RECORE is a game with a soul from twenty years ago. It strives to resurrect an era of games that highlighted exploration, intuitive gameplay, and a lighthearted attitude. This was a time where most games weren’t interested in telling some convoluted story across multiple universes, or featuring blockbuster action heroes riding through scripted cinematic sequences. RECORE presents an opportunity for exploration of the medium’s past, and an escape not only from our real world, but from the current trends of mainstream gaming. It’s fun, it’s simple, and as it turns out, there isn’t anything wrong with that.
RECORE was developed by newcomers Armature Studio and Comcept, but the fact that this is their first game belies the industry heavyweights attached to them. Included in the lineup are much of the original team behind METROID PRIME, Joseph Staten, writer of HALO fame, and the legendary Keiji Inafune, who helmed the original Mega Man games. Thanks to this, it should come as no surprise that RECORE proudly wears its lineage on its sleeve, with both Metroid and Mega Man leaving heavy impressions on RECORE’s style and gameplay.
Players take control of Joule, a young woman roaming the sands of the planet of Far Eden, roughly 200 years in the future. The planet was selected to be a new haven for Earth’s growing population, but something has evidently gone wrong. The New Haven Joule finds herself on is an uninhabited waste, and the robots designed to prepare the planet for colonization have turned rampant, attacking anything they see. Thankfully, Joule has robotic companions of her own that assist her in piecing together the mystery of what has happened to Far Eden. The story unfolds neatly while avoiding unnecessary exposition dumps, and leaves enough intrigue for the player to remain interested for each new chapter of the story. There are some emotional beats that I wasn’t expecting that further defined the character of Joule. She begins as an unassuming protagonist, but thanks to some seamless storytelling eventually gains more dimension than most of her genre counterparts.
Deserts aren’t that bad, so long as you bring your robot dog along!
Rare for a modern release, RECORE is an action-adventure platformer, which means the bulk of your time spent on Far Eden will be blasting enemies with Joule’s laser rifle, or using her movement abilities to traverse various landscapes and dungeons. While in combat, Joule can lock onto her enemies, and bullets will automatically fire accurately at her targets. However, there’s more to the process than just pointing and clicking. Each enemy corebot has an affinity for a specific color (red, yellow, blue, etc.) and Joule’s rifle can select different ammo types to match that color. Doing so increases damage to the corebot and the effectiveness of her attacks.
This is only further complicated when each of Joule’s companions has an affinity as well, and because Joule only has access to one at a time, players must determine which companion’s abilities and color affinity best suit the current situation. RECORE’s gunplay is less about speed, accuracy or skill, but instead focuses on evading the storms of enemy attacks while using the right tools at the right time, not unlike a typical Zelda or Metroid encounter.
One bot. Two bot. Red bot. Blue bot.
By far the best part about RECORE is its take on platforming. The typical platformer lives or dies by the tightness of its controls and the flexibility of its camera. Thankfully, RECORE nails both of these aspects. Joule is equipped with a double jump and an air dash which allows her to leap across platforms from almost unbelievable distances, and her in-air movement is precise and easy to steer. This is crucial, because some of the game’s more complex gauntlets require landing on tiny strips of metal. Later puzzles send Joule flying up walls holding onto her corebot, and flinging up into the air with only seconds to determine where to go next. But even simply running around the vast deserts of Far Eden is fun, as Joule is just such a blast to control and zip through the air.
I was loving every aspect of RECORE until the moment I died. A rogue blue corebot charged me, Joule’s health depleted, and the screen faded to black. I waited the few seconds to respawn and try again, but I was met with a loading screen. And there it stayed… for four minutes. With the technology housed in current gen consoles, this is just plainly unacceptable. For a game that requires perfect platform execution to avoid death, such a punishment for failure is just cruel and unusual. As of the time of this review, there has been a patch to help alleviate these load times, but even though it is an improvement, they are still far too long for anything released today. Aside from the occasional frame rate dip and texture loading, RECORE ran pretty well on the Xbox One, so such an anomaly in performance is positively baffling.
At least you get a good view while you wait…
Unfortunately, RECORE grinds to halt towards the end of its adventure. Like BANJO KAZOOIE or even SUPER MARIO 64, RECORE turns into a collectathon in its endgame, requiring specific orbs for entrance to later dungeons and missions. This means a lot of backtracking and monotonous grinding in order to finish the game. Had the padding been removed and the game ended earlier, it would have led to a more satisfying conclusion. Instead we end an otherwise excellently paced journey on a sour note.
Regardless, I have no regrets about playing RECORE. The time I spent with Joule and her corebots felt like a breath of fresh air, something to enjoy at my own pace. Rushing to the end feels like a violation of how the game was meant to be experienced. Roam freely, uncover the secrets of Far Eden, and do your best not to die if you want to avoid the load times. Like FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS, this is a title that probably won’t get the credit it’s due thanks to some unfortunate issues at launch, despite having all the necessary components for a solid product. RECORE is nowhere near perfect, but it is an excellent studio debut, and well worth the price of $40.
Reviewed on Xbox One, also available on PC