ReCore Preview: Exploration, Puzzles and Shooting

Going into E3 2016, I actively resented ReCore. It was presented to me as a game that I was required to like because it had a playable female character. My default response to this reasoning was “And?  What’s the game about?” Yet, no one could tell me.

I’m not sure why, because ReCore’s playable demo felt like one of those classic original PlayStation games that combined platforming and exploration with puzzle solving and some shooting. In other words, it’s an action adventure title. Don’t feel bad if this surprises you, since the promotional image for the game shows the main character with a bolt-action rifle, implying it’s a shooter. The demo featured some run and gun gameplay, but instead of switching weapons on the fly, you swap colour-coded ammo to match mechanical enemies’ vulnerabilities.
ReCore 1
The name of the game, ReCore, connects to the primary puzzle mechanic in the demo--removing a power core from one location, to “recore” it in a more useful place. Getting from point A to point B involves some sci-fi gymnastics aided by some robot buddies. Two robots were available to use in the demo, but it appears, based on the colour coding, that there are at least four in the complete game.  In classic video game fashion, these robots have different skills. The spider bot, for instance, helps you climb certain highlighted tracks on the walls and ceilings. Each robot has an ammunition colour as well, so you swap bots depending on which type of enemy you fight. The environment and robot designs are unique enough that the game is visually interesting, but still recognizable enough that the game’s requirements are understandable.

That’s important, because the gameplay seems designed to keep you moving, both in combat and through puzzles. Sometimes the floor will spew fire at you while you’re trying to shoot enemies. In those moments, there’s a lot going on at once.  Other times, you need to use momentum to navigate through a high-flying environmental puzzle. It made me think, which I was not prepared for at the end of a long day, but I stuck it out. I’m glad I did because it plays like a game worthy of its Mega Man and Metroid Prime 3 pedigree. I have no idea why Microsoft hasn’t been making this more obvious, because this is a type of game that isn’t currently done to death.

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Now that we can judge ReCore on its merits instead of a concept trailer, there’s a lot to like. It just seems mired in Microsoft marketing’s love of flashy gimmicks instead of solid gameplay. Rather than recognizing that a small, lithe protagonist makes sense in ReCore because she spends so much time off the ground, Microsoft made the character’s gender the centerpiece of its marketing to date. In doing this, I was put off of a game that I now think I’ll actually enjoy.

I’m concerned many players have already written off ReCore because Microsoft put politics before play. If you’re in that category, I recommend giving ReCore another chance. The protagonist is appropriate for the gameplay, the gameplay is good, and game developers don’t control the publisher’s marketing of the product they make.

Perhaps we can take some inspiration from the game’s central mechanic and pull the core of the title out of a culture war, into a discussion of its merits as a game.  I went in a skeptic and came out a potential fan. ReCore is, thanks to a solid demo, one of the Xbox/Windows exclusives I’m most looking forward to for holiday 2016.