Microsoft failed ReCore with its miscommunicated reveal
The reviews for ReCore are in and opinion isn’t great, but how much of the blame is due to Microsoft’s promotion of the game?
ReCore was one of Microsoft’s pillar releases of 2016; a blockbuster new IP armed and ready to take on the might of Sony’s Christmas roster. A title ready to go into battle to win consumers’ hearts for the Xbox platform and to showcase all it had to offer as a triple-A gaming platform. Wasn’t it?
That was my perception of ReCore anyway. This is the way the game appeared to be pitched at conferences like the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, used it as his introduction title at the E3 2015 press conference where, after a five-minute CGI video of a quality well beyond that of the final game, he had this to say:
“Investing in and shipping new exclusive franchises is critical to our platform’s success. We’re proud to partner with the teams at Comcept and Armature Studio to create ReCore, an exclusive, new, first-party franchise for Xbox One.”
Those were his opening remarks. It certainly felt like ReCore was set to go head-to-head in the “exciting new IP” space with Sony’s Horizon: Zero Dawn for the PS4, also announced at that E3. Here was a game that also had a strong, female lead, a beautiful sci-fi setting, an intriguing story and unique gameplay mechanics. But in Armature (Metroid Prime) and Comcept (Mega Man), a collaborative design team to really make you lick your lips in anticipation.
It’s an indie game, by two indie developers, which should be looked at through the indie lens.
However, about ten minutes into ReCore, I realised I had been hoodwinked. Perhaps that is too strong. Let’s say I had misunderstood Microsoft’s messaging and interpreted this release to be something more than it truly is. I thought it was going to be a blockbuster, triple-A combatant in the war for the best exclusives. But it’s not. It’s an indie game, by two indie developers, which should be looked at through the indie lens.
It feels like an indie from the outset. There is no opening cinematic in ReCore. In fact, there is very little scene setting and most of what is there is text-based or small audio recordings. Gameplay ideas are experimental and certainly interesting, even fun, but not fully fleshed out or incredibly deep. The game has plenty of soul, but takes shortcuts everywhere. It’s raw, it’s unpolished and it’s almost flippant with the way it treats the player.
This is the kind of gameplay you often expect from an indie title. You can imagine how the game could have been tied up in a neat little bow and delivered as a four hour quirky adventure that didn’t hang around long enough to outstay its welcome. One where players dived in expecting all the pros and cons of an indie experience.
If I went into this game thinking it was an indie title I wouldn’t have had nearly the same reaction to the game that I did as soon as I fired it up. I was hoping for something on the scale of Uncharted. The game might have still had ridiculous loading times, bugs galore and gameplay that tires quickly, but what a neat idea. In an indie, I am there to muck around with the experimental gameplay, to enjoy a new world and to follow two development studios whose legacies I respect, not see the next evolution in blockbuster entertainment.
Your whole perspective is different.
Reviews for ReCore are in. As of this writing ReCore is tracking at 63 on Metacritic, but expect that to drop. As time goes on, scores are dropping in and going lower. You have to wonder how the review scores would look if Microsoft had set ReCore up from the outset as an indie title. As a cool looking project made by some cool developers that will be a cool diversion while you wait for Gears of War 4? The game has been opened up to more criticism than it may have deserved.
You also have to wonder how many of the design decisions, especially in the painful, padded ending were shoehorned in there to manufacture more game time to meet the publisher’s expectations. Or indeed, if it was rushed to release to meet its slot in the schedule when clearly it wasn't finished. For example, load times can take two minutes, I’ve opened doors that have had no level behind them just an empty void to fall into, the game has bugged out and restarted on me and I've had loot not appear for 20 minutes. These are not the hallmarks of a properly polished product.
Maybe it wasn’t deliberate. Maybe it was just an error in judgement. Or maybe Microsoft was expecting more when it first announced the game and then didn’t know how to back down given the performance of Sony’s console this past 12 months. The company did price the game at $30 less than its normal titles, perhaps the first admission that ReCore wasn’t the big blockbuster fans may have expected.
But the job of the publisher is to get that messaging right, and in setting the wrong expectations for this game, Microsoft has done the IP and the developers a disservice. Because I suspect for many reviewers and fans, the gut reaction of disappointment will be hard to ignore. In a parallel universe, maybe ReCore is a $9.99 indie downloadable people are actively enjoying.
ReCore is now available for preorder at $44.99 and comes with a free copy of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts