In the past couple of years we’ve seen the return of 3D platformers in the gaming market. Be it with the most recent Ratchet & Clank games, 2013’s Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Nintendo’s continued support of the genre through their numerous franchises such as Super Mario 3D World, or the very eagerly-anticipated Kickstarted project Yooka-Laylee (coming in 2017). You might’ve noticed something absent from the games I mentioned there. Xbox. Ever since the original Xbox console, Microsoft have been curiously absent from the 3D platformer genre. Artoon’s Blinx: The Time Sweeper back in 2002 provided Microsoft the opportunity to jump into the genre with a mascot, but outside of Japan Microsoft were set on focusing their attention on Master Chief as their mascot, and soon Blinx was forgotten. Fast forward to 2016 and for the first time since possibly Conker: Live & Reloaded in 2005, Microsoft Studios themselves have published Armature Studio’s ReCore for the Xbox One and PC, and let’s just say maybe they should’ve just stayed away from the genre…
ReCore‘s story actually has a very interesting concept. Planet Earth has been hit with a disease known as the “Dust Devil Plague” which quickly spreads, making the world uninhabitable. As a result of this, a colony of humans, along with thousands of machines known as Corebots, are sent to a nearby habitable planet known as Far Eden to set up facilities to process the planet’s atmosphere. The game starts with one of the colonists, Joule Adams, and her robot dog companion, Mack, awakening from a cryo-sleep bunker 200 years after being sent to Far Eden. While Joule may be the only human left surviving, she’s not alone as the Corebots have completely turned against her.
Don’t let the very intriguing concept fool you, while the game has a very well thought out plot on paper, in execution it’s anything but. The themes and ideas are displayed well in cutscenes, and Joule’s voice acting is on point, but the story takes no time at all before becoming boring and predictable. Joule isn’t a character I felt myself growing attached to at all, and after the first thirty minutes of gameplay I found myself completely uninterested in figuring out anything about the world or story. However, I wouldn’t necessarily pin this all on the story because the gameplay was the major contribution to my lack of interest.
Calling this game a primarily 3D platformer may not exactly be totally fair to the game, truly it is an open-world 3D platformer-shooter game with dungeons similar to the modern The Legend of Zelda games. The controls are similar to a Mega Man Legends title, the game is designed like a The Legend of Zelda game, and the gameplay is akin to the recent Ratchet & Clank titles, creating a mess of game design that makes the player question what type of game the developers were actually trying to make. One of these concepts that pans out quite well, surprisingly, are the controls. Joule controls very well during platforming sequences and comes with the ability to dash forward and double jump. There are many trials in gameplay requiring the player to make very tight platforming actions, and thankfully the controls are fleshed out enough to support these.
Gunplay is simplistic, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in all cases, but definitely raises some problems. Instead of supplying the player with multiple firearms, ReCore gives the player a single gun with 4 colour differentiated ammo types that match the enemy they’re used against. This simplicity felt out of place in a game trying to be so structured. While fighting enemies during gun combat you’ll be required to take enemy Corebots’ cores as they’re required for story events, and this requires you to stop mid-battle and play tug-of-war with the enemy which is a bit confusing to control at first but is quickly adjusted to. This does leave you open to other enemies’ attacks, so you need to be careful when you activate this. Joule’s arsenal can be leveled up through a somewhat complicated UI that doesn’t really explain as much as it should nor really tell you what you’re upgrading through text as much as it does through symbols that you need to decide how to use yourself.
Another area where ReCore fails to convey its message to the player is in the open-world design. There was a mission very early in the game where I needed to collect two cores to unlock a gate I had previously visited. After collecting these items, I returned to the open world and my waypoint was not updated, causing me to roam around the area trying to remember where I found the gate, which the game just expected me to remember. To top this off, the only way to access any sort of map of the overworld is through the pause menu, meaning that wherever I thought looked like the exit, I would have to pause and check that I was heading in the right direction. This is such an easily avoided problem that only required a simple correction, one that is found in almost every other open-world game.
Another thing said mission made me realise is that the game really likes to make the player stray from the main path to fetch-quest after every main story mission. A lot of the time the player is required to find multiple Prismatic Cores. To find these the player must go through optional dungeons. Optional dungeons. The game takes what should be seen as replay value and forces you to take it in mid-game to unnecessarily pad out the experience. This gets incredibly frustrating at the end of the game where the story would require the player to have at least 15 of these Prismatic Cores, but to enter the final area, the game suddenly requires 45 of these cores, meaning you have to entirely abandon the main story for hours. This is just poor game design that acts mostly to irritate gamers rather than entice them to keep playing.
Without a doubt the worst part about ReCore is definitely the performance on Xbox One. The game struggles to run at 30 frames-per-second at almost all times, and the textures look like an early Xbox 360 game. Nothing about the visuals in ReCore indicate that it belongs on the Xbox One, the game is just ugly, especially for a game published by Microsoft themselves in 2016. Glitches are at almost every turn in ReCore. From falling through the floor to game mechanics not functioning in the menus, this game has all the beginners traps for programmers. These are nothing compared to the game’s horrible load times though. After being defeated in battle, ReCore likes to take up to 5 minutes to revive you. You read that right. 5 minutes of waiting around. Needless to say I made sure I had the YouTube app on my phone on stand-by at all times while playing. Technically, the game is a mess on all accounts and is only really saved by the unique design of Joule, her companion robots and the corebots.
ReCore is a complete and total mess in almost every imaginable way that can only be saved by it’s interesting themes and ideas, good voice acting and visually appealing character designs and very little else. You won’t find yourself hating the core gameplay, but as soon as all the main ideas are introduced, they immediately outstay their welcome. The game is riddled with questionable design choices, borderline game-breaking glitches and worst of all, horrible load times that the game fails to justify with its downright ugly visuals. ReCore is a game that only acts to remind gamers why 3D platform games died out so many years ago, which is an insult to such a wonderful and innovative gaming genre.
Developer: Comcept, Armature Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 16th September 2016