There’s no denying Recore‘s messy launch. Its various documented technical issues across Xbox One and PC were signs of a game that launched at least six months too early. The original release even alluded to a corebot unit whose crafting parts were obtainable, but the bot itself was nowhere to be found.
A year later, Comcept and Armature Studio released a “Definitive Edition”, acting as the complete edition with all DLC, but more importantly, it features dozens of tweaks and additions based on player feedback. Owners of the original got this by way of a free update. It’s commendable to see such an act of good faith in today’s gaming climate, but the real question is how does Recore: Definitive Edition fare as a complete experience for a first-time player?
Recore takes place roughly 200 years in the future. Players assume the role of Joule Adams, one of the only survivors of a catastrophic plague that threatened humanity. After Earth became increasingly uninhabitable, groups of colonists were sent to Far Eden, a distant planet, by way of cryogenic stasis. Upon awakening, Joule notices the colony’s machines, known as corebots, attack her on sight. She sets on a journey with her corebot pal, Mack, to discover what happened to Far Eden while searching for fellow survivors. The barebones plot and characters do little to enhance or detract from the experience. Infrequent cutscenes and concise audio logs frame the story as a backseat to the gameplay.
Recore‘s combat is simple. An auto-aim system eliminates the need for precision and encounters can feel dull at first. Combat doesn’t get exciting until Joule finds rifle attachments. She begins using a standard automatic rifle with three upgrades/attachments corresponding to different colors: yellow, red, and blue. On the fly attachment switching allows combat to flow. In addition to the basic automatic firing mode, each color has a charge blast with unique properties. The red enhancement’s charge blast, for example, has a chance of dealing burning damage to all enemy types.
Combat encounters begin simply enough, building in complexity as the player acclimates to its systems, gradually introducing and mixing enemy types. When the screen is filled with enemy types encompassing all the colors and even enemies that can change colors mid-encounter, forcing players to aim precisely would dilute the mechanical simplicity. Recognizing enemy attack patterns and prioritizing which bots to shoot at, stun, etc…hearkens back to a simpler time in the industry. Old school games had fewer mechanics. Gameplay in Shinobi 3: Return of The Master Ninja was simple. Combat consisted of a single slash and throwing knives. Elaborate combos didn’t exist and most enemies went down in one hit. Yet it was an excellent and challenging side-scroller that tested the player’s reaction times and critical thinking.
Recore‘s simplicity works in a similar manner. You will routinely find yourself surrounded by several enemies posing various levels of threat. This element of vulnerability and split-second decision making is amplified by the extraction mechanic. The core of each machine is what gives it life. Without this core, it falls apart. An optional tug-of-war like extraction mini-game can be initiated when an enemy’s health reaches a certain state. Doing so extracts its core, which can be used as experience points to level up the friendly corebots’ health, energy, and strength. Conversely, skipping this process results in dropped crafting materials. These are necessary for crafting new corebot parts. Making decisions in the midst of a robotic orgy is Recore‘s crowning achievement.
Joule gains access to various corebots through her adventure with each aiding exploration and combat in different ways. Mack can dig for items buried underground while Seth helps Joule navigate otherwise inaccessible areas due to his spider clinging prowess. The newest addition to the Definitive Edition, the T8-NK, is a tank that Joule can ride on any ground surface, including quicksand. Only two of the six corebots can be assigned to the player’s team at any given time.
Structurally, Recore‘s open world map is uninspired. Sure, it’s filled with collectables, but the overworld’s design is rather bland. Empty space and dull desert landscapes dominate Far Eden. While some legitimate challenges are placed in the overworld, Recore‘s dungeons are where its brand of simple combat and platforming come into their own. Challenge dungeons are categorized by type, with each type containing three optional objectives. Just reaching the end of a dungeon awards a health upgrade and a prismatic core, the game’s main collectable. Each isolated objective unlocks a door with a blueprint, prismatic core, or other rewards.
Completing the three objectives in a single run for an extra reward is incredibly gratifying. This dungeon structure, which allows instant restarts upon completion, encourages mastery of the game’s combat and platforming mechanics. Arena dungeons stress efficient combat prowess while other dungeons stress balancing quick and careful platforming. Still, other non-challenge dungeons contain a healthy mix of shooting and platforming. Dungeons feel uniquely crafted, featuring the tightest design in the game. Recore is at its best when these linear dungeons test the player’s skills at every turn. It is at its worst when you’re forced to traverse uninspired open spaces to get to the real game.
Recore: Definitive Edition feels like a sixth generation title in the most flattering way possible. Modern visuals and rendering aside, Recore feels like it belongs from the same era that brought Sly Cooper, Ratchet and Clank, and Jak and Daxter. Retailing for only $20, fans of PlayStation 2 era action-platformers would do themselves a disservice by passing this game up. It’s a flawed, but a delightfully addictive game that brought me back to my childhood.