For a game set hundreds of years in the future, ReCore feels like a throwback. The futuristic shooter from Comcept and Armature studios has classics like Mega Man and Metroid in its DNA, after all, bringing in a development team with those old-school adventure games on their resumes. Available on Xbox One and PC, ReCore fuses gameplay elements from the action-adventure titles of old with 2016 sheen.
All the action takes place on Far Eden, an inexplicably failed attempt at terraforming another planet. You play as Joule Adams, freshly pulled out of cryosleep and ready to work out just why it all went pear-shaped (and also shoot a bunch of evil robots). As your prototypical video game "gun scientist", Joule's equipped with a laser rifle, rocket boosters and a reckless disregard for personal safety.
ReCore is a mix of third-person running and gunning and Metroid-style platforming and puzzle-solving. Joule's jetpack and rocket shoes mean that on a small scale, movement feels incredibly free and fluid. That's good, because you'll be launching yourself up cliff faces and between hovering platforms with precision timing as you make your way around.
Accompanying you in your journey across Far Eden are three robotic companions. Your robo-dog will be able to dig up hidden treasures, the spider-bot can help you climb up magnetized strips along sections of wall and the giant can smash things. Pretty straightforward. All three also have different lethal abilities you can trigger in combat.
You'll unlock one at a time, and these guys are where most of the Metroid-style exploration comes in. For example, returning to one of the first dungeons once you have the spider-bot means you'll be able to climb up to that ledge you saw previously, but couldn't access.
There's a fairly extensive system for upgrading and customising your robotic sidekicks with blueprints and scrap salvaged from the less friendly robots on Far Eden. It was fun to play around with, but I never felt obliged to tinker with my pals more than very occasionally. There's depth there, but more sense of peeking over the side and thinking "oh that's quite deep".
The third-person shooter combat becomes entertainingly frantic, and it's far easier to play around with everything on offer than it is with the crafting system. You can fire your upgradable rifle from the hip, but you'll be making a lot of use of the snap auto-targeting. While the ability to instantly draw a bead on enemies means the run-and-gun gameplay isn't much to write home about at the start of the game, you'll soon be matching different ammo types and robot companion attacks to colour-coded enemy health bars on the fly.
The other part of combat is using your arm-mounted grappling hook to pull the energy cores out of enemy robots. This usually triggers a tug-of-war fishing style minigame, where you can't pull on a taut line, or you lose whatever you have hooked.
Even during boss fights, combat never really feels tough -- the auto aim takes care of a lot of that -- but there's always a lot to do. You'll be constantly on the move and keeping an eye on health bars, the special ammo you have selected and when to trigger your companions' killer moves.
Far Eden itself is about as desolate as a planet gets. Humanity's attempts at colonisation lie half-buried or abandoned in the sandy wastes. There's a stark beauty to the world linking together all of ReCore's cavernous dungeons. It never really feels samey, which is something of an achievement for a desert wasteland.
Explore the planet, find entrances, hope you have enough keys to open the next dungeon you want to delve. There's more variety in the environments here. While most dungeons just help the story along, some house special time trials or collection challenges, which really help sell ReCore's old school feel.
Standing atop a cliff and looking down, it feels like things stretch on forever. Problem is, getting from A to B on foot makes it feel like things stretch on forever too. It takes just a shade too long to traverse the map, especially with the amount of backtracking and abundance of fetch quests baked right into ReCore's design.
That there is ReCore's downfall. It feels like a strange complaint, that a game is too expansive or too long, but in ReCore's case, it feels like padding.
All the elements in isolation work well, but something about how they fit together means it never quite gels. When you nail the jumps on a tricky platforming sequence or bring down a tough boss, the game feels very satisfying. It's just that those moments are strung between long spans of crossing a sparse desert on foot and tedious swarms of low-level enemies.
If you're hungry for a throwback to classic action platformers, you'll see some of the best of them in ReCore. But it's a big desert, so get ready to go looking for them.