ROTTEN TO THE CORE
REVIEWED ON XBOX ONE, PC / 3 OCT 2016
The early hours of Microsoft’s latest Xbox exclusive start off well enough, the action feels fluid, the world initially intriguing, and our heroine is worth getting excited about. Unfortunately, once the honeymoon period is over and you begin to explore the world of “Far Eden,” this latest title quickly falls apart.
Developed in collaboration between Armature Studios and Keiji Inafune, whose past releases include Metroid Prime and Mega Man respectively, ReCore seems like a match made in heaven. With the designers of what are collectively some of the greatest games of the last 30 years you would think that ReCore would be a landmark title, yet, despite the talent behind it and a $40 price tag, ReCore fails to hit almost every mark.
ReCore begins well enough with our heroine Joule, and her Corebot companion, the adorable dog-like robot named Mack, venturing across the sands of Far Eden. Joule is part of a group of humans forced to leave Earth due to a virus that eradicated most of humanity; those who survived were put into cryosleep while the Corebots set out to transform Far Eden from a desert wasteland into a new home. However, looking at the dusty exterior, it becomes clear that something went wrong and after 200 years on ice, it’s up to Joule to set things right.
Over the course of the 15-hour adventure, the sparse cut-scenes and cliffhanger ending do little to flesh out the adventure; by the end of the game, I still knew little about Far Eden, about the virus that very nearly destroyed humanity, or even the “CoreBots” themselves. To call the narrative disappointing would be an overstatement as it doesn’t build up any expectations to begin with. To put things simply, when a game’s developers are able to list Metroid on their resume, they let themselves down by delivering an experience that fails to live up to their previous work.
The gameplay in ReCore is divided into three parts: fluid combat, platforming that can be satisfyingly challenging, and an exploration element that at the very best overstays its welcome and at the worst is flat out awful.
ReCore’s combat revolves around a lock-on targeting system and color-coded bullets you’ll snap to enemies using the left trigger matching the shade of the bullets to the enemy you’re targeting. If that doesn’t do the job, you can send in one of your CoreBots for a powerful strike by pressing the “Y” button, or fire off some charge shots to knock out their shields and extract cores with Joule’s grappling hook. When you reach a combo of ten, an instant extract can be performed, ripping the core right out of enemies and ending with a satisfying blow that damages other nearby foes.
While the combat feels almost like a bullet-hell shooter, the platforming of ReCore feels decidedly old school with the precision of Keiji Inafune’s own Mega Man games coming to mind. This is especially true when you enter one of the game’s many challenge dungeons where you’ll be challenged to jump from platform to platform, float across vast expanses, and navigate laser obstacle courses that upon completion will have you wondering just how such a feat was even possible. If the rest of the game were as focused as these areas, ReCore would be stellar. Sadly, that’s just not the case.
Without a doubt, the platforming of ReCore is the game’s strongest element, and in a smaller, more focused game, it would be incredible. In ReCore, however, it’s a single bright spot in an otherwise desolate experience. This brings us to the biggest problem–everything else. First, the game takes place in a semi-open world, which means that you’re given vast areas to explore with loading screens in between.
Unfortunately for ReCore, the loading screens often reach close to a full minute on Xbox One. The PC version, on the other hand, can alleviate this somewhat with faster, more costly hardware. But, even then, they’re substantial. Simple actions shouldn’t require so many loading screens. Design choices like this are what ultimately kills ReCore. Why swapping bots isn’t a simple menu option is beyond reason and is unacceptable in a big-budget release.
If this weren’t bad enough, the game actually forces you to explore Far Eden, which is about 85 percent empty, in order to complete the game. Before you can complete ReCore, you’ll need to collect 45 “Prismatic Cores” to enter five final challenge rooms and fight the last boss. To put this in better perspective, I was about 10 hours in before reaching the final dungeon. It would be an additional five hours before I could gather all the cores needed to actually complete the game. This kind of shameless padding, especially from developers with such a pedigree, is baffling and makes the game unbearable. This saying nothing of a multitude of bugs that make a bad experience worse.
ReCore’s presentation is also a mess. Whether you play on Xbox or PC, you’re sure to encounter all manner of pop in, stuttering, and, in the case of the Xbox version, an erratic frame-rate that sometimes dips into the teens. If you’re going to play ReCore, the PC is your best choice, where many issues aren’t as pronounced. That said, all the computing power in the world won’t stop Far Eden from looking like a steaming hot pile of garbage.
On the audio side, the music in ReCore can best be described as inoffensive and not particularly memorable. Though in fairness, it might be better if you could actually hear it most of the time. But, as with many of the ideas ReCore presents, the music fails to rise to the surface. However, the voice acting is done well enough, and the CoreBots are given quite a bit of personality, which are two of the game’s redeeming factors.
When it was originally announced back at E3 of 2015, ReCore showed nothing but promise. The developers were renowned, the concept fresh, and it seemed like the title could be a key differentiator for the Xbox brand. Sadly, any good ideas ReCore had are largely wasted–even the $40 price tag is not worth it. If you were considering a vacation to Far Eden you’re much better off seeking adventure elsewhere.