Have you ever had a five-course meal where the chef comes out, demands you eat the rest of the dishes on the menu before you can have your dessert? If so, then you know how I feel about ReCore, the latest exclusive for Microsoft platforms.
You're Joule, the daughter of a scientist that was sent to terraform a desert-like planet because Earth is being destroyed by "dust devils.” I'm still not quite sure exactly what those are, as it isn't explained in detail in ReCore. Joule starts her journey with Mack, a robotic dog who acts exactly like you'd expect a real canine to act, aside from shooting lasers. Eventually, you come across other robots, each with its own personality, although those personalities aren't displayed more than a couple of times each in brief cutscenes.
On your way to make the planet inhabitable, you'll be facing colourful robots shaped like various animals, all which look very much like something you'd find in the Bionicle line of Lego toys. While your robo-buddies will automatically attack enemies and can be commanded to use special attacks, most of the time you'll be taking them on via a rifle that shoots different colours. Enemies are mostly red, blue, or yellow and your rifle can eventually shoot each of those colours including a neutral white. Shooting enemies with matching colours means doing more damage, a pretty simple mechanic that neither adds or removes anything from ReCore.
Enemy robots can have their health reduced to make them explode into parts. These can be picked up to craft upgraded pieces for your robots, or you can rip out their cores to upgrade your robot's core stats. Ripping out cores feels similar to most fishing games, in the sense that you're gently reeling them in, ensuring the line doesn't break until you've obtained their core. While it might sound dull on paper, the core-ripping mechanic is quite enjoyable.
While ReCore world initially blew me away with its exceptional particle effects, and the stellar physics of flags and pieces of robots waving in the wind, I soon grew tired of looking at brown rocky surfaces and sandy dunes. While I get that this fits the story and setting, it doesn't mean that it will hold a player’s interest. When not traversing dunes and pillars of stone, you'll be wading through dungeons that look exactly like the places you'd expect to find in a world dominated by evil robots. You’ve got your soggy laboratories, caves, and chemical spills. In particular, the dungeons are exceptionally dull when held against the overworld.
As ReCore is an open world game, you're free to roam wherever you'd like, though the game will almost always have an indicator on the screen where you should go next. Getting from place to place means traveling on foot, though thankfully you start with a dash and a generous double jump. The movement is polished and on point. Dashing across dunes carving your path in the sand is mesmerizing, and traversing the 'cyber obstacles courses' you'll see frequently is a blast.
I have to say the first 10 hours of ReCore are great. You meet the robots, see their personalities, start to learn the backstory and unlock new mechanics along the way. Then you are suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, at the ending and it sucks. It sucks that you're there already and the end portion of the game is easily the worst.
After fighting the villain of ReCore (who is only shown on screen three times, at most,) you enter a series of rooms filled with platforming and repetitive close quarters fights. These rooms require you have a certain number of cores (think Stars in Super Mario 64) to advance. Outside of one measly time, you're never encouraged to explore the overworld map nor told that you may need to complete the story. If you're like me, you enjoy saving side quests in open world games for after you complete the story, or doing only what is required to advance. The side missions aren't bad by any means, either being fun obstacle courses, or battle royals which get a bit monotonous after a while. While you don't have to complete all of them to reach the ending of the game, you do have to complete a lot more than what the game lets on, which was seemingly only done to artificially extend the length.
I loved what I got to see of the characters, and the movement, but everything else could have been fleshed out a bit more or been a bit more polished. There were various areas where the game world had breaks in it allowing me to see through walls or the ground, while other places had floating rocks and debris. There were multiple times where my robots froze or the game itself just wouldn't advance till until closing and restarting the game. Thankfully it saves almost constantly, so not much progress was lost.
As ReCore is the first title in Xbox's Play Anywhere, it meant not only did I get to play the game on Xbox One and PC, but my save seamlessly transferred between the two versions with no work on my part. That said, play the PC version if you’re able, as it offers 60 frames per second and above as well as faster loading times. The Xbox One version runs at 30FPS, doesn't look anywhere close to as good, and takes about double the time to load. On my PC, I experienced around 20 seconds to load into the game from the main menu, whereas on the Xbox One it was closer to 40-45 seconds. Not exactly fast but manageable.
ReCore feels like the first quarter of a 40-hour game. There’s a lot of fun to be had, but the abrupt end section and its forced side missions just left a bad taste in my mouth. I really, truly love ReCore, but I know I can't possibly give it a higher score than this. It's a fun little game that feels like Metroid Prime, Tomb Raider, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Banjo-Kazooie had a love child. You've got fun platforming, dungeons to explore, an open world that encourages revisiting as you unlock abilities, and tons to collect along the way.
With some polish and better character and story development ReCore could have easily passed as a $60, but as it stands even at the budget price of $40 it is hard to recommend. Once it drops to $20, however, you'll definitely get your money's worth.