on with the game, since you didn’t collect enough Prismatic Cores, meaning you have to either redo a previous dungeon, or scour the map for a few more.

That leads to the second thing that makes this game so frustrating to play – just how slow it is. Beside the aforementioned desert jogging, ReCore suffers from extremely long loading times when you enter a new area or come back to life after another cheap death. They border on the intolerable, and can make a slightly tough boss fight into a nightmare. Luckily for PC gamers, these loading times are only present in the Xbox One version, so they can continue to enjoy ReCore’s other ways of slowing you down. There’s the weird delay between breaking a crate and vacuuming up the collectibles inside (a system that’s actually designed to make things faster for the player), or having to keep going back to Joule’s crawler to empty her limited inventory which, you guessed it, involves yet another loading screen.

ReCore review

At least the game looks nice, right? Well, the corebots all look cool and the visual effects are rather nice, but the environments aren’t that interesting to look at unless you’re really into rocks. Plus, I did encounter a few bugs on the Xbox version, including an entire room disappearing and Joule falling through the floor, and inaudible dialog which was only solved by reloading the game. The corebots all speak in a sort of gibberish Joule seems to understand, which is actually a little adorable, but for some reason there are entire audio logs of this gibberish, which I fail to see the point of.

ReCore has a dozen of other issues and even bugs I can nitpick, like the way enemies can juggle you in a series of repeating strikes without giving you a chance to dodge, or the fact that you can’t set waypoints in the world’s map and must constantly check it to see if you’re going in the right direction. But the worst thing is the truly unnecessary padding. The platforming puzzles within the contained environments of a dungeons are actually fun, and if the developers did try and cram in a bunch of poorly executed ideas in it, it could have been good, if not great. The point is, ReCore should have taken its own title to heart and focus more of its core experience.

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