ReCore PC, Xbox One
Spoiler alert: someone at either Armature Studio or Comcept enjoyed The Wind Waker’s Triforce hunt. That’s the only excuse we can muster for possibly the most eye-rollingly brazen bit of endgame padding we’ve seen since. We don’t normally give out pointers in how to play a game, but it’s safe to say you’ll enjoy ReCore a good deal more if you spend some time hunting down Prismatic Cores (the game’s most crucial collectible) between critical story missions.
The closing stretch is challenging enough as it is. Two-minute loading times aren’t how we’d have chosen to make players fear death, and they make a mockery of the notion of fast travel. It’s all relative – yomping across a vast expanse of sand does take longer than watching circular blades rotate beneath a loop of tips you already know. But teleporting back to base is all but necessitated by limited inventory space and the importance of upgrading your robotic allies ahead of encounters with enemies who aren’t afraid of launching a one-hit-kill attack when they’re low on health. Still, whoever was responsible for the loading-screen art will be delighted. Their work has never had such exposure. All of this is a shame, because somewhere within
ReCore is a delightfully breezy and well-paced six-hour adventure that’s been spread far too thinly. Despite a messy barrage of tutorial boxes, it makes a strong first impression, with a likeable lead who controls beautifully. Joule has something of The Force Awakens’ Rey about her, as a capable and resourceful protagonist exploring a desert world with a robotic ally. She ends up as something of a scavenger, too, collecting parts with which she can upgrade her four-legged Corebot, Mack.
Our Mack ended up as a multicoloured mess of mismatched parts salvaged from a variety of sources. But it’s a mongrel with real character, and that’s true of ReCore itself. The leads at Armature worked on the
Metroid Prime series, and that soon becomes apparent. Combat, for example, lets you easily lock onto enemies and circle-strafe them, allowing you to focus on prioritising targets and dodging or leaping over anything they fire back. Once you’ve whittled their health down, you can click in the right stick to grapple onto their glowing core, prompting a short but entertaining tug-of-war that’s reminiscent of a fishing game, as you gradually tighten the line and briefly let it slacken when it’s about to snap. It carries a similar tactile sensation to the act of ripping off a Space Pirate’s shield in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and it makes for an emphatic concluding flourish.
It’s enjoyably hectic stuff, particularly once you’ve fully upgraded Joule’s weapon. Enemies come in a variety of colours and, to deal with them quickly, you’ll need to match your beam to their core to deal extra damage, steadily building your combo as you go, which in turn increases the ferocity of your shots. In a tight
spot, you can waste your combo on an instakill attack to clear space, though the tradeoff for losing the bonus is a gain in experience points. You can also unleash your Corebots onto them, though whether it’s Mack launching himself like a canine missile or the spiderlike Seth firing a barrage of missiles, their abilities are similar in function. Then again, swapping Corebots becomes a valuable strategy in its own right, not only because of the importance of colour-matching but also for the impact damage they deal when called in.
Traversal, too, feels good. Joule’s double-jump is finely tuned, and it’s often combined with a mid-air dash to reach distant platforms. It’s solid enough to handle the demands of dungeons that require precision to earn the bonus reward for finishing within a strict time limit. And ReCore isn’t so fussy that it’s not prepared to give you a helping hand if you end up just shy of a platform – Joule will reach out for the lip and scramble up. The camera may not always provide the ideal angle for judging distances, but you’re otherwise made to feel so in control that it rarely matters.
And if the game’s fiction begins with a concept that will be very familiar to those who’ve followed producer Keiji Inafune’s work – ‘lone hero fights robots gone feral’ was even the setup for Mighty No 9 – Armature and writer Joseph Staten find appealing nuance and character in a generic sci-fi plot. The robots are the real stars, though. Mack behaves like a real dog, scampering excitedly, sniffing and pawing the ground at new discoveries and even affecting a plausible limp when damaged – not that you’ll be any less keen to ask for its help in battle, if only as a distraction. Functionally, the hulking Duncan is your archetypal brute, but as with the others there’s real personality in its movement and behaviour. Perhaps the best is acrophobic arachnid Seth, whose climbing skills are at odds with its deepest fear. Its first proper introduction is a classic, as you negotiate a vertiginous set of broken rails, grappling onto Seth as it clatters up and across them.
Both the platforming and the shooting hold up, then, but they barely develop after the first few hours, and for the remainder you’re left to complete a series of rote fetch quests: Joule’s surprise, several hours in, that a machine is missing energy bots is particularly bizarre since she’s spent most of the game looking for them to power dormant equipment. As the latter third’s tricks get cheaper, you grow less forgiving of the interminable loads and the accompanying quirks, such as checkpoints before boss introductions (sure, you can skip the cutscene, but not that preceding part where you had to wrench open a door and walk forward 100 yards to trigger its arrival). Much like Mack, Seth and company,
ReCore’s heart is extremely durable. It’s the pieces surrounding it that are rusty and unstable.
The hulking Duncan is your archetypal brute, but as with the others there’s real personality in his movement