I've been playing lots of Gamepass games. My pile of shame is still sitting there, glancing at me disapprovingly each time I reach for my battered Scuf pad, but I'm not going to apologise to it. Some of the games on that pile have been on it for over a year; they're used to waiting for me, and the discs won't rot away if they're forced to wait a little longer. I guess I'm feeling around, from a gaming perspective, looking for the next game I can love. While the love affair with Sea of Thieves continues, it's settled into a nice routine that leaves plenty of space for other things - and that means... looking for other things. I guess I'm on the hunt for the next relationship, and with something like Gamepass available on two of the three Xboxes in the house, it's an obvious place to look. It turns out there's a lot of stuff out there - I'm now deep into Crackdown 3 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and there'll be more on both of those later. There's something else I've been playing though, and it's worth of note mainly because of the spectacular bait-and-switch it pulled on me.
If the credentials of the creators alone made a game, ReCore would have been among the best. Written by Joseph Staten (previously at Bungie), dreamed up by Keiji Inafune (if he sounds familiar, it's because he was involved with Mega-Man and Street Fighter during his time at Capcom) and developed by the team behind Metroid Prime, the creative forces behind it were among the best in the business. I started playing it blissfully unaware of all of that; I was just trawling Gamepass for something that a) looked cool, b) could be played in front of my son, and c) wasn't a first-person shooter. It wasn't long though before I started to feel like I was playing something special - especially when the game's influences started to shine through.
The narrative seemed strong, and was ripping along at a pace... and then suddenly ground to a halt. One of the central conceits of ReCore is the use of prismatic cores to open doors in order to progress. Through the first section of the game, the pace at which you obtain these pretty much matches the pace at which you need them - right up until you get to the point of being in possession of 7 or 8 of them and are confronted with a door that requires 15 of the damn things to open.
That was the point at which the experience began to unravel, for me. I wandered around the world, navigating with the map to find more of these things and eventually unlocked the door and proceeded rapidly until I hit another door. At this point, I had 17 cores - and the game demanded that I had 33 in order to progress. I'll admit, I weighed up the idea of hunting them down, but only for the briefest of brief moments. A moment later I'd logged out, and a moment or two after that I'd reached for the uninstall option.
I don't mind grind in videogames as long as I feel like my time's being respected - see previous articles about Sea of Thieves, and Destiny, and more recently Anthem. But the choice to implement something like this in a game like ReCore just seemed... cheap. Like a daft and obtrusive way of artificially lengthening a game that didn't need lengthening. It annoyed me so much that I'm still thinking about it - I really want to go back and finish it to see how the story ended, but the side activities were a lot less enjoyable than the missions and areas that progressed the narrative. The idea of going back fills me with the same feeling that the idea of having to watch The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith before being allowed to watch A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back does. It's not a nice feeling. Maybe if I'd expected a grind from the start, having one forced upon me wouldn't have been such a big deal. As it stands, the roadblocking of the thing I was enjoying the most was enough to make me walk away.
It feels like a really strange design decision on the part of the developers, and I can only assume it ties back to the theme of videogame players perceiving the value of a game based on how long it takes them to complete it - a point I've touched on in the past. If this is the case, it's a real shame - because I'll forever remember this game as a shining example in which less would have been considerably more.