There’s a burger place in Mt Lawley that serves ‘challenge’ burgers. These beasts of dead cattle are somewhere between 95-98% beef, and the buns are there as a formality more than anything else. These behemoths have hospitalised people, and a rare few manage to get through them without losing the contents of their stomach via their teeth. Turns out, eating one of these burgers is the perfect analogy to playing ReCore. It’s fun at first, and you get a pretty neat snapchat out of it, but when you start digging in, you’ll be gagging with regret like so many before you.
ReCore follows the adventure of Joule, whose name is about as indicative of the writing as you think it is. She has awakened from cryosleep after a terraforming mission involving lots and lots of robots went awry. You assume control of this gun-toting technophile as she parkours her way to some answers with the help of her robot dog, Mack. As you go through the game, you’ll uncover the secrets of a mission gone wrong, plagued by internal politics and clichés that made me want to eat a bowl of razor blades.
The narrative aspects of the game, along with almost everything else, feels lazily put together. The bare bones of a story exist as a wafer-thin excuse for gameplay, but it doesn’t even achieve dumb action movie levels of storytelling. The story never delves into any of the ideas presented, nor does anyone get more than a few lines of dialogue to explain their motivations. Text logs in the menu range from character bios to tidbits about the colonisation process, but they don’t offer much beyond the painfully obvious. There’s probably only 7 or 8 cutscenes in the whole game, which should say plenty about how much effort went into the story. Then there’s the E-Tower, but before we trigger my PTSD, let’s talk about one of the better parts of the game.
If you can get past the atrocious storytelling, the combat in ReCore is surprisingly enjoyable, if underdeveloped. All the robots in the game are powered by cores of a particular colour, including your own. The general idea is that you want to pick the same colour of ammo/companion as your enemy to deal the most damage. Each colour has different ‘lethals’, which are like special moves that have different lasting-effects. It’s a fast and engaging system that doesn’t get dragged down by overcomplicating what works, but this simplicity hurts the game as much as it helps.
While I can appreciate the intuitiveness of the game’s combat, it doesn’t do much to keep things fresh later on. You unlock different robot frames as you go through missions, but at around the halfway point, not much changes. ReCore employs the lacklustre Arkham City approach, where instead of introducing more varied enemies and challenges, it just chucks more enemies in your face at once. The biggest obstacle is not getting pinned, but since you’re knocked back for a second or two whenever a lethal hits you, it can feel like dodging attacks is outside your control. When six oversized wolf frames keep stunning you one after the other, it may very well be impossible to get out. It doesn’t help that the E-Tower repeats- oh, wait, no, can’t get into that yet, we haven’t looked at the pointless progression system!
There are two progression systems to complement the combat. As you level up, you can ‘fuse’ different coloured cores with your companions’, effectively buffing them up even more. This requires extracting cores from your enemies through a quick tug-of-war battle mid-combat. You can also modify your buddies’ frames to make them more specialised in combat, using the bodies of robots you destroyed out in the wild. Neither of these are essential to gameplay, though, and I completely ignored them. Why? Because ReCore is way too easy.
The progressions systems are there only in spirit because you can very, very easily make it through the whole game without upgrading once. I didn’t bother upgrading after the first hour or so, and I still felt that the game was too easy most of the time. 90% of my deaths were either because too many enemies took my health to zero in less than a second or because I fell off an edge I wasn’t meant to. There’s no reason for progression when you don’t need to upgrade, so all of the loot and credits you acquire become worthless. I even managed to blitz my way through the E-tower like it was- whoops, almost did it again. Can’t go talking about the E-Tower until we talk about the graphics.
Visually, ReCore is simultaneously fantastic and appalling. The designs of the robots are exceptional, and there’s lots of personality in everyone’s animations (more than the dialogue, but I digress). In parts, there’s even a lot to take in from the environment, like drawings on the walls and signs planted around the place. That said, there are times where the graphics look more Borderlands than ReCore, and graphical glitches(/glitches in general) are more common than disappointing jelly beans. Then you have the E-Tower, where- okay, look. I’m obviously not going to be able to ignore this, so, let’s talk about when ReCore phoned it in.
About halfway through the game, there’s a level called The E-Tower. The idea is that the Prime Core (whatever that was again) is there, so you need to get to the top of it and do yo thang with it. In theory, that’s fine. You just do some platforming, fight some corrupted robots, reach the core, win the game. It’s obvious that this is the last level because you’ve just confronted the main antagonist in a climactic fight scene, alluding to a conclusion involving fighting and cores. This is not the case, oh no, don’t you worry, ReCore earned that Not Recommended.
The E-Tower is by far the laziest and sleaziest game design I have ever seen. Here you are, ready to gain closure to what has been a short but okay ride (I’d only played for ~5 hours at this point?) when the game demands you must find five more prismatic cores to climb the tower. Bullshit, perhaps, but not impossible; there are plenty of side quests to do, I just didn’t want to be forced into them, that’s all. You get the cores and are then subjected to bland, boring platforming and repetitive arena fights until you reach the top. Ah, yes! At last! I can rip Victor’s core out and save the- you need five more cores to progress. At this point, I yelled at my monitor very loudly, as though the sun itself had made its way into my urethra and bred a few maggots to feast on my festering sense of regret while it was still palpable.
After the game forced you to find five cores (which is not a small amount) to get through this dull hell, it does so again to force you through yet another dull hell. Then it does so again. And again. And then again, but this time it’s ten cores. THEN you get the final boss battle, which is far too easy, and the game ends. The E-Tower epitomises everything that is wrong with ReCore. It’s lazy design to the logical extremes, offering nothing but re-used assets and levels to force you to play the game for longer than you should. I was apologetic before the E-Tower, now I can’t see the good in ReCore because of it. It makes you realise just how little work was put into the game, and how stupid you were for liking it in the first place.
ReCore was one hell of a ride right up until it wasn’t. It had its flaws, but until the E-Tower hit, I wasn’t going to be so harsh on it. I probably would have have settled on an “It’s Complicated” recommendation for getting so much right. Unfortunately, so much of the game is repetitive, bland or pointless that it’s just not enjoyable. It’s a challenge burger. At first, you think it’s a fun idea, which it is, but you realise halfway through that you just spent too much money on something that’ll leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth. So, I dunno, play Ratchet and Clank instead. At least that burger doesn’t taste like vitriolic acid.