I want to like ReCore, but the demo at this year's E3 didn't make it easy.
I like ReCore's concept — Joule Adams is a volunteer to help colonize a far-flung alien world, and after waking from a centuries long cryosleep finds "Far Eden" to be a deserted wasteland. With the help of her adorable robotic companions, Joule must unravel the mystery of this world and what happened while apparently shooting the crap out of aggressive alien robots.
I am on board with all of that. ReCore is also being developed by Comcept, the studio founded by Mega Man director and visual designer/legend Keiji Inafune. Working in partnership with Comcept is Austin, Texas-based Armature Studios, which was founded by veterans of Metroid Prime developers Retro.
This all sounds great, until you start peeking a bit past the surface. Comcept's claim to fame — and, occasionally, infamy — over the last few years has been Mighty No. 9, a Kickstarted "spiritual successor" to Mega Man that released just last week to critical and fan derision after a number of delays. Meanwhile, Armature's last big game was Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate for the Vita which ... well, it didn't turn out great, let's say.
So with that writing on the wall, I should have tempered my expectations walking into a gameplay demo at Microsoft's E3 showcase event a couple of weeks ago.
It's not obviously clear in the story trailers that have been shown for the game prior to this month, but ReCore is very much an action platformer with an emphasis on shooting and simple environmental puzzle-solving. Joule can fire three different energy types at her enemies, which are color-coded to red, blue and yellow. Conveniently, Joule is shooting at enemies that match those colors — you'll use yellow shots against yellow enemies, blue against blue, etc.
But strangely, ReCore doesn't really want you to manually aim your weapon with the right stick, as with just about any other modern third-person shooter (which ReCore resembles). Instead, it relies heavily on a lock-on system that feels straight from the early-'2000s. And this is where I struggled to find the fun in the game, based on my 20 minutes with it. Locking on felt like the worst of both worlds. It removed the skill component of aiming, but it also felt a little too fickle and finicky to do exactly what I wanted to. I never really felt like I was locking on to what I wanted to when there was more than a couple of enemies on screen, and flicking from target to target didn't feel particularly efficient.
You can manually aim with the left stick, but even the PC build I played was running sluggishly compared to more fluid contemporary third-person shooters. ReCore's control scheme just doesn't feel particularly logical or fluid; instead, it felt incredibly mechanical, regimented and dull. Combat depth is suggested while using your robot companions to assist in fights, but in reality, it just felt like another attack, rather than something that felt especially unique or interesting.
Theoretically, ReCore seeks to break up the combat that defines most of the game with simple fetch-it puzzles and some platforming using your robot companions, but there's not a lot in the demo on hand to suggest how successful that will be. There was some platforming taking advantage of Joule's enhanced air maneuverability, but I saw several other players struggle to complete these sections on first or even second try.
I feel the need to add the standard caveat that some games just don't demo well, especially at E3, where it's noisy and crowded and there are people hovering over your shoulder waiting for their turn. Sometimes games turn out much better than an initial show demo would lead you to believe. So I'm holding out some hope that ReCore can be better than my immediate impressions would suggest. As of now, though, I'm more than a little worried about the game ahead of its September release.