This week, Zero Punctuation reviews ReCore.
Well, this is a bit of suspicious serendipity on Microsoft's part. Out we staggered from Metroid Prime: Federation Force's bring-your-own-self-flagellation-device BBQ when Microsoft sidled up and whispered, "Hey, you like Metroid Prime?", and after we'd finished weeping and rending our garments it continued...
"Well, we've got a game that takes influence from Metroid Prime and was directed by the same bloke who directed Metroid Prime --"
"And it's only available on Xbox One!"
"What did you say Microsoft?"
"That's what I thought you said. So what do you call this game?"
"No, ReCore, as in, take the core out of something and then put it back in."
"So it's a game about apples, is it?"
"Look. forget the title. Just play the fucking thing!"
So I did. And no, it's not a game about apples. It's a game about some lady hanging out on an inhospitable desert planet who presumably subsists on handfuls of sand and whatever condensation she can lick from the underside of her suspension every morning.
What with North America having recently come down with a nasty case of me, I had to offload most of my gaming shit for the move, and I'm presently working off a single Windows 10 laptop. But ReCore seemed happy to run on it once I've reduced the resolution down to the equivalent size of a wide-screen Post-it note and chucked out graphical features like an angry Midwestern dad searching his teenage son's bedroom after he carelessly expressed an enthusiasm for Bob Marley records. It did, however, initially refuse to start until I closed down Steam. Oh, Microsoft, there's no need to be petty. Don't be so insecure. I'm sure there are plenty of features the Microsoft Store offers that Steam doesn't. And I'm sure I could even think of one, given a team of researchers and a month.
Anyway, as we've established, ReCore is set on a desert world in the process of being terraformed for the human race to populate and spread the incurable disease that is their existence. Our heroine is an engineer tasked with maintaining the robots and equipment that are doing the terraforming and her name is Joule, because the writers thought calling her Rosie McLikeselectronicshit would be just a hair too subtle. Joule combines the technical skills, daddy issues, robot dog and vague but undeniably progressive mixed-race genetics of Alyx Vance with the technical skills, daddy issues and abandoned on a desert planet-ness of that lady from the new Star Wars, which probably means they sell the likes of her off the peg at the strong protagonists shop. But perhaps the closer comparison would be Jade to the strong female protagonist with technical skills from Beyond Good & Evil. Since both protagonists have to run around one of those Zelda-like open worlds that aren't quite the same thing as a sandbox, and get their hands around a load of big, shiny balls. Also Jade ran an orphanage and Joule has to play mother figure to a planet's worth of feisty robots that have been given personalities for some no doubt enormously obvious reason that presently escapes me, taking in the friendly ones and dishing out the spankings to the ones that went astray. For in a plot development about as surprising as your previously not-hungry girlfriend suddenly wanting to pinch all your fries, the robots on the planet with completely necessary personalities have declared war on humanity. Humanity's presence on the planet consists at that point of 3 or 4 tech nerds, but then I suppose it's good to keep your goals manageable.
So what we have here is a game with much of the PS2 era about it, that is to say, you jump a lot and collect glowing geometric shapes that are floating a foot off the ground for no adequately explored reason. Speaking of 'explored', it has a bunch of token open-world side challenges to be attempted alongside the main dungeons, of which there are grand total of about three. So perhaps "main" was the wrong word - "The dungeons that also happened to be there"? And this gets us to one of the major gripes about Recorked: its relationship with the concept of structure is a nodding acquaintancy at best. Once it runs out of dungeons, you go to the final confrontation at Ft. Climax, fight the final boss, and a fucking stop sign pops up and smashes you in the face like a comedy rake. 'Find 20 of the magic testicles to proceed!' So I tucked my climax blue balls back inside my trousers and go back to the overworld to meet my quota, come back, get to do another load of climactic challenges before the stop sign pops up again! 'Piss off and dig up another 5 Easter eggs to continue!' Fucking hell, whatever exciting climax is waiting at the top of this tower, I hope it's got a fucking book to read!. You're just trying to draw your playtime out, aren't you ReCore? "No-- *beat* I'm-- *beat* Not?"
I might appreciate it in another game, taking the reins off to let us explore the open world. But the problem is, the open world is a desert planet, which is one of the definitive boring settings alongside Antarctic research stations and any living room in which a slide projector has been set up. On top of that, it feels like they've built exactly as much world as they needed to contain all the gameplay and then clicked on the little bounding box, and expanded it till it was about 3 times bigger. So you have to trudge through blinding white sand for ages to get anywhere. And since you can double jump and jetpack boost right from the start, it doesn't open up in a gradual, organic manner. There's just a couple of highly contextual environmental barriers you need specific robot sidekicks to get past.
And that gets me to the next armed grenade hidden in the exploration porridge. Joule only has room in her strong protagonist underpants for two robot sidekicks at a time. So if you didn't call the sidekick hotline that morning, so you brought the smashy robot and the tentacle robot without realizing you've stumbled upon something that needs the hovery robot, you get to trudge all the way back to the fast travel point to swap them out. It's like being a server in a restaurant full of Alzheimer's patients.
Well, I still got one last bit of bile left and I already read the election news this morning, so I might as well vomit it all over the combat, which is about as fun as nailing dogs to a wall. The color coding system is intuitive enough. You have the red gun, the blue gun and the yellow gun, and they do the most damage to enemies of the same color - the excitement of frenzied death battle combined with the wholesome educational value of preschool colouring-in lessons. But your capabilities are limited to attacking one single enemy at once when they are always in groups. So you're constantly getting blindsided by enemies whose attacks couldn't give two straining constipated plops whether you think you'd pressed the dodge button in time or not. Plus they've all got health bars longer than the amount of time it takes to clean out the bathtub at Brian Blessed's house, and of course the enemies respawn every time you re-enter an area, so I assume greeting every combat encounter with a weary sigh and a hanging of the shoulders like a water slide attendant watching a massively obese family of four ascend the stairs.
On the whole, ReCore is ve-ry-flawed: better than Federation Force, but then so is getting your nadgers pinned to the ground by a filing cabinet full of unflattering school reports.
- Left with no recourse: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- See most people would have just gone by Jools and no-one need to know that their dad was really weirdly into consumer electronics
- Keep an eye out for the sequel ReCore: Revengeance