Over the course of PAX West 2016, word of mouth may have given no bigger boost to a game on the show floor than Microsoft, Comcept, and Armature Studios’ Xbox One exclusive title ReCore, the biggest surprise of the convention.
When describing a good game, it’s very easy to fall back on one of a few well-trod statements and buzzwords, things said over and over again to the point where they’re so bereft of meaning you can hardly call them industry jargon anymore. One of those statements is, “This is the type of game nobody makes anymore.” It means to hearken back to a hypothetical “good old days” for games, one that probably doesn’t exist in the first place, and if it does, means something so different to everyone who reads it that it means almost nothing, and never means what the author intends.
Which brings us to the problem with ReCore. Not with the game, but how to talk about it. Because, genuinely, this is a type of game nobody makes anymore, to the point that the lexicon of words used to describe games like it has been mostly forgotten, like the half-buried structures of Far Eden.
Put it like this; ReCore is like somebody phase shifted a PlayStation 2 action platformer from around 2004 into the present day. And also it’s a Metroid Prime game. And maybe also a Mega Man Legends sequel? The point is, ReCore is many old things that aren’t around anymore – and judging from the demo playable at PAX West, it is very, very good.
ReCore’s demo started with a big, creative platforming segment, tasking protagonist Joule Adams with using her Corebot allies to navigate an environment, in search of a particular energy source to slide a core into. The classic action platformer heritage is immediately apparent – using a Corebot named Seth to climb on walls and navigate floating platforms alongside a floaty movement style and genre-staple double jump, ReCore feels like a deliberate throwback to titles like Jak & Daxter in how it moves and is structured. The movement is fast and, more importantly, right on that troublesome line between challenging and random that many older action platformers failed at – the movement has timing elements when it comes to commanding your Corebot while timing jumps and speed, and this brief section really nailed that balance. Also briefly hinted at in this early section is the game’s exploration elements, drawing from Metroid’s style of design – ReCore boasts a semi-open world, with exploration encouraged to find side areas that can be accessed with different powers found later in the game.
Moving inside a large Far Eden structure and into the first major combat sequence, however, is where ReCore reveals the true amount of influence its creators’ past games have on it. ReCore makes a bold statement with its playable combat sequence – rather than have players navigate a complicated set piece moment, ReCore gives you a big empty room with timed fire jets in rows of three on the floor. This is a combat space from 1998, and it’s where ReCore feels like the biggest breath of fresh air of 2016.
ReCore’s combat can most closely described as having the movement of Mega Man Legends with the lock-on oriented shooting mechanics of Metroid Prime. Pressing in left trigger locks onto a target, and flicking the right analog stick switches between targets, allowing full range of movement while targeting enemies – which is necessary, because staying mobile and fleet footed without worrying about aiming is a must in ReCore’s combat. Because ReCore’s combat, despite being very simple, is very difficult.
I died in the demo on the show floor about seven times before I finally got a handle on what was happening. Much has been made of ReCore’s focus on color coding enemies and ammunition – Joule’s energy rifle doesn’t have traditional ammo like in other shooters. Instead, you change the color of your ammunition from red, blue, yellow, and white with the directional pad depending on the enemy you’re targeting. Ammo isn’t counted in magazines, instead it is counted in terms of a recharging bar in the center of the screen. This, at a glance, seems paper thin. But put three different colors of robotic enemies in the environment, on different vertical levels, with different damage effects tied to their colors. Add flame jets to the floor that harm you and not them. And then add in your ancillary powers – your Corebots, which can be switched on the fly, can be sicced on enemy robots with different powers and abilities, and a grappling hook that can be tied to enemies’ cores. This, a personal favorite ability of mine, initiates a tug-of-war match with robots that can damage or even destroy them outright.
Put together, in that box from 1998, ReCore’s classical combat quickly turns into a chaotic ballet, and maybe the most fun I had on the show floor at PAX West. It takes time to get used to, but when it clicks it feels like you’ve genuinely gone back in time. The question remains whether or not that balance is enough to sustain the entire game, or whether extra additions will overcomplicate it and turn it into a slog. However, the 20 minutes I spent with ReCore did serve as a reminder – such games were enough to sustain an entire industry in 2004. Why shouldn’t they be able to sustain an entire game in 2016?
ReCore releases on Xbox One and PC, and is a Play Anywhere title, on September 13.