Video Games Review: ReCore (Xbox One, 2016)

There was a period between 2002 and 2007, lets call it the post-Ocarina of Time era, where action adventure games found a formula that worked and then stuck to it like glue. A plucky protagonist visits many, varied locations, delves into dungeons, collect treasure and items, upgrades their skills and eventually finds themselves in a showdown with the story’s big bad. ReCore operates wholly in the tradition of these games, and that may be where it will either firmly gain or immediately lose your interest.
There were so many great action-adventure titles that came out during that five year period. Fable 2Max Payne 2Alice: Madness Returns. Eternal Darkness. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath. Beyond Good & Evil. Star Fox Adventures. Psychonauts. DarksidersGears of War. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Devil May Cry. Uncharted. Batman: Arkham. Those are just off the top of my head. They encapsulated a wide array of approaches to the genre, but they all largely fell back upon a similar formula, and eventually began to open up into more open-world fare like Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed 2inFamous and Prototype.

The genre then began to evolve with games like Eidos’ Tomb Raider reboot. Most recently, it manifested in Quantum Break. We’ll see it again soon in titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn.

So, having played through games that very much adhere to the newer school of “explore and craft” design present in modern action-adventure titles, ReCore feels like a hard throwback. It feels like the action-adventure genre as you remember it being in the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era, when paths were more linear, upgrade trees didn’t feel like they were being stretched thin for extra content and the idea of an AI buddy was still a novel one.

ReCore revolves around a girl named Joule, a member of a team sent to colonise a planet called Far Eden and turn it into a utopian paradise. She awakens from cryosleep several hundred years late to discover that not only did she miss her alarm, everything went to hell while she dozed. With a small crew of robotic companions (or corebots), Joule must explore a quasi-open desert world, figure out what the hell happened to the team she arrived with and try to complete her original mission.

To do this, she will build, upgrade and order several corebots to do her bidding, solving various puzzles among the game’s frequent Zelda-esque dungeons and shooting everything else with her trusty burst rifle. The gun itself features switchable, colour-coded ammo allowing you to counter various enemies as they appear (ie: if you see a red enemy appear, switch to your red ammo or you’ll suffer a penalty to your damage stat).

Defeating enemies and solving puzzles earns you loot you can turn into upgrades for your corebots, beginning with loyal K-9 unit Mack, your robodog, bestest bud and all around good boy. Later, you’ll pick up other corebots that allow for heavy lifting, prying and other context-specific tasks. They’ll help you in combat too, which is great for those moments when you need to take the heat off.

Distracting enemies with your corebot allows you to grapple them with your wrist-mounted harpoon. The harpoon spears enemy cores and yanks them free of their bodies, destroying them in the process. Cores are then put to use as a part of your upgrade blueprints.

And … that’s really all there is to the game. But here’s the thing — I’m kind of okay with it. I’ve seen ReCore getting tagged online for an apparent lack of scope or diversity in its gameplay and design, and you could certainly argue that there isn’t a whole lot of game beyond its core mechanics, but I feel like that misses the point a little.

To me, ReCore feels very deliberate in its design. It works hard to evoke that particular mid-2000’s era and design style and in that sense, it succeeds entirely. I loved these kinds of games at the time and, given how they’ve largely fallen by the wayside these days, it felt great to finally have a new one to play. Something that felt a little more stripped back from the bloated, mutated variants we see today.

While its true that the combat may start to feel a bit repetitive after a few hours, I found the difficulty curve was just enough that I could still be ganked if I didn’t keep my wits about me. ReCore also presents some of the best platforming design I think I’ve ever seen in an Xbox title. The jumping mechanics are smooth, responsive and very readable, the jumping puzzles are all cleverly designed and allow you to build up a bit of momentum before yanking the rug out from under you. It’s great work, and it’s rare you see that outside of Nintendo (indeed, ReCore is produced by Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune and directed by Mark Pacini, former game director of the Metroid Prime series, so maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising).

This may seem like a pretty simple review, but ReCore is a pretty simple game. If action-adventure titles of ten years ago were your cup of tea, then you’ll find quite a bit to like about ReCore. If you’re looking for something more modern, then your wait for Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will continue.

Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Great platforming; Cool genre throwback; Corebots are cool; Mack is a Good Boy
Lowlights: Not very long; Mechanics feel a little dated by today’s standards
Developer: Comcept/Amarture Studio
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: September 13, 2016
Platforms: Xbox One, Windows PC