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Hands On: ‘ReCore’

‘ReCore’ may be the game Zelda fans should play this fall

At E3 2015, Microsoft presented a neat cinematic trailer for a game called ReCore, an exclusive from Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune and the team behind Metroid Prime. One year later, with the game’s launch right around the corner, we finally know what ReCore really is, or at least what it will try to be; the new Legend of Zelda for a new generation of players who grew up with shooter and RPG elements baked into all of their games.

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In ReCore, players control Joule, one of the last humans in a desert wasteland called Far Eden. She travels with a cadre of AI companions, represented by colorful glowing “cores” slotted into different animal-esque robotic bodies, such as a dog, spider, and ape. Though the reasons behind Joule’s journey remain unclear, its form will feel very familiar. A section from mid-way through the game, called the “Core Foundry,” plays out like an action-RPG dungeon. Joule and her AI companion move from room to room, fighting waves of enemies, before completing a combination of puzzles and platforming challenges.

Joule always has an AI-controlled bot backing her up, and players can switch them out any time. The various companion cores effectively serve as a Metroidvania-style tool belt, adding various abilities you’ll need to get around. In the Core Foundry, for example, Joule’s spider-bot Mack can run along tracks on the walls and ceilings, allowing her to navigate to new platforms and providing a speed boost before a long jump. Joule can double-jump and dash in mid-air, as well, and the game forces you to land long jumps using all of your skills deliberately.

ReCore-Ready-for-Action

In combat, ReCore plays out like a hybrid of Zelda and an RPG shooter like those in the Borderlands franchise. Joule carries a large rifle, which can rapidly fire a stream of bullets, as well as a charged energy ball that can stun enemies or, in some cases, prevent them from regenerating health. Joule’s robot companions also get into the mix, and have their own distinctive “lethal” attack, which they use at your command.

The combat takes as many cues from action games and RPGs as it does from shooters, however. Enemies generally take more than a few shots to go down, and holding your fire on an enemy prompts a stream of numbers indicating damage. Joule also earns experience and levels up over time to add that satisfying feedback of giving and taking more damage as the game goes on. That progression feels a bit superficial, though, as there’s no indication as to whether Joule’s progression will unlock new skills or abilities. Even if there are unlocks or some kind of skill tree, it seems unlikely that those skills lead to choices that will have a substantial effect on how you play.

Luckily, There’s more to combat than simply shooting robots until their life bar hits zero. Like her companions, Joule’s enemies will often be robots powered by bright glowing cores. Thankfully, Joule can swap the “affinity” — aka the color — of her bullets, to match her enemies and do more damage. The system will also force you to swap AI companions, often to take advantage of both their affinities and special skills. Players can also lock on to specific enemies, prompting a Zelda- or Fable-esque dodge-and-attack style of fighting. You can break and reset that focus at any time by moving your reticle, which comes in handy when fighting waves of enemies, but can also lead to some accidental focus-swapping, which can be a problem when you’re fighting multiple types of enemies at once.

In general, ReCore feels like a known quantity. Everything about it seems well-made and deliberate, but there isn’t a hook — mechanical or aesthetic — that makes the game feel particularly fresh. At the same time, classical platforming is surprisingly hard to find these days, especially in large action games, which increasingly rely on guided free-running and free-climbing mechanics. ReCore may wind up separating itself from the pack just enough to be refreshing.

ReCore comes to Xbox One and Windows 10 on September 13.

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