Of all of the Xbox One exclusives to release in 2016, one of the larger titles to not receive much fanfare or really hype from gamers has been ReCore. The game always looked great at presentations, but it was always overshadowed by Gears of War 4, Crackdown 2, other Microsoft franchises, and of course the numerous updates to the Xbox One itself. If you asked people about their thoughts on ReCore—if they knew what the game was at all—they usually and vaguely responded with "It looks interesting." After playing it, I can confirm that it looks interesting. And most of the ideas are interesting. However, the final product is just that: a bunch of interesting ideas that are forced to fit together.
ReCore is a post-apocalyptic tale of humanity trying to find life after Earth. The closest habitable planet they find is Far Eden, a veritable dust bowl that at least has a breathable atmosphere. Scientists and engineers were sent far ahead to reform the land of Far Eden into something more hospitable, terraforming it with water and greenery, and then the rest of the teams and population was supposed to come later.
But Joule Adams, an atmospherics engineer, woke from cryostasis one hundred years past her scheduled time. She's puzzled why she didn't wake appropriately, and she's even more puzzled to find that she's completely alone on the planet. All she has is her energy rifle, her tech savvy, and her CoreBot, M4CK-9 unit, or Mack. When she leaves the safety of her Crawler, she runs into several CoreBots that should have been making the way for humans to populate Far Eden, but instead, they're hostile. And thus sets up Joule's adventure into finding out what has happened to the other humans, where the rest of the engineers are, and what has happened to these CoreBots.
The CoreBots are a completely new breed of robots built upon Core technology. Each of these bots have a colored sphere that powers them, and Joule just so happens to have an extraction tool for yanking these cores out of their chests. Sometimes she uses the cores to power doors, allowing her to enter new areas. Most of the time, though, she breaks down the cores in her Crawler workstation and uses the colored fragments to boost Mack's stats.
If she doesn't rip out their hearts, but instead blasts them into oblivion with her energy rifle, sometimes the CoreBots will leave behind valuable parts in their explosive deaths. She can take those and craft new bodies for Mack and the other CoreBots that join her along the way. Of course, she will need a blueprint for the body part before she can craft it, which opens up a mad chase throughout Far Eden to find chests with blueprints as well as the materials to craft them.
As Joule searches across the planet for answers, she has to traverse "dungeons," which are buildings that have fallen to decay over the last century. Since they have not been powered for so long, the inside of these dungeons are dilapidated to the point that the only way across is via platforming. When Joule finds new CoreBots, she gains new platforming abilities as well, which adds on layers of difficulty with each passing dungeon. Likewise, after gaining this new ability, she can go back to prior dungeons and access areas she couldn't before. Other optional dungeons will appear as she travels that contain additional powerful cores needed to unlock other dungeons, as well as supply caches with new blueprints, materials, and other upgrades. If Tomb Raider was set on a desert planet in a post-apocalyptic future, this is most likely what it would look like.
But unlike Tomb Raider, this dungeon raiding is formulaic to the point of boredom, even though the platforming gets challenging over time. Start a new dungeon, learn a new ability, and then use that ability to get through said dungeon. Oh wait, now I can use this new ability to get to those areas in that earlier optional dungeon to get new cores and supply caches. Rinse. Repeat.
The new abilities rarely add anything new in combat, which makes it feel all the more pointless and padded. So too for the Arena Dungeons that Joule can unlock to test her mettle against hordes of rogue CoreBots. Why would she do that when she's supposed to be figuring out how to save humanity on Far Eden? Why do such Arenas exist in the first place? It may fit as a game element, but it doesn't fit within the world. Like Johnny Cochran's closing argument, it does not make sense.
For a game that is so formulaic and doesn't come anywhere close to pushing the hardware limits of the Xbox One, the load times are absolutely ridiculous. After I realized that I was using the load screens to check email, Facebook, and respond to text messages, I started to time them. The load screens ran anywhere between three and four minutes. I have never had greater motivation to not die. Perhaps this issue will be patched later, but the loading times are egregious.
That said, though, it was thanks to those load screens that I learned why I kept snapping my extraction line during a boss fight. The game never gave a proper tutorial on extracting cores from rogue CoreBots, and even the in-game notes weren't that helpful. I realized that when the line turned red, it meant there was too much tension, but I had no idea that when it turned white, it meant it was about to break. It was thanks to these long load times that I finally mastered the art of extraction tug-of-war with CoreBot bosses.
In addition, I ran into a
fun glitch where my map completely blacked out. Fast traveling back to Joule's workstation didn't help, switching between maps didn't help, and reloading a save didn't fix it either. I had to force the game to quit and start anew for the map to appear again. (Again, something to be patched?) Since there is no mini-map on Joule's HUD, the larger map is crucial to figuring out where you need to go to find resources, dungeons, supply caches, and rare cores. I wish I could say this only happened once, but alas, it did not.
The first couple of hours of ReCore were almost downright magical. The story had me on its hook, the gameplay was fun, Mack was adorable and so much fun to use in combat, and I admit that the environment initially took my breath away. A few hours later, everything fell stale. The gameplay gave way to typical dungeon-platforming formulas. Even the beauty of the characters and environment appeared to diminish, as though the game was slowly rolling back to the PlayStation 2 era. At least I had the story to keep me going, and that somewhat made it worth it to push through to the end. If ReCore had simplified a smidge, focused on its core gameplay and core values, it wouldn't be anywhere close to the loose conglomeration of half-executed ideas that it sadly is.
Xbox One code provided by publisher. Also available for Windows 10.