ReCore feels like a game grappling with insecurity over its length. Clocking in at around eight hours, it's a modest action game in which players, along with robotic companions called CoreBots, explore dungeons to find power-ups and progress through the story. It draws its inspirations from Metroid Prime and aspires to offer the same free-form adventuring, where items and abilities unlock fresh traversal options, and invite players to explore new opportunities in old areas. It also attempts to bake in the hyperactive lock-and-strafe combat of Prime, except from a third-person perspective. And for the most part, it succeeds.
Main character Joule has a rifle that can shoot red, yellow, blue, and white lasers that do more damage when they hit a matching enemy. There are other considerations such as bullet spray or a charge shot that staggers targets and breaks through shields. Since enemies come in big groups, crowd control is injected with some dynamism: you're frequently cycling through colors to take out the biggest threat or pick off the pest in the distance. The combat is simple, but the colour system gives the moment-to-moment engagements some intricacy. When you're in the zone and matching colours properly, it's possible to tear through multiple waves of enemies very quickly, and it's quite pleasing.
Most enemies are powered by Cores--essentially robot souls--and when enough damage is done, Joule can fire out a line and latch onto these to begin a tug-of-war for ownership. Nabbing a core is like reeling in a fish, where you pull at the opportune moments and ease up when there's too much resistance. It's a thrilling moment of tension in combat scenarios that are already designed to overwhelm. Snatch the Core and you've got some juice to upgrade the attack, defense, or energy of your own CoreBots. Alternatively, you can forgo this and just destroy an enemy to collect scraps, which can be used to make parts for your companions. These have passive bonuses such as improved chances of staggering or quicker ability cooldowns.
Joule can have two animal-like CoreBots with her at the same time, and swap them in and out of action. Your robotic allies follow you around everywhere you go and generally attack whatever’s in their path, but can be commanded to execute special attacks. Mack the dog has a tackle, Seth the spider has a barrage of rockets, and Duncan the ape has a ground pound. These abilities are dependent on a cooldown timer, so it's really about picking your moments and synchronising with your own attacks. A CoreBot's Lethal Attack is far more effective if you land a charge shot and stagger the enemy first, the timing isn't difficult to learn and the damage reward is significant. During combat, Joule can call the bot on the battlefield to her side, so there's also an element of strategy to attacking and defending. For example, Duncan can be left to tear up the battlefield since he soaks up damage, but you'll want to keep calling Seth back to you to give him the range he needs to stay safe and be effective.
ReCore's missteps are a real shame, because it can be quite charming otherwise...It has the heart of a PS2 or Gamecube-era platformer
Joule is very light on her feet, and enemies force you stay mobile with a hail of colored bullets, bombs, and lasers, which can only be avoided with deft leaps and bounds. There are behemoths that will unleash area-of-effect attacks and rhino-like bots that require air dashes and double jumps to escape. At times it can feel like playing an arcade shooter, where you're looking for openings in waves of lasers to thread yourself between, and maneuvering around the environment to find some breathing room.
The systems aren't seamlessly connected, flowing into each other as mechanics in Bayonetta or Devil May Cry would, but they support each other to create a very proactive combat style. Together they give you enough plates to spin to make the overall experience chaotic and engaging.
The world of ReCore is barren and lacks visual diversity, but there are some small touches that spark the imagination. Its desert landscape is cut with the remnants of a robot workforce, bruised by incomplete terraforming, and scarred by signs of a battle between man and machine. Dungeons are all part-cave, part-underground lab, but given a base coat of fire, ice, or poison, usually represented by stalagmites gripping walls like claws.
It's characters are Saturday morning cartoonish, with big eyes and a go-get-em attitude. Joule is an engineer that has woken up from stasis on an alien planet to find the terraforming process has been knocked off track. Her dad is missing and all the worker robots have turned hostile. Despite this, she's chirpy and leaps into challenges head-on, never stopping to reflect on how bad her situation looks.
Her companions, the CoreBots, are equally as vivacious. Mack is the best robot dog a gal could ask for. He's made of junk; a rusty old head with one eye, scratched hind legs I found in the desert, and a torso that looks like it was ripped from a junkyard motorcycle. Yet he has the core of an eager pup. His tail wags like a metronome at 200 bpm. He sniffs, circles, barks, and bounds. Even something as insignificant as Cellbots--essentially keys for locks--are brimming with personality. When you dig them out of the ground, they bleep and bloop their appreciation. Their eyes are spaced way too far apart, and they wheeze through an air tube. Imagine a pug crossed with a drone--you can't help but smile at that.
Had it been comfortable with its brevity, ReCore could have been a scrappy little shooter, but towards the end of the game it gates progress behind a door that demands you collect 20 Prismatic Cores. Then there's another door requiring 25. Then another asking for 30. And then two more doors beyond that. These Cores are peppered around the vast desert outside, tucked away in mountain crevices or placed atop impossibly high industrial towers. They're marked on a map, but their locations are still maddeningly vague.
Enclosed in drab spheres, Prismatic Cores are difficult to discern from all the brown iron beams and black metal sheets that make up ReCore's world. Some are in rocks that Duncan could punch through, but the cracks signalling their locations are lost amongst the dusty mountains and pale sand.
Prismatic Cores can also be acquired in extra Arena, Traversal, or Adventure Dungeons, but these are barebones in terms of gameplay. They each have unimaginative sub-objectives--such as finishing within a time limit, shooting a quota of switches, or collecting a hidden key--but they don't force you to rethink the way you use weapons or abilities. It's always run, jump and, shoot. Completing them feels like doing chores for pocket money.
Going through these dungeons means shooting the same enemies over and over again with no new challenges. And platforming becomes similarly monotonous. Returning to old areas will score you some decent loot--or a Prismatic Core if you've got the patience to work through the confusing world--but there's little value beyond that.
Pushing the player back into the overworld to do side-quests would be understandable if Joule still needed a special skill or weapon to take on a final boss, but that isn't the case. Instead they come off as a fetch quests to artificially extend your adventure.
This issue is exasperated by ReCore's lengthy loading screens. I found that, depending on whether I was moving between areas or returning to Joule's homebase--the Crawler--I was sitting through two- to three-minute loading screens. Given how regularly you move between locations--especially when collecting Prismatic Cores for the evil progress-blocking doors--these loading screens are intensely frustrating. At times the spinning loading icon will freeze, leaving you to wonder if the game has crashed altogether. I played on Xbox One, and it crashed four times. Sometimes it would fail to load the map, forcing me to restart the game and sit through even more loading screens.
ReCore's missteps are a real shame, because it can be quite charming otherwise. It has the heart of a PS2 or Gamecube-era platformer, with its floating lifebars, bright laser beams that fill the screen like a Dreamcast shoot-'em-up, and glowing gems that bounce around. Amongst all the slick, modern day video game productions, it stands out as an endearing throwback.
I wanted to like it more, and had it not overstayed its welcome, I would have. But in the end, like its robots, ReCore is a game with a bright soul encased in parts that are used well past their prime.