Leading us to the faraway Earth-like planet, ReCore takes us through the semi-open, platforming filled world of Far Eden. Joule Adams – our protagonist – and her K-9 corebot friend, Mack are isolated in this dustbowl after mysterious circumstances. Centuries prior, the Earth was diseased and has since been lost to what is known as the “Dust Devil Plague”. Many thousands of robotic machines called corebots were sent to Far Eden to create civilisation for the surviving people of Earth, as well as colonists including Joule.
The colonists were sent to cryo-sleep for years while the terraforming was completed. However, during that time, something happened. Many colonists vanished and the corebots became corrupt. Joule and Mack are one of the only to survive and explore the vast desert that is Far Eden, not close to half finished and filled with mystery.
ReCore is a third-person, action-adventure game developed by Austin company, Armature Studio, as well as the Japanese company, Comcept. Set on a barren desert planet, Joule and her corebot companion Mack – one of many customised companions you can bring along – traverse the sandy surroundings, using your abilities of double-jumping, and rocket boosting to make your way through the environmental puzzles that lay before you and what you seek; prismatic cores. Cores different to any other you’ve seen before. Cores more powerful than any you’ve ever handled. The hazards of corrupted corebots who endeavor to destroy you are prominent throughout the landscape. Within them, the power of the cores in different colours, and thus, powers: blue, yellow, red most commonly.
The character of Joule is kind of flat, but likeable. After waking on Far Eden to find any sign of civilisation gone, she’s obviously curious and alarmed but still manages to move through the story with a spring in her step despite possibly being the last human to survive. She’s got that young, yet responsible and caring outlook to her. She’s cute, but I feel that’s all she’s got going for her.
As for the story, it’s fed to you through scripted narration and optional voice clips found through the world, both in obvious and hard to reach places. It’s interesting enough to keep your attention, but I’m not sure if the scripted narration alone would be enough to explain the story. The voice clips you find, you have to physically run to collect and listen to. Also, playing with the subtitles on is an advantage which is automatically selected when you begin. Even the mechanical jabber from your companions is translated, though it’s translated into alien symbols; a nice touch.
However, these optional narratives you find along the way aren’t subtitled at all and are stylised to have static and muffling. You can listen to them again and again in your log book to understand if you didn’t the first time, but why not have the subtitles for them in the first place?
The overall story is pretty obvious from the get-go; where is everyone? Why have they gone? Let’s find out! The pacing of the story, however, is another issue entirely. More than once, I was sure I was at the end, only for it to continue on. They try to throw you into an emotional story with a twist at the end, but I’m not sure they realise they hardly set up the story enough beforehand to make me believe it. Don’t get me wrong, it was amusing enough to continue but the jarring nature of it suffered greatly.
Far Eden itself is, well, lacking. I understand the obvious; it’s a desert planet under construction. There are no huge cities with beautiful cityscapes. There are no lush green fields to explore. But even so, the landscape is simply sand and broken/half-built structures. There is literally a huge, vast open space of just sand which you can go to farm cores and test your skills if need be. Box after box of random things litter the ground which after some time and an accidental shot or two, you realise you can shoot and collect the contents. Energy for your companion and yourself, parts for your companion’s skeletons, and some sort of currency that isn’t made that clear. You collect them because you feel you have to, but really, you can go without for a while.
Not having much to look at, the sense you usually get in open world games to explore isn’t there, and the platforming parts of the map just look a little too convoluted to enter. You’ll suddenly find yourself in front of a playground of levitating platforms and obstacles which you know lead to the much needed prismatic cores or an awesome upgrade for your companions, but you find yourself saying “… maybe later.” Parts to make up blueprints for your corebots are scattered throughout the world as well, visible to you from far away with a small beam of light shooting up from them. They’re on top of high buildings or on cliffs in the distance. Some of them are rare, hard-to-find materials, so it’s almost like they knew it would be a problem, therefore they added these to entice you to explore further. (Not that I’m complaining about free parts).
The bleak look of the world is notably problematic seeing as the progression of the story is based on how many prismatic cores you’ve collected along the way. You don’t want to have to explore the world to find them, you just want to go through the story. You collect more prismatic cores by completing dungeons, finding them under the sand, fighting a small horde of corebots (among other things around the world). Once you get a fair way through the story, you can only go further to the next area if you’ve done some extra dungeons or exploring beforehand. Not only that, but they don’t tell you until you’re literally at the door of the next area, or mid-sentence in a cutscene, which stops the flow of the story completely until you can find some more cores. The story does this every step along the way once you feel you’re at the end, forcing you to head back out into the dry land to boost along, hoping to trip over an easily accessible hidden dungeon just so you can get at least one extra core.
Finding the cores is difficult and annoying by itself. You have no minimap UI to look at, having to pause play and look at your overview map in the menus to figure out where you are in the world in comparison to the cores or dungeons. The dungeons are simple and hold at least one prismatic core for completion. The traversal dungeons are just platforms and obstacles to get around. Getting into a rhythm is rewarding but sometimes falling to your death leaves you at an annoying spawn point such as my experience below, where I was stuck in an infinite loop of getting pushed to my death. I had to time my jumps just right on the black screen to get out of the way.
The other type is a battle arena; fight corrupted corebots until they’re all dead. If you die at the last corebot, start all over again. It’s unrewarding for the most part and irritating if you get killed for something so small, like off timing. Not only all this, but you’ll find there are some prismatic cores waiting for you but only if you have the right companion to assist you.
Your corebot companions are there to help you along your journey throughout Far Eden. You’re introduced to Mack as you begin the game; an energetic dog friend with a blue core. He travels alongside Joule, communicating with her and using his special ability to sniff out treasure using his super nose. Later, you’re made acquainted with Seth; a fearful friend with a spider-like frame and a yellow core. He’s scared of heights but helps you get on top of tall structures or fly through the air in a flash. Then along the way, you find Duncan; an explosive-tempered, yet gentle giant ape with a red core. His strength lets you pound your way through rubble blocking the path to freedom or extra goodies.
They fight with you and each has their own unique powers/attacks which you must command. As you roam throughout and defeat enemies, you’re able to upgrade and create new skeletons for them which improve their three key attributes: energy, defence, and attack. As great as a feature this is, sometimes you’ll just get a blueprint for a new skeleton part that is leaps and bounds ahead of the others but unfortunately, won’t fit with their current appearance. Sure, this won’t matter to many but I decided to make my dog look like an actual dog, with a cartoon canine-like head – ears and all – over the rectangle head it has as a default. But further on, my dog aesthetic had to take a back seat to better stats and I didn’t really enjoy having him by my side anymore.
You’re also able to change around and customise your companions entirely, however, this is where the confusion starts. They introduce a new mechanic a fair way into the story. ‘Mack’, ‘Seth’, and ‘Duncan’ are the names of the cores themselves, not the animal skeletons they encase themselves in; they have different names entirely. Now you’re able to switch the cores into different bodies, bringing across the separate personalities, but not their environmental abilities. So far – and this is hours into the game itself – this is all you’ve been taught; Mack is your dog, Seth is your spider, and Duncan is your ape. Your knowledge of them and what they do is based on their animal bodies.
Do you have to change their cores? Well, no, not really, but you only have these three personalities with multiple bodies, like the one in the picture below. So, if you want to use him (which I believe you have to at least once), you’ll have to change at least one core. Also, their commanded attacks change power once swapped. For example, Mack’s power is to stun their enemy. If Mack is your dog, he’ll run in to shock them with a physical attack, but if Mack is your spider, he’ll shoot two large beams out with the possibility to hit two enemies at once, rather than focus your attack on a single foe.
Only being able to take two companions at a time adds to the confusion as it asks you to bring along a companion based solely on the name of their core, not the name of the animal, and thus, the environmental abilities their animal bodies represent. Certain dungeons or parts of the map need the certain companion to pass through and it’s especially frustrating when you choose your two companions, travel far to the objective, defeat enemies along the way, only to find you’ve got the wrong companion. You brought your customised red-cored dog over the default red-cored ape you’ve always had who can be used to break down the barrier you need to pass. If you choose the wrong companion, you’ve really got no choice but to fight your way back to a fast-travel station or fast-travel back yo your base. However, doing this brings in another issue; the load times.
At the time of playing through ReCore on the Xbox One, the load times were excruciating. Although an update for Xbox One is out/coming out to help this, and playing on PC apparently diminishes these times greatly, you simply cannot ignore the issues that this game had in its opening weeks and are apparent throughout other reviews. After deciding to time the loading screens, it came to an average of 2.5-minutes in certain parts between death and revival, and 1.5-minutes for fast-travel locations. In text it doesn’t seem that bad but it takes away whatever immersion you once had when you have no choice but to stare at a stationary screen possibly without any sound.
The combat is simplistic in its design. To defeat your adversaries and extract their cores so you can power your companions, you must weaken them first. Joule comes equipped with a gun set to neutral, with different upgrades found throughout the map. Up against a bully blue corebot enemy? Shoot them with your blue upgrade! Found a radical red attacker? Shoot them with your red upgrade! Confronted by a green giant? You’ve been to school. Your yellow and/or blue gun make up this secondary colour. You either can destroy these robots completely, explode them into a dust of mechanical parts ready to retrieve or when weak enough, you can extract their cores by ensuing in a game of tug-of-war to pull their hearts from their skeletons which you can use to power up your companions.
Combat works on a combo basis. Keep your combo up by attacking without being damaged, more harm will occur to the enemy and thus the closer and quicker you can get to extracting their core. Shooting them with the right colour adds more damage and powering up your weapon to shoot off a powerful pulse can inflict massive damage. It’s enjoyable but repetitive and very simple. Not that you need anything complex, but matching colours in combat aren’t challenging, and the auto lock-on is frustrating when it switches between enemies suddenly, making you lose your bearings.
Overall, it doesn’t sound too much like I really enjoyed this game, but despite all of the issues, I stuck around until the end; the mystery alone was enough to keep me entertained. There were times where out of frustration for loading times or long travels for nothing, I turned my Xbox straight off, but I came back every time to play such an interesting style of game. However, if the price point were that of a full retail release (it was $49.95 AUD), perhaps these problems wouldn’t have been as excusable.
Headaches aside, I found something extra to focus on and something new to surprise me every time I picked it back up, but unfortunately, it always ended the same way; I didn’t choose to turn it off, it made me.