Background Info: ReCore is a 3rd person action-adventure platformer by the creators of Metroid Prime that was published by Microsoft Studios as a Play Anywhere title. It released in September of 2016. You play as the main protagonist, Joule Adams, on a mission to prep an alien planet for human civilization.
When you first wake up on Far Eden with your K-9 corebot Mack, the desert planet that greets you is full of promise. Fortunately, exploring this vast new setting is one of the most entertaining things that ReCore has to offer. This exploration is slowed by random enemy encounters. Luckily, combat is better in dungeons and during the story. Along the way, you’ll acquire a couple other corebot companions that can be upgraded, customized, and swapped out to help with combat and exploration. And with all this at your disposal, you’ll save the world. Or you’ll just explore. A lot.
Armature Studio, Comcept, and Asobo Studio bring a wonderful and enjoyable platforming experience to the table. Far Eden is a vast desert planet, full of rocky nooks and crannies that beg to be explored. To incentivize this, there are loot caches, permanent health upgrades, audio logs that give background story info, and optional dungeons to discover. Joule’s movement is very responsive and is augmented by mechanical boosters that allow her to double jump and dash. The later corebots you receive also provide different ways to traverse the terrain.
These exploration mechanics shine during the optional dungeons. By far the most memorable parts of the game, I was amazed at how each dungeon I explored was unique and exciting. Walking into a room full of suspended bridges and rolling electric balls of death really tested my ability to platform. Each dungeon also has three objectives – time, an item-carrying enemy, and color attuned switches – that can be completed to unlock extra loot at the end. I found myself rerunning dungeons multiple times to complete all of the challenges. Most dungeon run times are just a few minutes, so repetition isn’t a pitfall here.
The platforming and exploration outside of dungeons is only bogged down when it becomes mandatory – more on that later – and by how big the areas are. You’re in a desert, so much of the map is open sand. There are plenty of places to explore, but each felt like its own little island with a sea of sand in between. A more fluid and connected approach would have been welcome.
Combat in ReCore has its highs and lows. You’re equipped with an automatic rifle that has 4 color attunements. Matching the attunement to the enemy’s core will increase the damage dealt. Each attunement has a status effect it can inflict with a charged shot. Being an energy rifle, there is no reloading or running out of ammo; instead, all four attunements share an ammo pool that recharges when you aren’t shooting. Basic combat on a mouse and keyboard consists of holding down right click to lock-on to an enemy and holding left click to shoot while avoiding damage. Your corebots can use special abilities when they have the energy for it, and enemies have segmented health bars to provide a combo multiplier.
The combat itself never seemed too difficult, but as the game went on fights got more and more hectic. With so much going on, sometimes it became frustrating when you couldn’t see your corebot being carried away or the status effect shots about to hit you. Getting hit usually means that you have to button mash, waggle, or dash away the status effect, but when battles become hectic it often means you’re left vulnerable to all the other things about to hit you. In theory this works well because it means that one of the best parts of the game – platforming – is required to dodge attacks, but when you’re pretty much required to lock onto an enemy to do consistent damage, keeping track of where everything is in the room around you gets tiresome.
This is can be even more irritating if, like me, you run into bugs. I played ReCore on Windows 10, so I don’t know if the Xbox One version was a victim of the same faults, but I ran into a few bugs that made the game completely unplayable until resetting. Once, during a crucial boss fight, my mouse cursor appeared and was no longer center-locked with my reticle. This made it so I could accidentally open the task bar if I needed to look down and hovered over it. In addition, I couldn’t turn continuously. If I moved my mouse far enough in any direction, it would get to the edge of my monitor and stop, which also halted any turning motion. This happened twice until I exited the game and restarted it.
Another time, during a story dungeon, my corebot ceased movement and froze in place. He wouldn’t do anything. When combat is heavily aided by a corebot’s abilities, having a corebot that isn’t frozen is crucial. This only happened once, and I’m grateful is wasn’t in an area that required me to use that corebot for traversal, but it still required restarting the game to fix.
Lastly (of the most memorable bugs), there was a time early in the game where I exited a cutscene to a world devoid of any non-ground level structures. Again, this required restarting the game because, to continue the story, I needed ramps and platforms to get up and around to a hidden section of a building where a door was waiting to be unlocked. These were glaring bugs in an otherwise beautiful and seamless game.
Speaking of the graphics and performance, ReCore did admirably. The world of Far Eden looked incredible, though sometimes the rocks lost texture in the out of bounds areas. There are impressive small details like how dashing while on the ground would create a permanent wake in the sand. I even wrote a word with the wakes to see if they were permanent or if the game could only keep a few. Joule and the corebots look great, with freckles and paint details creating a realistic scene. I never noticed any performance issues beyond the bugs mentioned above.
The visuals during gameplay were just as good as during cutscenes, which isn’t something that’s often true. It made it easy to feel that the story transcended the cutscenes and bled into gameplay seamlessly. Though somewhat predictable and not the most original, the story was unique enough to keep me wanting to know exactly what happened. No spoilers here, but being alone on a planet where everything has gone wrong certainly breeds curiosity. I loved the idea of the story, but it left me wishing that I had seen more of it. Despite this, it keeps a pretty good pace until the end when – as I alluded earlier – unlocking the next step requires you to go collect enough of an item to advance. Then, once you clear that section of the final dungeon, you have to go collect some more.
ReCore really shines in the moments of intense platforming: racing the clock, looking for hidden switches for extra loot, climbing massive structures, scavenging for health upgrades, and zipping around Far Eden with the help of corebots. The combat tries to keep up, but open world encounters just limit your freedom of exploration. Boss and dungeon encounters were fun, though sometimes they were too hectic in the name of difficulty. The story is engaging, but it slows down and loses its immersive grasp when it requires you to go collect items in order to progress. If you can avoid the game breaking bugs, Far Eden offers a beautiful setting for platformers, jumping puzzlers, and shooters alike, though you’ll find the best content in the optional dungeons.