There are some things you just shouldn’t rush. Fixing a car. Baking a cake. And, as is made painfully clear by the third-person, open world, action/adventure game ReCore (Xbox One, PC), making a video game. Because while ReCore could’ve been a gripping sci-fi shooting adventure, its considerable kinks, easily avoided problems, and seemingly unfinished bits make it feel like something that needed more time to, well, bake.
Set on the alien world of Far Eden, ReCore casts you as a scrappy scavenger named Joule who has to survive on a desert planet with only her laser guns, exo skeleton, and pet robot dog to protect you. And if she happens to figure out how she wound up here, all alone, all the better. In other words, she’s basically Rey from the beginning of Star Wars: The Force Awakens if BB-8 was more like a mechanical mutt.
While your main objective in ReCore is to figure out what’s going on, you spend the bulk of your time shooting, gathering supplies, and acrobatically getting to the next place you can enjoy a shootout or pick stuff up. Which would probably be a lot easier if the planet wasn’t infested with robots who are pissed at you for some reason.
It is the traversal aspects that give ReCore its complexity and challenge, as the planet was obviously designed by someone who makes sadistic obstacle courses for a living. Luckily for you, your exo suit was obviously designed by someone makes video games for a living, because not only can you double jump, but you can also do a quick dash, even when in mid-air.
Accompanying you on your fun run though ReCore are a growing menagerie of robot pals you can switch on the fly (though only between two of them, and changing which two annoying can’t be switched on the fly). The first and best of these is Max, the aforementioned digital dog, who will attack on command, can dig stuff up, and will even scratch behind his ear if left to his own devices. Though the excellently-named Seth the spider-bot is pretty cool, too. Especially since it’s when you get him that the platforming aspects of this game really gets complicated.
ReCore also gets creative with its combat. For starters, your energy rifle is self-recharging, which means you rarely run out of ammo, and if you do, you just have to wait a few seconds. Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, since you have regenerating health.
There’s also a color coded ammo mechanic that gives your rifle a damage boost if you use red ammo against enemies with a red core, blue against blue core enemies, and so on. Thankfully, you can switch your ammo color on the fly, which comes in handy when facing a boss or mini-boss that cleverly changes color in mid-battle.
Your gun in ReCore even has a charge shot option for when an enemy has a personal force field, which seems to be standard equipment on many of the bigger robots you face. It also has a grappling gun option, which you use to pull out the bigger robots’ control cores, which not only destroys them, but the cores can then be used to upgrade your own robots. There are even times when grabbing a ‘bots’ core will result in you getting into a quick game of Tug Of War with them.
Unfortunately, it’s during combat that ReCore starts to run into problems. For instance, your gun’s lock-on system is so advanced that you just have to aim in an enemy’s general direction to target them. And even then, not all the time; if a second enemy is nearby, it’ll switch targets automatically when the first one’s destroyed. Which would be great if you really were fighting for your life on an alien world infested with robot bugs, but for a game, it sometimes takes away some of the challenge, and thus the fun, of playing a shooter. Doubly so when it locks onto the wrong target.
Though, annoyingly, there are also times when the difficulty spikes so much that even the most automatic of weapons can’t help you.
ReCore also, for some inexplicable reason, makes the entire screen darker when you pull the left trigger to lock on an enemy. And I don’t mean it makes the enemies brighter and the rest of the screen relatively darker, or that the edges of the screen get darker so you can see your enemies better. It makes the entire screen slightly darker. I have no idea why.
Combat is not the only problem with ReCore. There are also elements of the game that run counter to its hard sci-fi story and the equally serious setting. Like how all of your enemies are animal-shaped. Having a robot dog for a sidekick is one thing, while robot spiders are just freaky. But robot gorillas? Robot goats? Robot moths? Was Far Eden a sanctuary for bad robots before you got there? Even some of the friendly robots — such as the awkwardly cutesy Violet, who controls the fast travel portals — don’t work in this otherwise serious action game.
ReCore also has a bad map, which is a real problem in an open world game. Not only do you have to hit pause every time you want to bring it up, but you end up doing that a lot when trying to find anything other than your next mission objective because the map doesn’t allow you to mark points of interest.
There are also a number of inexcusable technical issues with ReCore. And while none are hazardous to your health, they are rather annoying, especially since they’re simple things that should’ve been fixed before the game was released. There were times, during my fun run through the game, that button prompts and the icons telling me where to go went missing. Meanwhile, collectibles, especially those dropped by destroyed enemies, would sometimes fly towards me for collection, sometimes just sit there and wait for me to collect them, and sometimes just sit there when I ran through them. This also has some badly spaced checkpoints, as well as load times that are so excruciatingly long that, at one point, I started worrying that the game had crashed.
ReCore also, at times, feels cheap and unfinished. Granted, some of these instances, like the placeholder-looking menus, are superficial, and don’t impact the game in any meaningful way. But then there’s Joule’s temp-sounding voice acting. While she looks like she’d be an interesting person — I’m a sucker for a woman with goggles — her flat delivery kept me from caring about her the way Jennifer Hale’s excellent acting in the Mass Effect games made me care deeply what happened to Commander Sheppard.
ReCore, however, is no Mass Effect. Instead, all these fundamental gameplay issues make it feel like a low-rent Borderlands.
But the worst thing about ReCore is how, by allowing these simple and easily fixed problems to persist, this game ends up squandering a good idea. Granted, being a scrappy scavenger on a harsh, Tatooine-like world infested with dangerous robots isn’t the most original setting for a video game. Or a sci-fi story. Or for a woman to live, even with her robot dog. But the world in ReCore is so vibrant, the story so rife with possibilities, that even though I’ve seen it all before, I’d like to see that movie again, er play that game again. I just wish the makers of ReCore had finished and fixed this game before I started playing it.