ReCore can be a lot of fun. Notice: can be. There’s a lot to infer from that statement. There are plenty of parts of the game that are stupendous from both a design and an execution standpoint, some of which is almost stunningly impressive. But then, almost seemingly to spite itself, the game makes it a battle with the player to just get there, to enjoy any part of it.
Based on what a few other reviewers have told me, I’m just a couple hours out from finishing the game. And based on that, I don’t know if I can make it. There have so far only been a few actual story missions—which were fantastic—and the rest of the eight or so hours were filled with walking. Once again, notice I didn’t say “exploring” or “wandering” as that would imply there was something on the other end of the journey that wasn’t known.
Instead, I always knew what was at the finish line. Nothing. Well, not nothing, but nothing of interest. Aside from story missions spread out to the corners of this vast and barren desert, there are also pseudo-optional dungeons (that eventually somehow become mandatory through a trying, almost infuriating overarching task), disappointing little sojourns into the realm of known quantities.
Unlike the tombs of Rise of the Tomb Raider or its ilk, you don’t experience mechanics or loops or gameplay from a new or inventive angle. You don’t get a taste of the extrapolated or logical and demanding conclusion to a set of rules and utilities. All you get to do in these dungeons is run through a reduced version of the rest of the game but with a time limit.
It’s odd to invoke a modern contemporary like Rise of the Tomb Raider when ReCore‘s origins are much older and far more obvious, and that is Metroid Prime. The director of the GameCube/Wii trilogy Mark Pacini founded Armature Studio after leaving Retro Studios (along with several other key members) and has since been living off of porting games. This, for the most part, is the first wholly original game they’ve made. (And we can’t forget the Comcept/Mega Man lineage.)
And it would make sense they would dive back into the thing that made their old studio’s name, which is to say a very Metroid-y gated exploration game. And ReCore certainly has the foundation of that down pat. There are plenty of bits where you have to use your robot buddies to bust through or crawl over obstacles you previously didn’t have access to, and that’s not to mention the incredibly similar lock-on combat system.
The problem, however, is that the structure of making a One of Those games is that it seemed to give them an excuse to stretch it out into the territory of banal exhaustion. Rather than some sort of structural flow of levels and bosses and obstacles and goals, imagine that someone Minority Report-style blew all the missions apart with their hands (and a heavy dose of recklessness) and then proceeded to fill in the gaps with sand and walking.
The game just doesn’t seem to know when it’s over. I got my fill about halfway through my current playthrough and thought it was damn fine. And then it kept going. And it tasked me with traversing the map to swap buddies. It asks me to go through rote motions of shooting and jumping for hours. It wants me to find logic in its odd, almost baffling crafting system.
What if it had just played its strengths? What if it had given you all it of its goodies upfront and left when you were still smiling? You would have been left with a game that has a frenetic and obsessive combat design where you use the game’s fluid movement with rapidly transforming systems of enemy and weapon colors and buddy management to enjoy nearly Bayonetta levels of blissful violence.
You would have a game that could fully explore the consequences of meaningful exploration with its gated sections, giving you reason and desire to traverse the exceptionally empty world. It would be a game with the room to breathe and sculpt these dungeons into something that would demand from you and itself things you hadn’t even considered or thought possible. It would have been, in a word, fun.
Of course, it’s dangerous when critiques turn into wish lists. It’s especially so when the game makes the exact impression you want, fulfilling its potential before you eve know what that is. But as it stretches on for what seems a Sisyphean amount of time, that high point tends to get thrown into the shadow of the boulder and the hill. It’s not that ReCore actually can be fun, it’s that it is fun. Right before it stops.