Simple is as simple does: simply put if you perceive a thing, person, idea or in this instance Microsoft Studio’s Recore to be simple, that’s probably because a lot of what it does is simple. It’s that simple. Platforming is supposed to be simple, its defining element is the enabling of the player to successfully transition from one platform to the next. Easy right? The problem at the heart of Recore is that, somewhere down the line, the game opted for too much in the way of basic, half-hearted game elements rather than allow its simple mechanics to shine: the conflating of these two design approaches results in a disruptive dichotomy that, at its core, simply hinders the game at every level.
ReCore: Xbox One [Reviewed], Windows 10
Developer: Armature Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: 16 September 2016
Price: £29.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy purchased by author]
Simple mechanics in games aren’t a bad thing and Recore is full of ‘em; double jumping, boosting, colour matching weapons and enemies, it’s all there and it’s very accessible, almost too accessible. Whilst some games and platformers can pull this off – al la Mario – Recore fumbles because it tries to layer too much on top of its shallow systems (most of which are just wholly unnecessary). The platforming is pacey and in certain areas it flourishes, with Joule gliding graciously from one area to another and the finding of dungeons presents players with various challenges that range from speed running to key collection and the occasional Core hunt, however these dungeons each offer very little in the way of replayability, with objectives often being recycled and the difficulty curve only slightly increasing as you progress. There is no real incentive for returning to a dungeon other than to say you did it and for some that may be enough. I just never felt that compelled to one-hundred percent them.
The sparsity of these flourishes is really evidenced when the player’s companions are utilised: again these instances are stretched thin across Recore and because of the linearity of these sequences and irregular rate at which they occur, the aforementioned side characters and their usage is restricted to predefined areas. Whilst their use does open up Recore’s world to exploration in the form of backtracking, unfortunately, the overall design of the world makes traversing the multiple locales feel more like a chore than a meaningful endeavour.
About those landscapes: Recore’s world suffers from a lack of colour and direction. It’s a very tried and tested Mad Max-esque paint job that – at this point – has been done to death. No one really wants a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland anymore, do they? And if they do this writer can think of better examples that are simply brimming with more to do than jumping around. The vistas are nothing to write home about, however Recore’s score is: the music on offer here is to die for and whilst it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Halo or Final Fantasy’s epic orchestral overtones, the game’s OST certainly elevates Recore’s world from the smorgasbord of brown hues and hum-drum, dishwater backdrops its palette is saturated with. If it wasn’t plagued with so many technical issues then you could almost forgive Recore for its mediocrity just on its music alone.
It’s these issues however, that I take issue with. Recore is riddled with ridiculous loading times, frequent texture popping and drops in frame-rate so harsh that, at their worst, will leave you with a serious concussion and whiplash. The level of technical incompetence on display here is just another reminder of where video game design has come nowadays: unfinished products are brought to market all too often and the consumer is left to bear the brunt of it. How such standards of practice came to be commonplace is an argument for another day, however, their ‘justification’ falls well within the remit of this review. At £30 it can be argued that you get what you pay for and to that argument, I have only one reply: Seriously?
No, seriously, despite Microsoft bringing together the writing talent of Joseph Staten (of Halo fame) and the teams/ individuals responsible for the incredible Metroid Prime series of games as well as legendary game designer and Megaman creator Keiji Inafune, here it all feels under par and the end result is a dated look on a genre that has just exceeded the creative ability of those involved. In particular, Inafune, whose recent foray into the genre (Mighty No.9 anyone?) demonstrated the creator’s reluctance to embrace new ideas and challenge a medium that has, for all intents and purposes, outgrown him. There’s simply nothing new here and what has been brought to the table just gets in the way: combat and platforming struggle to reach a solid compromise, with the former frequently getting in the way of the latter.
The stealing of cores is another cause for concern, being an interesting idea in concept however, failing to justify its inclusion meaningfully and therefore harming the finished product ultimately. There seems to be no real logic behind Recore’s reasoning at times, with combat randomly allowing for the removal of enemy Cores during some battles and then deciding against it in others. The game tries to teach you it’s intricacies through messages that appear during its prolonged loading sequences but honestly, there seems to be little need to learn them, as you’ll find that most enemy combatants can be easily dispatched just by hopping around them and firing your rifle.
Ultimately that’s all Recore is: hopping around and shooting enemies. There are a multitude of tact on features; levelling up companion cores and Joules weaponry are two such examples, but these are shallow and serve no real purpose. Moreover they never really grant the player a sense of accomplishment or power; sure there’s that modicum of validation that modern games have ingrained into most gamers – the servile sense of achievement that comes with levelling up – but most of my time on Far Eden was spent wondering why they existed in the first place? Ironically this very same question could be (and in my opinion should be) asked of not just the myriad of throwaway mechanics planted in the game but of the game itself. At its core, Recore simply didn’t try to do anything, try to be anything more than what it is and when simple is as simple does that simply isn’t enough.