ReCore begins promisingly. You are Joule, a young woman sent to help terraform the planet of Far Eden. But when you wake from hypersleep, you find a world devoid of fellow humans, overrun by robots aiming to kill you. Somewhere, hidden deep beneath the shifting sands of this desert wasteland, lies the secret to mankind's failed attempt to colonize the stars. It's up to you to find it.
At the heart of both ReCore's gameplay and plot are the Prismatic Cores, special energy sources that unlock the secrets of Far Eden. The bad guy wants them for bad guy reasons, you need to collect them to access new places and save the day.
New areas of the world are gated behind a requisite number of cores, so your objective becomes a loop of exploring a location to find cores so that you can use those cores to explore the next location. The most effective method of collecting these all-important devices is to go dungeon-delving - exploring abandoned power plants, warrens, wrecked machinery, and more.
There are also Prismatic Cores scattered throughout the more open maps, encouraging thoughtful exploration. You'll see a plateau with a core squirreled away on top of it, and then trace a path through the environment, figuring out how to access it.
In concept, these two methods of collecting cores are solid, with plenty of variety to keep players engaged. And indeed, at times it's great fun. I particularly enjoyed that dungeons come in a variety of flavors - there are arena dungeons that challenge you to kill waves of enemies and a boss, platforming dungeons that test your skills at maneuvering Joule, and maze-like dungeons that need you to solve puzzles so you can unlock the path to the exit.
But for every step ReCore takes forward, it has a hurdle of problems holding it back.
One of the most frequent offenders is the load times. Entering and exiting an overworld area or dungeon takes a painfully long time, often upwards of two minutes. The shortest load time I clocked was about a minute; the longest was more than three. One attempt led to the game crashing, and even something as simple as exiting to the main menu took around 40 seconds.
You'll also be dealing with these waits if you die to an enemy, and ReCore's enemies can be painfully cheap. Some enemies will charge in to stun you, and often charge to stun you again the moment the effect wears off. Ditto for enemies that set you aflame and those with projectiles causing you to become slowed.
In exploring Far Eden, I fell through the world three times, and became lost due to my objective marker pointing me toward an old, previously-completed task. While fighting a boss, I became stuck in a mini-game where Joule must tug on her grappling hook like a fisherman reeling in a big catch. Unable to let go of the line or successfully complete the mini-game, I had to start the fight over. Framerates dipped dramatically at times, turning the game into a stuttering, strobe-light rave party.
Even without these technical issues, there are still design decisions I can only describe as infuriating.
One of ReCore's main concepts is that you have robotic frames with you, each with its own special ability. For example, the dog-like robot can dig up buried treasure, the spider-bot can climb special tracks, the robo-ape can smash boulders, and a hovering robot can help you glide long distances. You can only have two with you at any particular moment however, so you'll need to choose a pair from your home base or any of the game's fast-travel locations.
Being limited to two bots in and of itself isn't a problem. Walking across a barren desert toward the objective, only to find out the bots you'd chosen couldn't complete the puzzle blocking your access to the next dungeon, that's a problem. Especially when that means two minutes of loading to fast-travel back to home base, a minute to swap out bots, another two minutes of loading to fast-travel back to the nearest access point, and then hoofing it back across the dunes.
Pacing is also an issue. The main story of ReCore is well-told, with a Planet-of-the-Apes-But-With-Robots vibe to it, but it's also short. Roughly 90% of Joule's adventure will be told within five hours, the remaining 10% and final twist saved for those who can survive a grueling trudge through intense platforming challenges and dungeon-crawling.
This grind comes from the aforementioned Prismatic Cores. Getting to the big bad doesn't take much, but beating him isn't the ending of ReCore's story. To get the real ending, you need to collect far, far more cores, which in turn allow you to access a series of platforming challenges that are vastly more difficult than the rest of the game. In other words, the main villain isn't the final challenge, he's a gatekeeper to a platforming gauntlet - and you're going to do a lot of busywork to access it.
The rhythm you've been experiencing for the past five-odd hours (explore dungeon to get cores, use cores to explore new area, get snippet of story content, rinse, repeat) comes to a jolting halt, and ReCore suddenly becomes an exercise in XP grinding and backtracking. It's practically an entirely different game at this point, but the supposed payoff is that you need to beat this second act in order to have a conclusion to the first. It results in a 12-hour or longer experience, but one that feels padded.
Somewhere in ReCore is a good game. Joule and her companions are instantly likable. Far Eden's tale is an intriguing one. Thanks to her agility and rocket boots, Joule is a satisfying character to control. The game's core (apologies for using a pun I'd avoided this whole review) is solid. It's just too bad that the frame supporting it isn't.