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Microsoft exclusive ReCore has an identity problem

At its best, ReCore makes you feel like you’re in that scene from early in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when a masked Rey spelunks through ancient, crumbling spaceships, scavenging any usable bits she can find. Similarly, ReCore puts you in the role of Joule, abandoned on a desert planet, cobbling together workable technology from wreckage, in an attempt to get back home. It’s an amazing feeling when you wander across a windy desert, with a robot dog by your side, and see a towering alien monolith just over the horizon. But it’s all too fleeting: before you can get to your destination you’ll need to shoot a few dozen techno-monsters and collect a handful of random objects to open the front door. It’s sci-fi majesty through the lens of an arcade action game — and that combination doesn’t always gel.

On their own, the two sides of ReCore are actually quite good. While the story itself is a bit bland, with stiff acting and a largely by-the-numbers plot, the world design and characters are great. When you wander around the deserted planet of Far Eden, you’ll come across rusted old wonders, and help bring them rumbling back to life. It feels like a real place buried under centuries of sand, just waiting for you to uncover it all. In a further nod to Star Wars, along the way you’ll be joined by a colorful cast of robot helpers, each designed to imitate a different animal, from a dog to a gorilla. Much of the game impresses a dire sense of isolation — you’re all alone on this strange planet, trying to find away back to civilization — but the bots provide some much needed comfort. Mack, the robo-dog and your first companion, is almost as endearing as a rolling BB-8, following you everywhere and wagging his metal tail. The bots even speak in a charming alien language reminiscent of Star Wars droids’ bleeps and bloops.

As enticing as Far Eden can feel, with its towering monoliths just begging to be traversed, ReCore isn’t a game about exploration. Instead, it’s a series of walled-off, dungeon-like locations connected by a big open desert that doesn’t have much in it aside from killer robots intent on destroying you. In a lot of ways, ReCore feels like a PS2-era action-adventure game. It offers a mix of platforming and shooting, with some simple puzzles and huge boss fights thrown in to keep things interesting. I really enjoyed the platforming in particular. Joule has a range of abilities, including a double jump and rocket boost, that let you quickly scale massive structures. Initially it feels a bit light and loose, like her movements have little weight to them, but it started to feel natural to me very quickly.

The combat, likewise, is very simple at first, but progressively becomes more complex and satisfying as you unlock new gear. Eventually you’ll have access to four different colors of ammo, each of which can be used to greater effect against like-colored foes. It’s not an especially complicated setup, but color-switching does add an extra layer of strategy, particularly during intense encounters with lots of enemies. Your robotic helpers also add a lot to combat. Each has a unique attack, but since you can only have one by your side at a time (you’re able to swap between two bots at any moment), deciding who to use in battle can be an important choice, especially during very close fights. This was especially true for me during the boss encounters, which require a lot less mindless shooting than the rest of the game. Choosing the right helper meant not having to replay a lengthy battle multiple times.


Recore

When you put the platforming and shooting together, you get something that feels like an arcade action game from 2006. It’s fast and loose, with lots of bright, flashy messages constantly popping up on-screen. There’s even a combo system to encourage you to link attacks together. There’s nothing especially wrong with this type of game, but it really doesn’t mesh with ReCore’s theme and setting. The game is about a certain sense of quiet isolation, but that gets ruined when neon green “X2 COMBO” text constantly pops up on-screen. The same could be said for the game’s structure, which is particularly old school, gating areas behind arbitrary restrictions. Want to get in that door? First you’ll need to collect five green batteries randomly scattered throughout this conveniently located platforming level. It feels video game-y in the worst possible way. Instead of really exploring this place, you’re just jumping around looking for items.

ReCore has a number of other issues. Long load times that can last several minutes; wonky animation that can see your robotic companions walk straight through objects; an open world that’s both empty and huge, making for lots of boring walking; plentiful enemy encounters and fetch quests that do little more than pad out the experience. But the juxtaposition of fast, thrilling action game and quiet, contemplative setting are what really hold the game back. It presents you with a fascinating world, but then doesn’t give you the time or tools to properly soak it all in. I wanted to feel like Rey in The Force Awakens — but most of the time I felt like someone racking up a high score at a local arcade.

ReCore is available today on Xbox One and PC.

Read next: How the minds behind Mega Man and Metroid Prime joined forces to make ReCore


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