ReCore
Developed by: Comcept Inc., Armature Studio
Published by: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox One, PC

It’s not unusual for me to meet people who say that they’re interested in games but don’t play them. Some attribute their reservations to a lack of skill — usually with wiggly thumb gestures for emphasis. But most fret over the ways in which games have been known to wolf down time like an unattended dog at a picnic spread. After politely acknowledging this truism, I will sometimes — if I sense the person I’m speaking to has a genuine interest — recommend something like “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” or “INSIDE” as worthy games that can be completed in under five hours.

Still, it’s almost certain that anyone who has played more than a few big-budget video games has probably experienced the hollow sensation of squandering hours on a title that doesn’t dole out adequate recompense. “ReCore” fits that bill. This post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure game makes an inadvertent case for video game minimalism. That is, if the developers hadn’t stuffed it with open-world diversions, which over the course of the game become necessary attractions, it may have flowed better. Instead, the game gives the player a bunch of petty chores that feel like a waste of time.

In “ReCore,” you assume the role of Joule Adams, a plucky young woman with a special relationship to technology. She talks to robots like they’re pets and fusses over them when they’re “scared.”  “Star Wars” is clearly to blame for this cuddly robot fantasy. And yet Joule feels like the freshest element in the game. She telegraphs her emotions like a Disney character, which gives “ReCore” a breezy feel that’s underserved by its mission structure.

“ReCore” is set after a catastrophic event caused humanity to search for another habitable planet. A candidate was found in Far Eden, a planet that’s a great distance from Earth. (If you think the Eden/Adams symbolism is a bit on the nose, you’re not the only one.)  Robots, or “corebots” as they are called in the game, were created and dispatched to help prepare the planet for colonization while an initial settler group followed behind. The would-be settlers were to remain in cryogenic sleep until the corebots completed their mission, but fate had it otherwise. At the start of the game, Joule and her robotic dog Mack are searching for a power source to get their “crawler” or lifepod back online. During the course of their expedition, they encounter hostile robots whose aggression comes as a surprise.

Eventually, Joule comes face to face with Victor, a robot who has dedicated itself to humanity’s extinction. With the help of Max and some other robots she meets along the way, she tries to find out what happened to the other people who were supposed to help colonize the planet.

The game follows the basic template of the action/platformer genre. If you’re used to doing double jumps and loading up charged shots on a firearm, then there is barely any learning curve to deal with unless you count learning to match different colored ammo with different colored enemies, which I don’t. The ability to switch between robot helpers on the fly adds a mild spice to the formula, but the game’s shooting and platforming elements aren’t memorable. To be sure, “ReCore” looks good running in 4K on the PC, but I could easily imagine having played a less sparkly version of it years ago. (In terms of action sequences, it has nothing on games like “Bayonetta” or “Vanquish.”)

I came upon a bug in the second mission that forced me to restart the game. (I couldn’t obtain a quest item, a power source called a prismatic core). However, I didn’t mind that as much as the fact that the story missions felt like a collection of errands taking you all across the map. The ratio of chores to discoveries felt off to me. Doing things like running around looking for corebots to open a door struck me as pointless — pure video game fluff. I played through most of the main storyline, up until the Warren section, which was closed off to me because I didn’t have enough prismatic cores. Then one morning, I turned the game on and my thoughts drifted in negative direction. Somehow, I started a new game over my save file, so I lost all my progress. Naturally, I was distraught. Then I went for a walk and got over it.

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