When I played ReCore at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, I managed to kill two enemies before the game glitched out and sent protagonist Joule plummeting through the world into a vast sea of blackness that eventually transformed into kaleidoscopic work of art as a flurry of textures darted across the screen. I put the controller down on the kiosk and slowly backed away from it. The unfortunate glitch wasn’t the only bad taste that ReCore left me with; I wasn’t sold on the color-coded combat system, in which the player gains bonus damage from matching the color of the laser to the enemy color.
While Mass Effect fans can appreciate color-coded gameplay design (that’s a joke), it seems like such a simple and odd thing to be included into a game that is trying to sell the player on a believable science-fiction setting. When ReCore showed up on my desk on Friday, I looked at it warily, but I was also curious to see how much the final game had changed since my brief (and hilariously bad) encounter with it at E3.
I managed to log roughly four hours into it, and I’m finding it’s one of those games that will impress you one minute, then fall apart into the territory of unmitigated disaster the next. It really is impressive how often and wide that pendulum swings in both directions. It almost seems intentional at times. “Wait? You’re having a good time? Choke on this long load time followed by a dull fetch quest. Hating it now? Good. Enjoy this awesome platforming sequence and dungeon.”
First let’s start with the good – and there’s plenty of it here. Development houses Armature Studios and Comcept jointly made a fascinating world traverse in Far Eden. The name evokes thoughts of a lush paradise, but Far Eden is a literal junkyard, a desert filled with the remains of huge machines that have been abandoned for decades. It isn’t a place you would want to visit, but it does hold an intriguing mystery: What happened here? That question is a big part of the narrative, which is also quite good in the early stages of the game. Joule Adams is a resourceful and intelligent lead for this game; a character of few words, but meaningful ones when she finally speaks up. In the opening moments of the story, she learns through video recordings that her father is sewn into the events at hand, but when were these recordings made? She’s been in cryo freeze for the better part of a century. Could he still be alive?
The world, as intentionally ugly as it is, takes many cues from the Zelda and Metroid games, giving players a somewhat sizeable open world to explore. The critical path leads you to your next destination, but you can also veer off of it to search for treasure chests (which are highlighted on the map), and bonus dungeons that deliver significant challenges usually themed around a specific gameplay mechanic. The world isn’t densely packed with content, so even if you are searching for treasures, you’ll often come across wide expanses that consist of nothing but running and the infrequent chance of an encounter. The fast-travel system, if we can call it that, falls victim to long load times, and other than taking you exactly where you want to go, are frustrating in how much they pull you out of the game. Make sure you have your phone handy to check Twitter or your emails whenever a load screen appears. The game can load for over two minutes in some areas or after Joule dies.
Joule’s acrobatic approach to navigating the wreckage scattered across Far Eden is also impressive, and is easily the best part of this experience. When ReCore wants to be a challenging platformer, it’s awesome. The combo of a double jump into a dash to cross huge chasms is designed well and feels great. Couple that with the abilities of Joule’s robotic companions, and the sparks can fly. One of Joule’s robots, Seth, can latch onto elevated rails and slide across them quickly. Joule latches onto Seth in these instances and is then flung a great distance when the track runs out. Again, these gameplay elements are tapped for fun platforming sequences and interesting puzzle-like dungeon sequences.
If ReCore stuck mostly to its platforming, it would have been better off. The combat, which is tapped just as often, is a mess, and it isn’t just about the enemies being painted like the rainbow. Rather than giving players the ability to freely run and gun, the game makes use of a quick-snap, lock-on targeting system. It works well when swarms of bugs are flying at you, but becomes a nuisance when bigger targets are onscreen and you want to key in on one specific one. These moments can be frustrating. Variety of enemy types alsos become somewhat of an issue, even after just four hours of playing. I keep taking on the same spider bots and flies, and the encounters aren’t growing progressively harder. It’s the same pockets of foes over and over again.
I did face off against one boss who was a bullet sponge, but the real challenge came from, surprise surprise, the same pockets of enemies spawning around him. The combat may change as I play, but right now, I love it when I’m jumping, and grow more disenchanted with the experience each time I open fire on a robot.
I will be sticking with ReCore until the end, however. Yes, I am a sucker for mysteries, and I feel like I should see what happens to Joule. I also want to know what went wrong on Far Eden. Those two hooks are more than enough to keep me engaged. When ReCore is firing on all cylinders, it reminds of a mix between Jak & Daxter and Darksiders. Jak & Daxter for the environment navigation, and Darksiders for the open world design.
I am not writing the review of ReCore for Game Informer. That duty is in the hands of the great Jeff Marchiafava, who is playing it as you read this. I have no idea what he thinks of the game at this point, but definitely keep an eye out for his take in the next couple of days.
For those of you who don’t think Star Wars is science fiction, I have more Star Wars science-fiction news for you! The third season of Star Wars: Rebels is almost upon us (September 24), and Lucasfilm put together a hell of a teaser for it. Enjoy the trailer. Grand Admiral Thrawn is back!