One of my favourite moments in gaming was when I picked up Metroid Prime on the GameCube. With lush visuals, fast gameplay and coloured weapon mechanics; I lost many hours to Prime. ReCore, in many ways, is Prime’s spiritual successor, albeit it’s played from a third person perspective. It’s quite a bold statement, but when you look at the team behind the latest Microsoft exclusive, you might also jump to a similar conclusion.
The studio behind ReCore is Armature, which was founded by key members of the Metroid Prime team. Also on board working with the team is Keiji Inafune, of Mega Man fame – quite the dream team – and the perfect combination to make one heck of a game, something that could factor into how high your expectations are of ReCore.
A plague, the Dust Devil, has ravaged Earth with the populace looking to the stars to find a new home. Far Eden, a desert planet, could be that world once an advance team has terraformed its surface. The bulk of the team is robotic, equipped with a variety of frames that have a central AI core. Humans are also part of the team but largely remain in cryogenic sleep aboard huge ‘crawlers’ until needed or something goes wrong.
When something does go wrong, protocol fails – the workers have stayed asleep – waking nearly 100 years later. Joule, the main character, steps out of her crawler to mayhem, trying to fathom what and why things have gone askew on Far Eden. When she realises that her fears are true and that the Corebots have gone rogue, it is up to Joule to put things right.
Thankfully there are still some friendly bots, loyal Corebots that were once each worker’s personal buddy – Joule’s is a robotic dog. Each bot that joins the team brings a unique and endearing personality, and most importantly, a unique skill that allows Joule to navigate the planet. The companionship between Joule and her Corebots is brilliant and something I really bought into.
Joule herself is adorable – a likeable and strong character that is excellently voiced by Erika Soto. In many ways she reminded me of Ren from Star Wars The Force Awakens. The robots chat away, which is displayed on screen in their language. While you can’t read it, Joule’s reactions give you a rough idea of what they are saying – again – similar to how Ren interacts with BB-8.
Suited with an ego frame, Joule runs and double jumps with speed. Her rifle is armed with various coloured ammunition – each one has a different buff – and when matched against coloured enemy cores, it does extra damage. The gunplay is slick, with the LT locking on to an enemy, allowing you to dash, boost and strafe around them while pouring in gunfire that recharges when not in use.
Not all bots can be destroyed purely with gunfire though. A tug of war mechanic is required to pull cores out from tougher boss enemies, and while I couldn’t grasp how to do this initially, it’s a great way to mix up the combat, leaving you vulnerable to attack while trying to yank a core.
Each weapon and bot can be upgraded by collecting scrap from around the planet and from the debris of destroyed enemies. Blueprints need to be discovered so that you can craft different parts for the bots, giving them new abilities and stronger limbs. Some of these are hidden deep in the game’s dungeons, most of which are optional.
Arena dungeons need no introduction – you simply have to beat waves of enemies. Traversal dungeons are tough platforming challenges and Adventure dungeons are a mixture of all dungeon types. Each dungeon pits you against the clock. Get to the end under par and you will have access to a reward.
There are also other challenges, like finding and shooting all switches and locating a hidden key. Each of the three objectives will release a force shield around one of three treasures should you complete the challenge – complete all three in one run and you will unlock the main treasure. All is not lost should you miss any of these parameters, for completing a dungeon you will gain a Prismatic core – the game’s key mechanic for gaining access to the main dungeon path.
The environment of ReCore is expansive and instead of stereotypical areas like ice, forest, water etc. Far Eden’s landscape rarely changes. There is some reprise while visiting the various dungeons, but they largely remain the same. Early on in the game there is a sandstorm, and it would have been great if this were a dynamic feature of the world, as would a day/night cycle.
I did find that my exploration of Far Eden was hindered slightly by the map. While there are campaign waypoints, you can’t create custom ones and there’s no in-game mini map. Those that have any sense of direction and a desire to explore will be happy wandering around far Eden looking for their next challenge. In true Metroid style, you need to switch between coloured ammunition in order to open corresponding doors and use the navigational abilities of your robot companions to access some areas, but there isn’t much backtracking, instead, these areas are off the main path – there for the intrepid explorer to find.
ReCore isn’t without its problems. Long load times as you navigate in-between large areas are a pain and I discovered the odd glitch where I fell through rocks – there was even a moment where I was trapped beneath an energy shield, which didn’t lift even though I had destroyed all the enemies beneath it. While challenging, the game isn’t tough either – which is just as well – dying isn’t just inconvenient it’s damn annoying when the loading times are as long as ReCore’s.
If you don’t stop to explore you will miss a whole heap of the game. Meteoroid Prime led you by the hand as the map was slowly revealed, while the openness of ReCore’s goes slightly against it, allowing you to stick to the main game and miss whole chunks of challenging gameplay.
The story of ReCore is great; there just isn’t enough of it. As I was just beginning to get excited by the events unfolding, the climax came too quickly. It was over. Sure there are plenty of side dungeons to beat, but the story left me unsatisfied – I wanted more.
The last area of the game is a culmination of previous battles and navigational challenges – like running a gauntlet of your previous exploits – it’s cheap and half-baked, souring my experience further. But… I really have fallen for ReCore (and Joule’s) charm. The gunplay and platforming is fantastic and I felt a part of Joule’s team. She is a wonderful character that deserves a sequel that polishes some of the game’s issues and the shortcomings of the story.